AND THE GIRLS IN THEIR SUNDAY DRESSES by Zakes Mda, directed by Rhoma Spencer, with Kim Roberts and Kathy Imrie. Presented by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to October 21, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 4 pm. $22, stu/srs $15, October 12 gala $35. 416-366-7723. Rating: NN
the shadow of samuel beckett'sWaiting For Godot hangs over And The Girls In Their Sunday Dresses, Zakes Mda's look at the plight of two women standing on line for days to buy government allotments of rice.Like the duo in Godot, the Woman (Kathy Imrie) and the Lady (Kim Roberts), alternately despairing and hopeful, pass the time telling stories and anticipating action. But Mda's female figures, unlike Beckett's men, are in a specific political and cultural milieu, and their discussion highlights a system that keeps them in servitude as women and as workers at a distance from power.
The strength of the production is the performances. Roberts's stylish Lady -- a self-proclaimed courtesan who's been losing business to younger women like her own daughter -- evokes the character's comic pride, insecurity and hidden sadness, while Imrie has her own quiet strength as the practical, politicized Woman, a cleaner by trade. At first they're brought together by mutual dependence; later they bond over their abandonment by men and common sense of outrage.
Its weakness? Rhoma Spencer's direction, with pacing so languid that all the tension drains from the exchanges and every emotional moment fades away. There's nothing wrong with shifting the action from South Africa to Lesotho -- the situation Mda portrays is universal enough -- or with Spencer's adding shadow figures to represent faceless government officials. But the production moves so slowly that it feels like an academic argument rather than a theatrical experience.