Drama My Wild Years: An existential bromance

My Wild Years: An existential bromance

Justin Nurse is no Tolstoy. Nurse, famous for his funny shirts that got him into trouble with a well-known brewer, only has a scrub beard. His debut play, White Guilt, a sometimes funny and often lurid fictionalisation of his wild youth, also flouts a key piece of Tolstoyan dogma: don’t write about sex.Capture

“Let us stop believing that carnal love is high and noble,” wrote the dyspeptic Russian sage long ago. Over the course of a very long hour, Nurse’s two protagonists – J-Bone (Oliver Booth) and B-Dawg (Schalk Bezuidenhout) – snort drugs, puke violently, snort more drugs, at every possible moment elevating sex to a kind of religion.

They riff on masturbation, simulate cunnilingus and repeatedly express their fear of anal sex – which is revealing. J-Bone and B-Dog are committed heterosexuals. They are also semi-literate misogynists trapped in denial, mostly about their life choices, but also the latent energies at the root of their existential “bromance”.

Some context. White Guilt tells the story of two would-be drug kingpins who meet as students in Grahamstown. From high school students peddling porn and weed they graduate to harder things, eventually lording over an Eastern Cape drug empire while fretting about graduation speeches.

The action is a set in a vaguely futuristic South Africa in which “the Chinese” have taken over – oddly, the dialogue, plot action and music suggests that 2020 will be a bit like the late 1990s. The Chinese, as B-Dawg informs, are a joyless bunch. They have banned beer, allowing coffee to step into the gap.

It takes a while for Nurse to explain all this. The play’s early dialogue is somewhat clunky, sometimes also taking on a hammy quality as the play skitters between comedy and anaesthetised tragedy.

Central to the plot is the pair’s ingenious plan disguising their imported methcathinone (“cat” to regular users) in canisters of coffee. They brand their coffee “Loyal Kafr”, intentionally plagiarising a rival brand in their fictional universe.

As should be obvious, this isn’t a faithful retelling of Nurse’s troubled biography: White Guilt is fiction, an engaging if not fully realised fiction that struggles to let go of its biographical anchors. It stymies what could have been a more provocative piece of theatre.

In the end White Guilt plays as a series of ribald sketches that lead anticlimactically to an end. The decisive full stop is clumsily signalled on an overhead screen, which for much of the production plays images that illustrate the dialogue. The party scenes are good, those animating the evolving bromance less so.

Ostensibly a play about conquests, mostly sexual, White Guilt is essentially an unresolved love story. Although often prompted to reprise the roles of Tony Montana and Jeffrey Lebowski – White Guilt’s references are the cinema, not theatre – Booth and Bezuidenhout nonetheless manage to flag, as much as the script allows, a latent and forbidden love.

It is a love that a more seasoned playwright, one more attuned to the non-verbal tools of theatre, would have suggested in gesture, not words.

-Sean O’Toole

 

White Guilt,

Vicky’s,

today, 2.00pm

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