When Evita Bezuidenhout, South Africa's first lady of satire and sequins, decided to buy the old train station in the Afrikaner town of Darling and transform it into a dinner theater to perform her political cabarets, the residents were a little concerned. Since 1981 Evita Bezuidenhout (pronounced Bezaydenhote) had kept the nation crying with laughter as she used her sharp tongue to rip to shreds the apartheid government and all those who stood by it on TV, in South African theaters and on the London stage. Ten years on, however, Evita se Perron (Evita's Platform in Afrikaans) is the cornerstone of the Darling community, serving up "the best boerewors [sausage] this side of apartheid."
"I live next to the Dutch Reformed Church dominee [minister]," says Evita's alter ego and creator, Pieter-Dirk Uys (pronounced ace). "He always warmly embraces Evita whenever she meets him. We respect each other's theaters." And the clergyman isn't Evita's only admirer. The walls of the foyer are plastered with thank-you letters penned by the apartheid era's superstars. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a regular visitor to Darling (he takes his wife there for their anniversary), writes: "We need you to continue to hold a mirror to our human condition." Alongside are affectionate faxes from the debonair '80s Foreign Affairs Minister Pik Botha, and photos of "the couple" going hunting. "During the '80s, I started a rumor that he and Evita were having an affair, and even he started believing it," says Uys.
But the theater's highlight outside of showtime is Uys' collection of apartheid kitsch. "My idea was to create a Disneyland of bad political taste for Evita to preside over," he explains. Atop her piano on her small stage is a bust of former Prime Minister and apartheid architect H.F. Verwoerd that's been made into a lamp. "It used to have a plaque on it that said, 'Let he who gave us darkness, now give us light,' but it fell off," admits Uys. Next door, in the Museum Nauseum, an intimate 80-seat theater, old political posters advise voters to bly blank my volk (Stay White My People), and there's an official portrait of the 1983 Cabinet Ministers' wives "Where they all look like drag queens" which Uys confesses was stolen by an M.P. from Parliament for Evita. But it's not all about the past. For up-to-the-minute satire, head outside to her Boerassic Park, where the garden gnomes include President Thabo Mbeki driving a "gravy train."
It's just an hour north of Cape Town, so you can make a day visit. "Some people go to Robben Island in the morning and then come to us. From the sublime to the ridiculous," says Uys. Evita is on stage every weekend from February through August. tel: (27-22) 492 2851/31; www.evita.co.za