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Theater review: 'Elections and Erections' at UCLA, other venues

October 5, 2009 |  8:00 pm

E4P15 - Photographer Crispian Plunket Performer, writer and tireless civil rights activist South African Pieter-Dirk Uys has walked the talk — in high heels. His alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout, has dined with and dissed the powerful, including members of the African National Congress, the Clintons, even Oprah. This past weekend, Evita graced UCLA’s Glorya Kaufman Hall in “Elections and Erections,” which will also play at REDCAT and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center.

Mr. Uys is somewhat of an institution in South Africa, having performed (mostly illegally) for 40 years; Nelson Mandela calls him a national treasure. “Elections” is part confessional, part drag satire, and all politics, surveying the state of democracy and sex education in his native land.  This veteran performer, who would have been at home with the Ridiculous Theatre Company or sharing wig adhesive with Dame Edna, has the durable charm of a man who has survived a brutally repressive regime and a lifetime on stage.

Uys opened with impersonations of the Clintons that felt a little tired. (Monica Lewinsky jokes seem Jurassic at this point.). The best sexual anecdotes came from his own past, where lust proved instrumental in radicalizing the young Uys. Risking his life for a tryst with a colored South African, he realized how deeply racism had permeated his strict religious upbringing.

But the most compelling portion of the evening was his frank discussion of the challenges of HIV awareness in South Africa. Uys speaks to thousands of students a year, educating them in safe sex practices. He is particularly scornful of President Jacob Zuma, who in 2005 was accused of raping an HIV-positive woman. Zuma testified in court that although he didn’t wear a condom, he took a shower afterward to reduce the risk of infection. The ANC leader’s comments set off a storm of indignation from the nation’s HIV activists fighting the false information killing so many of its citizens.

Of course the infamous Evita showed up to close the show, but an earlier visit from her sister, Bambi Kellerman, proved far more intriguing. Cool, blond and deliciously unnerving, she arrived carrying her husband’s ashes in a martini shaker. (Herr Kellerman was apparently a member of the Third Reich.) She proceeds to describe a Nazi cocktail party she attended, in which Adolf Eichmann and Martin Bormann wonder exactly why they were allowed to get away with so much before the rest of world pushed back. Leisurely adjusting her leopard caftan, Bambi muses about the West's slow response to AIDS in Africa. What happens, she smiles, when a new strain resistant to current drug treatments makes its way back to America?

Starting late and running over two hours, “Elections” rambled a bit. But Uys’  message — that the health of a country ultimately depends on citizens leading their politicians and not the other way around — resonates powerfully. “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth,” Oscar Wilde once observed. Uys dons fake eyelashes, and presidents listen.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Elections and Erections” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Friday. $16-$20. Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org; The L. A. Gay and Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. $20. Contact: (323) 860-7300 or www.lagaycenter.org/. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Above, Pieter-Dirk Uys as his alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout. Photo credit: Photo by Crispian Plunket

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