Bittersweet racism: Actress Chantal Stanfield swings from the tragedy of racism she experienced to its hilarity in her cleverly crafted one-woman play From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach. Picture: SUPPLIED
Bittersweet racism: Actress Chantal Stanfield swings from the tragedy of racism she experienced to its hilarity in her cleverly crafted one-woman play From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach. Picture: SUPPLIED

When actress Chantal Stanfield discovered that a word used by a family member of her soon-to-be Jewish husband was on par with the k-word, she was devastated and couldn’t let it go. So she used the experience to write a play.

From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach is a savvy piece of writing. When she details the racism she experienced, she goes quiet and then tackles the elephant in the room in serious fashion, but soon flips to the bright side and tells of her winning solution to a devastating dilemma.

Stanfield wrote the one-woman play about a coloured ("some are comfortable with the word and others not", she says) Cape Flats woman who marries a member of Joburg’s tight-knit Jewish community, based on her experience. Everything that happened to her is given a context. When she deals with racist comments she shows how they are loaded on many different levels.

She fell in love with a young man and discovered that he was a member of a suburban family for which the happiness of each individual was the driving force — as it was for her Cape Flats relatives.

She dives right into the religious difficulties of the relationship, telling of the time she joined her new boyfriend and his family for a Shabbat meal on a Friday evening.

The play is set to a musical soundtrack devised by her musician husband, RJ Benjamin. They met after she had listened to his music while working in Turkey and tweeted him praise.

While members of the audience familiar with both sides collapse in their seats with laughter, the issues she deals with are also tragic. But she has found a way of putting her message across that allows people to face their fears, laugh out loud and discover what they are doing to each other.

She goes on hilarious rants, pointing out the humiliations dumped on her by her husband’s relatives who congratulate her on her well-spoken English. She is also merciless when relating comments from people within her community, especially those who point out that her children might have better hair than she has.

Stanfield is smart and talented; she plays with accents, languages, hairstyles and costumes.

The play is set to a musical soundtrack devised by her musician husband, RJ Benjamin. They met after she had listened to his music while working in Turkey and tweeted him praise.

While she deals with the world’s most intractable problem — racism — she has turned it into entertainment. And despite making light of her love across the colour and religious lines, she never diminishes the disastrous effects of racism on individuals. Her show invites people to listen and participate in a way that few discussions about the issue would allow.

Solo shows are tough and not only is Stanfield alone on stage, she is sharing a very personal story that would make most people vulnerable. But as she exposes her pain and joy, the vulnerabilities become advantages. She tells a story that is heartfelt and obviously hers — and it works. She delivers it with ease and her authenticity bowls audiences over.

She has a smart director in Megan Furniss, who understands the world she is navigating. The two women combine to produce comedy with a conscience — which is probably the best way to deal with issues that have been around forever yet need to be dealt with constantly.

• From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach is at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until June 23.

Please sign in or register to comment.