Reviews of

Foreign Aids

(full texts of reviews are found in the Archives)

Reviews of Foreign Aids in America  —   2003 and 2005

Artists make people see and hear what institutions try to make invisible and inaudible. And since they rarely get a lot of money to do this, they need passion, imagination and craft. Mr. Uys (pronounced ACE) has all three. ... He moves across the small stage at La MaMa tossing facts, stories and images. They hit like body blows. He links apartheid's lethal resistance to racial equality with post-apartheid's lethal refusal to acknowledge the destruction wrought by AIDS. ... Once again it is the government that resists truth. ...

Arthur Miller once wrote that there is a radical politics of the heart as well as the ballot box. That's where theater should be. We're lucky to have Foreign Aids in our town right now.

–  Margo Jefferson, The New York Times, 4 November 2003

Uys is a performer of the first order: a brilliant actor-comedian-satirist with commanding stage presence and impeccable timing. Uys tells it like it is in Foreign Aids, which means that the laughs of recognition pull us up short time and time again.

It's powerful, provoking and ultimately empowering. Uys defuses the seriousness with well-placed humor, much of it barbed, all of it calculated to get the attention of anyone within earshot. If only America had a humorist even half as willing to bite the hands that feed him.

–  Martin Denton, nytheatre.com, 26 October 2003

A master of ice-pick-like satire, Uys jabs and stabs at the complex dynamic of fear, hypocrisy, ignorance, neglect and smugness that, he reports, surrounds Africa's AIDS crisis. Uys gives us a personal tour of the attitudes, issues and concerns that are permeating in both the white and black South Africa communities.

Uys is an amazing performer, and this is a side-splitting but devastating show. Though it is very entertaining, there are moments of high, passionate indignation. At times, Uys is so powerful and potent on his own that one feels a sigh of great relief when he actually puts on a dress. In Foreign Aids, Pieter-Dirk Uys transcends drag. And today, when there is an absence of compassion and common sense, Uys absolutely has the right to 'act up'.

–  Randy Gener, The New York Theatre Wire, 30 October 2003

Underlining the "mock" in democracy and the "con" in reconciliation, South African writer-performer Pieter-Dirk Uys has returned to New York, "as everybody does — from Fidel Castro to Robert Mugabe." ... While castigating those in power — especially the aloof President Mbeki — Uys also portrays the afflicted with unsentimental affection. Foreign Aids offers a healthy dose of indignation and a cry for decency. But Uys charms at least as well as he proselytizes; his pronouncements on everything from colonialism to condom couture make for potentially lifesaving satire.

–  Tom Sellar, The Village Voice, 29 October 2003

Pieter-Dirk Uys's Foreign Aids is a tremendously moving testimony about the absurdities of political life in South Africa, before and after apartheid. ... AIDS education is what drives Uys now, as much as his opposition to apartheid did when his fellow whites ruled the land, and his pleas for greater frankness in talking about the disease are heart-piercing. Despite the lefty edge to his politics, there's a benign softness to his stage presence.

[His] humanism comes to the fore when he talks about the lives and deaths of South Africa's young people and the horrors that arise from Mbeki's unwillingness to tell the truth about AIDS.... The proselytizing would be too much if it weren't for Uys's talent and his courage. Uys's story is the triumph of a person who simply won't stop talking about something that's wrong until it's right. And how one person can help make it right.

–  Ed Siegel, The Boston Globe, 11 January 2005

The humor in Foreign Aids is so scathing it will make you squirm. But Pieter-Dirk Uys’ barbed attacks are leavened by his passion for the truth and his joy in performing. Rather than make his audience defensive, Uys forces them to confront their assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices, and nudge them just a little toward change, or at least honesty.

Foreign Aids is an engaging evening of theatre from one man whose passion is inspiring.

–  Terry Byrne, The Boston Herald, 12 January 2005

Foreign Aids [is] a crash course in the South African AIDS crisis, delivered by the brilliant drag artiste Pieter-Dirk Uys (pronounced "ace"), in a one-man show that covers a dozen characters, two genders, three continents, and at least as many races. ... Uys is an ace at delivering the touch sell that we’re all to blame for the deepening AIDS crisis in Africa. The message would be too strident if Uys himself weren’t so exuberantly humane; there’s always a streak of sympathy. "The news from South Africa is good!" he cries joyfully at both the beginning and the end of his show, and he means it: since apartheid died and democracy arrived, there’s always hope.

