Karel se Oupa is a multi-layered drama covering a range of topics: family, relationships, grief, inter-generational communication. This play tells of a family, it could be any family, on any night.
The play opens with a dialogue, monologue if you will, between Oupa Karel (Tobie Cronjé) and Kareltjie (played on opening night by 7 year old Ian Roelofs) the youngest of three generations of Karel’s. Oupa is attempting supper, Kareltjie’s choice, while his grandson is innocently playing with his toy plane. He’s happy, his father is on his way home from a business trip to Canada, his mum is in hospital but she’ll be back any day. Emma (Esmeralda Bihl) arrives home after choir practice and takes over supper preparation, and this dialogue opens up the audience to much of the family dynamic. A surprise arrival home by Karel Junior (Neels Clasen) who wants to see his sister in hospital, having run off after his mother’s sudden death to avoid, or handle his grief apart from his family. He hasn’t spoken to his father in the two years that have passed.
The script by Retief Scholtz, cleverly uses comic relief to lighten some pretty intense moments, and gives insight into the dynamics of how a breakdown in communication snowballs out of control, leading to further misunderstanding. It isn’t always easy to understand how another person handles grief, and Karel Junior’s response of running off was misunderstood by those closest to him.
This play touched on many points very close to home for me. My own relationship with my parents to whom I am something of a disappointment and my own reaction to this by shying away from the family outside of birthdays and holidays. It also hit home with my own partner’s grieving for his mother, and how he’s also “run off”, thankfully without the luxury of being able to hop on a plane, and avoiding the pain of his loss, but at the same time destroying relationships with the people who care for him most.
The cast under the direction of André Odendaal, bring these simple yet complex characters to life most authentically, and gave me plenty of food for thought in terms of my relationship with my own family, and in trying harder to understand the man I love and how he is handling his grief after losing his mother less than a year ago.
This is a show that is well worth seeing.