A nuanced new play from Dawn Garisch is being staged at the Masque Theatre.
Medical doctor, mother, novelist, poet and playwright, the Kalk Bay author has been likened to the Russian physician playwright, Anton Chekov, by director Professor Roy Sargeant.
Chekov was considered to be one of the greatest writers of short fiction in history.
To Get to the Moon is described as a gentle exploration of the lives of a married couple, Norman and Bianca, who some years earlier experienced a traumatic event.
The way each has tried to come to terms with this event now threatens to destroy their marriage.
The division in the couple’s coping mechanisms is not an uncommon one. In the writing of it, Dr Garisch put an argument in the bodies of two people. So in the play, the husband holds to the neuro-science of the situation and breaks it down into neurons firing and biological mechanisation. The wife struggles with it in a much more physical way, and prefers the metaphor, the spiritual and the poetic approach to understanding it.
The difference, Dr Garisch says, could be seen as the spotlight of attention from the head, versus the searchlight of the body; both looking for answers.
The play explores themes of responsibility, guilt and blame, the science and art of decision-making and the shame that keeps crucial information hidden.
“I am interested in how people make decisions, and how they manage anxiety and depression; what do we do to comfort ourselves?” she asks.
As the founding member of the Life Righting Collective, Dr Garisch’s work exemplifies her teaching.
“I teach life writing, but you can use the same tools to write about anything – even fiction. I teach people to work with what is bothering them, to extrapolate it into its argument and let it run,” she says.
She doesn’t work out a plot to the end: she presents her characters with a situation, and writes to see what unfolds.
There is a line in the play in which Bianca says to her husband: “We know how to get to the moon; but not how to reach one another.” And that, Dr Garisch says, is very much the human condition. “We are so clever, and yet we really struggle with relationships.”
Her medical profession provides immense insight into peo-ple’s struggles. She understands that her patients each have their often untold stories. She says every situation has the facts of the matter, the science of the matter; and the poetry of the matter.
“I am increasingly interested in the poetry of the matter,” she says, smiling.
“I am born into this time where medical humanity has started up; which is how the arts and social sciences can impact on the health sciences to improve our well-being because medicine has become too much of a business,” she says. So teaching people to write their life story is also giving them life skills to live their lives less anxiously -more creatively – and with more curiosity,” she says.
“Furthermore, your well being is dependent on the well being of the planet, so the more mindful we all are about how we live our lives the healthier, more effective and creative a life it will be; for all,” she said.
And this leads to the other hope that she holds for her play: that people will leave the show with a deeper sense of compassion for one another.
“We are all battling something; but we look fine; we all present as being perfectly well. But beneath that exterior are stories that you could never begin to imagine. And what we all need is a kinder environment, where there is recognition of that, and understanding that if others are perhaps a bit off or behaving badly, it may well stem from pain,” she says. “We really shouldn’t be too quick to condemn or judge what we don’t know.”
Dr Garisch has produced six novels, a collection of poetry, a non-fiction work and published a memoir. She says although To Get to The Moon is sourced in a personal trauma, the play is not about her.
Her most recent novel, Accident, was published last year by Modjaji. She has had short stories and poetry published in anthologies, journals and magazines as well as having two plays and a short film produced – not to mention writing for television and newspapers. Three of her novels have been published in the UK.
To Get To The Moon is Dr Garisch’s third play and it doubles as the launch of the Siyasanga theatre company in association with the Masque Theatre.
Siyasanga is run by Fatima Dike, Roy Sargeant and Paul Regenass. It devotes its energies to developing the writing and production of new South African plays.
The play opened on Tuesday, March 13, at the MasqueTheatre, and runs until Saturday March 24.
Evening shows are at 8pm, while performance times on the Saturdaysare at 2.30pm and 6.30pm. To book, contact the Masque Theatre at 021 788 6999.