–  Thomas Garvey, Bay Windows, 13 January 2005

Uys’s righteous anger over the AIDS crisis makes [Foreign Aids] more urgent than silly. He does not seem to be kidding when he remarks that "once upon a time, not so long ago, we had an apartheid regime in South Africa that killed people. Now we have a democratic government that just lets them die." ... This is not to say that Uys, a mischievous mimic and delighter in drag, is all punch and no punch line. Identifying laughter as a great dismantler of fear, Uys probably has to dodge fewer bullets these days. But brandishing a fierce sincerity and a fistful of condoms, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, he’s still shooting.

–  Carolyn Clay, The Boston Phoenix, 14 January 2005

The satirical landscape that Uys journeys through in Foreign Aids, his blistering, yet remarkably compassionate monologue ... is a place of contradictions. ... What Uys does so extraordinarily well is maintain an impassioned perspective on the epidemic that that is running rampant in his homeland. He’s angry, to be sure, but he tempers his anger with a fierce humor. Uys doesn’t get mad, he simply gets funnier and funnier, demolishing his adversaries and the ignorance surrounding AIDS with withering one-liners.

–  Robert Nesti, innewsweekly.com, 19 January 2005

For nearly two hours, Pieter-Dirk Uys stands on a simply-crafted stage in a bare black room and astounds two hundred strangers with his tremendous compassion for his people, who face the greatest threat to their lives in the form of AIDS. His two most potent weapons [are] farce and political satire ....

Uys’ work is shockingly effective; and I use that adjective because the show hangs very loosely together, its overarching theme threatening time and again to overstep the bounds of comfort and rob the piece of accessibility – yet it never does. Lighter moments are cautiously tucked into even the most serious diatribes against the South African government, and the clear frustration he has for the increasingly fatal realities of his homeland’s meager defenses against the disease eventually resolves into the truest elixir for it: laughter.

What’s truly surprising is that the American Repertory Theatre’s Zero Arrow Theatre is half a world away from South Africa… and yet in the fact of the eminently human frustration we all have for this pandemic, regardless of our socio-economic status, more than twenty years and countless deaths into the struggle, Uys makes his audience realize that the need for knowledge and laughter is yet as real as the need for a cure. Until we have the latter, the former are our truest weapons.

–  David Foucher, The Edge, 10 January 2005



Reviews of Foreign Aids in Australia  —  2002 and 2003

You can go to the theatre for a good time, to escape, to be enthralled by brilliant performance skills, to be dazzled by wit and charisma, to laugh, cry and be amazed. Or you can go and see Pieter-Dirk Uys in his one-man show Foreign Aids and do all that ... Uys is a performer whose instinct for the killer observation, the perfectly-timed punchline and the stiletto-sharp riposte is matched by his compassion, humour and courage.

Foreign Aids is political satire in its highest and most dangerous form and theatre at its most entertaining.

–  Diana Simmonds, Sunday Telegraph , 3 November 2002

[Foreign Aids] is a wonderful object lesson in the fine line between the comic and the tragic, a reminder that the best comedy should make an audience uncomfortable, angry and passionate. ... With devastatingly satiric characters and vast reserves of charm, [Uys] concentrates on the human faces of the epidemic. ...The characters ... are excellent creations, but it's the narration in between, as he changes wigs and slips, that packs the most punches.

Uys's other main message is simple commonsense: inform your kids, tell them the truth. Knowledge is power in this game, and as he says "sex will happen", whether their guardians like it or not. The choice is stark: be informed and act on that information, or be dead. Yet throughout this unnerving, inspiring comedy, his passion for all his fellow citizens and their new democracy, his "terminal optimism", shines through.

–  Stephen Dunne, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 2002

This is a show about fear, ignorance, plain stupidity and, ultimately, death. It's very funny - a point I'd underline because Foreign Aids is also distressing. Not the least of Uys's achievements here is the phenomenal balance of laughter with out-and-out shock....

Uys is at his most disturbing when he speaks to the audience as himself, describing his experiences of touring South African schools with performances aimed at raising awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention, or of visiting hospices for young people suffering from the 'thinning sickness'. These stories are terribly moving and in their sense of injustice, maddening. Uys channels his own anger through a bunch of wickedly funny characters he conjures up, dressing and applying his make-up on stage: Evita Bezuidenhout, the 'most famous white woman in South Africa'; Evita's sister Bambi Kellermann, an alcoholic and HIV-positive former stripper whose dead husband was a Nazi; South African President Thabo Mbeki, stating 'My mind is made up - don't confuse me with facts.' And then there's Andre, a gay man with AIDS. He's not played for laughs.

