Mercy in music
It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this, the judgment, so goes the Biblical scripture.
But when the angel is tasked with going down to earth to collect a musical soul, whose time is up, the solidity of this rhetoric falls into question. Aldo Behrens brought to Namibian theatre a fun, amusing and warm-hearted musical fantasy titled ‘Genadendal’ or mercy for the non-Afrikaans speaker. The play showed at the national theatre of Namibia last week from the third to the sixth.
The play opens to a scene at the pearly gates of heaven. Peter, much like his common imagining, is an old white bearded man, seated on his marble stool waiting for the deceased righteous to enter eternal rest. Next to him is the Angel of Death, played by legendary Namibian actor, David Ndjavera. The date is 3 September 2014 and the two are busy diarising the Angel of Death’s assignment for the day. His assignment is to go to earth and collect Johannes Jakoobus Afrikaner better known as Koos on his 80th birthday and if he fails, then Peter will appoint someone else in his stead.
As they chat, the sweet melodies of a choir distract Peter. “For Pete’s sake. All heaven is filled with music,” the Angel of Death counters. But Peter responds, “But this comes from down under somewhere.” Specifically from the Namib and as the Angel descends to earth for his, the plot unravels, revealing that this is not the first time the Angel of Death has embarked on this task and not the first time he has crossed paths with Koos. The stage goes dark and when it lights up again, it is 3 September 1955 and Koos is celebrating his 21st birthday.
Upon announcing his arrival, Koos responds with a belter. “Here, dis ek, dis Koos, So rikrak en godderloos, Maar nou in hierdie die uwe uur Kom soekek ‘n trekseltjie troos?” In his curiosity, the Angel asks if Koos is not afraid of him, being that he has come for his demise, but replies, “I am not afraid of death.” Together with the Bank Windhoek Kalahari Ensemble, Koos distracts the Angel of Death from his assignment, and after more than one glass of wine, the Angel returns back to heaven, unsuccessful.
Through a series of events all happening on the third of September of various years, the angel continues to visit earth in an attempt to capture Koos, but his songs always make him in heaven, empty handed.
Although the play is bilingual, with English and Afrikaans, a good understanding of both languages would have been important to enjoy the musical. Lastly, as we return to 2014, when at last the Angel of Death succeeds in his mission, and Koos is escorted to meet Peter, we learn, “Life is pleasant, Death is peaceful. It’s the Transition that is troublesome – that is why we sing: to make the transition less troublesome.”