I had a feeling it was going to be a good night when I was sitting at the beachfront bar watching Fedde Le Grand videos projected on the big screen (“Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” had taken on a new meaning recently after I discovered a South African brand of refreshing vodka beverage called “Detroit Dash” at a local bar, but I digress already). It was Valentine’s Day, after all, and to my surprise it is celebrated seriously in Angola, where it is known as “Dia dos Namorados.” Streetside vendors were hawking stuffed animals and flowers everywhere, and I had tickets to a play at the same cinema where I had been the solo customer to see a movie a few weeks prior. This time I knew I wouldn’t be alone though – I had a date with an American friend in town from Luanda and was excited to share the wonders of Benguela’s cultural offerings.
The theatre was decorated with roses fastened to the seats lining the aisles, and rose petals littered the seating area floor. Chalk outlines of hearts and other symbols of the day added to the décor. After taking bets with my date about when the show would actually start (only about 50 minutes after the posted start time), we were startled by a ruckus at the back of the theatre – apparently this troupe liked dramatic entrances. It took all of about two minutes for the first character to die from a stray bullet, but the character did live long enough to grace the audience with an incomprehensible soliloquy before expiring, which was sort of a classy way to go.
The rest of the play featured poor lighting and bad sound projection, to the point that the Angolan audience was shouting “speak up” and “turn on the lights” periodically. While there were some technical problems, there were also some pretty awesome moments, like when one of the main characters became possessed by a witch doctor in a dramatic scene involving red floor lights and dry ice smoke. Even more dramatic was a subsequent scene when the same character was exorcised by a charismatic preacher and turned into a chicken. A live chicken. Looking back, the preacher waving around the chicken as proof as God’s glory was probably the highlight and worth the price of admission alone (for those keeping track of the Angolan live entertainment industry said price of admission was Akz 1,500 or $20).
It was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember.
Pre-Light Dimming Look at Stage:
The crowd at the posted starting time (it filled up much more eventually):
Gene Kelly greets you on the way out (have you seen Xanadu? Run, don't walk):