Powerful stuff.

–  Colin Rose, The Sun-Herald, 3 November 2002

Armed merely with a talent to deride, the casually clothed Uys uses the first half of his show to put the "moc" in democracy and expose the "con" in reconciliation. His earnest plea for action against the horrific impact of AIDS upon his people or the corrupt politics of a third-world African democracy stings with satirical bite. ...

His swift impersonations are as deft as a cartoonist's caricature. His latex face swiftly conjures with the aid of a hat, a purple smock and mitre of an ethnic shirt the features of apartheid architect PW Botha or diminutive Desmond Tutu or the charismatic Nelson Mandela. ... Uys's queen [alter-ego Evita Bezuidenhout] is no drag, but it is the satirist without the frock who made me laugh at his wit and weep for his people.

–  Peter Wilkins, The Canberra Times, 11 April 2003



Reviews of Foreign Aids in South Africa  —  2002

Pieter-Dirk Uys has a big heart and an acutely analytical brain and if he feels strongly enough about a subject, he is driven to do everything in his power — which is considerable — to do what he can. ... Long may he continue to exercise his brilliant brain to lambaste those responsible for the welfare of South Africa to remove themselves from their political high horse and get in touch with real problems.... As long as he has the genius of politicians as inspiration, he could be around for ever! Let’s hope so.

– Caroline Smart, artsmart, 14 July 2002

Uys segues seamlessly from one character to another. ...  It's funny stuff, and bittersweet. Vintage Uys — and not for the squeamish.

– Barbara Ludman, SA Info, 23 September 2002


Reviews of Foreign Aids in London   —   2001

For Pieter-Dirk Uys, South Africa's best-known comedian (though comic actor, polemicist or provocateur might be a more accurate description), comedy is still the most effective medium for challenging, educating, aggravating, in the name of freedom. ... In Foreign Aids, Uys is at pains to remind his audience that this is not satire for its own sake, that there is a purpose behind his entertaining impersonations. Perhaps unusually for someone with such passionate convictions, Uys is still very funny, and much of the force of his comedy is in his ability to win his audience's sympathy before puncturing their prejudices.

In Brechtian fashion, Uys keeps his make-up and costumes visible on stage and transforms into his characters in front of the audience, keeping up a monologue as he slips on his false nails and eyelashes, slipping in and out of voices and accents to become an array of characters new to his London admirers.

For Uys, satire is about defusing the threatening by exposing its absurdities. ... As long as the Rainbow Nation continues to provide him with this kind of material, Uys will be fighting for his country's future for some time to come.

–  Stephane Merritt, The Observer, 8 July 2001

Political satire is a tricky thing; it's only as strong as its target. Pieter-Dirk Uys’ latest show, Foreign Aids, demonstrates that comedy really can be about matters of life and death. It is about Aids, and the way the HIV virus is devastating his country. ... The statistics are not funny, but Uys gets us laughing - not at death, but at fear, ignorance, complacency and drug companies, as well as the curious head-in-the-sand mentality of President Thabo Mbeki, who won't accept the link between HIV and Aids. ...

Uys's show has as much to do with campaigning as comedy. But I have never had a more enjoyable time being soap-boxed. Laughter alone may not change the world. But Uys knows how to use it as a weapon to start the revolution.

–  Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 7 July 2001

Pieter-Dirk Uys' remarkable solo show, Foreign Aids, deserves as wide an audience as possible for a polemic — hilarious and devastating, in turn — that can't scream its message loudly enough. Uys is angry, and who can blame him: There's real savagery in his indictment of an Mbeki regime that has all but closed its eyes to the risks of HIV and AIDS even as the death count escalates. Despair would seem the only possible response.

That's why Uys' ability to temper rage with comedy and wit seems not just theatrically astute but deeply humane as well. Watching him create a panoply of characters, you emerge dizzy from the sleight of hand with which he switches parts (and frocks). What's more, as Uys doubles as reporter and raconteur, you're chastened by a compassion more voluble than language.

–  Matt Wolf, Variety, 10 July 2001

Uys used to mock apartheid, most famously in drag as his rich and racist alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout. In Foreign Aids he's combating the new enemy and drawing pointed comparisons." In the old South Africa we killed people. Now," he dryly observes, "we're just letting them die." There are a few other lacerating jibes in this show. ... Overall however, Foreign Aids is not so excoriating as humanely frustrated and friendly in style, and Uys’ passion for a better world is catching.

–  Kate Bassett, The Independent, 9 July 2001