‘Caribbean intellectuals have continuously theorized and given meaning to the experiences and prospects of living in/as a region.’ Discussion on Benitez Rojo’s introduction to The Repeating Island.
Several Caribbean and non-Caribbean intellectuals have established a determined and cognizant effort to redefine the very notion of ‘Caribbeanness’. Benítez-Rojo in the introduction to his book named The Repeating Island, attempted to redefine the Caribbean by drawing on several fields of study including cultural anthropology, economics, history, literary theory, psychoanalysis, nonlinear mathematics, and sociology. He suggested that the ‘time has come for postindustrial society to conduct a rereading of the Caribbean.’ He asserts that the Caribbean basin is one of the least known regions of the modern world in the discourse of the Social Sciences. He suggested therefore, that this rereading begin with a look at chaos theory and its relevance to the Caribbean as a complex space. Benítez-Rojo argues that within the apparent disorder of the Caribbean the area’s discontinuous landmasses, its different colonial histories, languages, ethnic groups, politics, and traditions there emerges an ‘island’ of paradoxes that ‘repeats’ itself and gives shape to an unexpected and complex sociocultural archipelago. This is important since scholars often judged the region with the framework of preconceived notions, and based their analysis on models that are arguably applicable only in Europe.
It is noteworthy that Benítez-Rojo’s approach in interdisciplinary, since in defining the Caribbean one would meet several stumbling blocks, “this region where boundaries are notoriously fuzzy…neither center or periphery.” (Trouillot 19) In terms of Wallerstein’s world systems theory it does not fit the theory. It is neither centre, nor semi-periphery or periphery with “The swift genocide of the aboriginal populations, the early integration of the region into the international circuit of capital, the forced migrations of enslaved African and indentured laborers, and the abolition of slavery by emancipation or revolution, the Caribbean would not conform within the emerging divisions of Western Academia” (Trouillot 21).
Another reason defining the Caribbean is difficult is because definitions of the Caribbean are always contested. For some people the Caribbean includes parts of the Americas, for others it is largely defined as the island Caribbean. For others it is about language, the Spanish speaking Caribbean, the Dutch speaking Caribbean, the French speaking Caribbean and the English-speaking Caribbean, some view it as somewhere to go on holiday, palm trees and white sandy beaches. Benítez-Rojo claimed that the main obstacles to any global study of Caribbean society are the things scholars cite as evidence to define the area: The region’s fragmentation, instability, reciprocal isolation, uprootedness, syncretism and so forth. As well as the habit of defining the Caribbean in terms of its resistance to different methods which served them in the analysis of European society.
He also postulates that this designation of Caribbeanness might serve a foreign purpose-the great powers’ need to recodify the world’s territory better to know, to dominate it-as well as a local one, self-referential, directed toward fixing the furtive image of collective Being. Whatever its motive, this urge to systematize the region’s political, economic, social, and anthropological dynamics is a very recent thing. (Benítez-Rojo 1) Chimamanda Adichie in a lecture on “The danger of a single story” stated that, “our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.” In the lecture she tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Hence Benítez-Rojo’s interdisciplinary approach is a commendable effort.
The body of the introduction to The Repeating Island Benítez-Rojo discusses four ideas which he used to describe the Caribbean experience. These ideas examined from what he called Columbus’ machine to the sugar-making machine, from the apocalypse to chaos, from rhythm to polyrhythm, and from literature to carnival. He gave the Caribbean the label of ‘meta-archipelago’ and justified it with the references to the role the Caribbean played in Europe’s movement from Mechantalist Revolution to its Industrial Revolution. He likened Columbus’ machine to that of a ‘bricolage’, a ‘medieval vacuum cleaner’. “The flow of nature on the island was interrupted by the suction of an iron mouth, taken thence through a transatlantic tube to be deposited and redistributed in Spain.” (Benítez-Rojo 5) This machine produced gold, silver, pearls and many more precious stones.
He went on to discuss Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ machine which was a combination of many machines. The ‘flota’ (fleet) a convoy system which was made up of a mixture of cargo ships, warships and light craft for convoys. This meant that all trade was now supported by this system to ward off efficiency issues with delivery of goods including that of piracy and privateering. From here he went on to discuss the movement to a more efficient machine which he called the ‘plantation’. This machine in particular “repeats itself continuously” (Benítez-Rojo 8) The point of his examination of these machines was to enforce the idea of the Caribbean as a meta-archipelago and to introduce the idea of the Caribbean as a ‘historico-economic sea’.
In defining of the Caribbean in the discussion of ‘apocalypse to chaos’ Benítez-Rojo stated that, “the Caribbean is the natural and indispensable realm of marine currents, of waves, of folds and double folds, of fluidity and sinuosity.” (Benítez-Rojo 11) Peter Minshall the great masman in a lecture at the University of The West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, said: “the islands have the license to me magical”. He also looks at the mystic in his attempt at defining Caribbean culture. He spoke of ‘supersyncretism’ and the people as being a “certain kind of way” who can conjure away the doom of apocalypse of the Cuban nuclear crisis with merely by being a “certain kind of way” which is something remote that reproduces itself and carries the desire to sublimates apocalypse and violence, which separates the onlooker from the participant. (Benítez-Rojo 16) Beyond the mentality of the people he discussed the formation of this culture or the Caribbean cuture and the chaos one would meet in determining the logistics of how it has come to be.
