‘Molora’: Life in post-Apartheid South Africa

French philologist and Hellenist Jacqueline de Romilly has said that the myth of the House of Atreus first appears in Homer, continues in other epic non-extant works, is revived by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and continues with Jean-Paul Sartre and Eugene O’Neill. A similar influence can now be seen in the work of South African Yael Farber, who was inspired by the trilogy of the Oresteia for her play «Molora,» being staged at the Dimitris Horn Theater tonight and tomorrow. Farber’s version is set in post-Apartheid South Africa. In Sesotho, a Bantu language, «molora» means ashes: In this play, the ashes of Orestes’ burnt body represent for Electra the sad remains of a deserted country. The story unfolds in the form of hearings of the Committee for Truth and Reconciliation. A family’s sufferings are presented in a series of flashbacks which show that the constant bloodshed led to tragedy. The chorus consists of women from the Xhosa tribe. «I was looking for material that would help me speak about South Africa’s transition to democracy,» the playwright told Kathimerini. «At some point, I carefully read the Oresteia [by Aeschylus]. That story of revenge which continues from generation to generation, with all the family syndromes and bonds of blood served as the ideal medium for me to do what I wanted to.» Farber uses a white actress as Clytemnestra, while Electra and Orestes are black. «That way they look like servants in their own house. Like the Europeans, who went to the Africans’ homeland and turned the locals into servants. The fact that the black Orestes is exiled is a reference to the thousands of exiled South Africans during the Apartheid.» What is perhaps most important in «Molora» is the female choir of the Xhosa tribe, which takes on the role of the ancient Greek chorus. «The choir represents the community’s wisdom and that is why I needed something stemming from the roots of such a community. So I found in an isolated rural region these women, who sing a strange song with their throats. I told them the story of the Oresteia, which they didn’t know, and they bombarded me with questions. They couldn’t understand why revenge prevailed. For these women there is only room for forgiveness. The same applies to many South African mothers who have forgiven the murderers of their children during the Apartheid era.» Farber said she is still surprised that South Africa made the transition to democracy without bouts of revenge. «It was an unbelievably peaceful process. Who would have thought? And who could have predicted this incredibly high crime rate that has taken over the country today? That is not tainted by politics, blacks kill blacks and whites kill whites and that is all because of the generalized social crisis. Human life is of little value in this country.» Dimitris Horn Theater, 10 Amerikis, tel 210.361.2500. «Molora» is being staged tonight and tomorrow, as part of the Theater Beyond Borders festival.