In its U.S. premiere, “Weird Sex in Maputo (A Love Story)” offers no love, not much that’s weird (unless boredom is weird) and some sex in a distilled “Less Than Zero” encounter by South African playwright and director Chris Pretorius. With allusions to Proust and Chekhov and glimpses of Pinter at his minimalist best, the play presents two listless, humorless characters, who would almost rather watch water evaporate than be involved or passionate about anything.
The unnamed woman (Susan Dall) lives in a plain room of a run-down hotel in Mozambique, quoting Proust. She’s not sure of much of anything anymore, she says.
Enter a man (Andre Odendaal) who notices her door open and light on in the middle of the night. They drink wine and vodka and speak elliptically, discovering very little about each other. They’re not interested.
The sex, well simulated when it comes about, brings these characters the illusion of need and desire. In fact, it’s enough of a catalyst to jump-start the man again. He can now, at least, move on.
What drove these characters to such nothingness? What do they miss, if anything? What’s the world like outside the room? Answers are in the press kit or playbill, though not in the play itself.
One must read: The play “is about how reality has become dislocated on a continent of poverty, hatred and despair.” A play is in trouble when the playbill is more vigorous and focused than what’s on stage.
Dall and Odendaal place as much subtext as humanly possible in lethargy. One can only imagine how dynamic they’d be if given characters with purpose, anger and drive.
As director, Pretorius uses the sparse stage, along with music and pregnant pauses, to heighten the sense of stretched-on days. The wordless sex scene, where the characters are both desperately attracted and repelled, has a ballet quality. It’s clear he risks much in his work, even an audience’s attention. He may well be someone who rocks theater in America. Just not now.