In discussing his point on rhythm to polyrhythm, he defined the Caribbean rhythm as a
metarhythm arrived at through signs like that of dance, music, language and so forth. It is a polyrhythm which presupposed a central rhythm. He gave importance to the use of improvisation and locates the aesthetic experience of the Caribbean people within the framework of rituals and representations of a collective, ahistoriacal and improvisary nature. He concludes this point by highlighting the role polyrhythm could play in the development of Caribbean people in areas like music, song, dance and even boxing.
All Benitez-Rojo’s arguments are related, and the ideas of the machine, chaos, polyrhythm, improvisation and being a “certain kind of way” comes together in his discussion on ‘From Literature to Carnival’. He argued that Literature is one of the most exhibitionist expressions of the world. He relates the relationship between the performer and the text and the way that a reader makes a text his own. He exams the authenticity of the existence of a Caribbean Literature. He mentioned the multi-ethnic nature of Caribbean literature as a representation of the society on which it floats, which has no choice but to speak of its fragmentation and instability. The impossibility to find a stable identity means that the Caribbean text must transcend, must avail it self of previous models. He also spoke of the Caribbean person as unable to keep the text to himself and as a consummate performer uses Carnival as the avenue to express Caribbean literature.
A rereading of the Caribbean is definitely necessary for post industrial society. Benitez-Rojo does not out rightly define the Caribbean but discusses avenues and processes which can be explored in the attempt to define Caribbean. He proposed a rereading and planted the seeds that can be used to as a point of departure. He highlighted the variety and chaos that results from merely being Caribbean and introduces points of focus which were never before discussed in the ways that he placed his arguments. This reading therefore, is a significant place to began a rereading of the Caribbean.
Adichie, Chimamanda N. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TEDTalks. 29 July 2009. Lecture.
Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and Post-Modern Perspective. Durham: Duke Unversity Press, 1992.Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1967.Print.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. “The Caribbean Region:An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 21(1):19. Annual Review Inc, Oct. 1992. Web. 26 Apr. 2013.
“THE INSPECTOR” (2016) written by Simeon Chris Moodoo and produced by Naparima College for the Secondary Schools’ Drama Festival. Where he won the The Victor Edwards Award for Directing; The Zeno Constance Award For Most Original Script; The James Leewah Award for Outstanding Production. In total, the Cast and Crew collected nine (9) special awards.
“MANIACS” (2012) written by Victor Edwards and produced for the purposed of the “Festival of Scenes” at The Department of the Creative and Festival Arts, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
“THE INSPECTOR” written and performed between October to November, 2016, for the Secondary Schools’ Drama Festival 2016, where it won nine (9) special awards, Inclusive of The Zeno Constance Award For Most Original Script.
“UNDER THE MANGO TREES written initially for the purposes of the playwriting course at UWI, it was then produced by Halqa Productions in November, 2014. It has then been re-written in 2016.
Played: Father & Pundit in Ayinde’s Chalkboard’s ” THE DOLLS’ HOUSE” (2015), written and directed by Jabari Tait and Kaithlyn De Gazon.
Played: Pa Joe in “WE STORIES” (2015), written and directed by Iezora Edwards, in part fullfilment of her Phd in Cultural Studies.
Played: Moonia in “SUNDAR” (2015), written and directed by Victor Edwards and produced by Iere Theatre Productions Ltd.
Played: Christian & Prakish in “MORE LOVE” (2014), written by Wendell Manwarren and Penelope Spencer, directed by Wendell Manwarren and produced by 3 Canal.
Played: The Commissioner in “LYSISTRATA” (2013), written by Aristophanes and directed by Candace Sturge-Dunbar at the New Directors’ Forum, hosted by The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.
Played: Gokool in “FREEDOM ROAD” (2013), written by Willi Chen and directed by Belinda Barnes, produced by the Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) of The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
Played: Chama in “MARIA ANTONIA” (2013), a 1967 Cuban classic written by Eugenio Hernandez Espinosa, translated and directed by Dr. Jorge Morejon, produced by the Department of the Creative and Festival Arts, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
THEATRE (PRODUCTION /STAGE MANAGEMENT)
Production /Stage Manager of the BV Theatre Project’s “BITTER CASSAVA” (September 2016), written and directed by Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson.
Assistant Production /Stage Manager of the BV Theatre Project’s “BITTER CASSAVA” (June 2016), written and directed by Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson.
Stage Manager of “TWIGHLIGHT CAFÉ” (2015) written by Tony Hall and directed by Antonia Thomas for the New Directors’ Forum, hosted by The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.
Production Manager of “UNDER THE MANGO TREES” (2014), wriiten by Simeon Chris Moodoo and directed by Marcus Waldron. Produced by HALQA PRODUCTIONS.
Point Fortin West Secondary, Naparima College, The BV Theatre Project, Halqa Productions, 3 Canal, Iere Theatre Productions Limited, Playwrights Workshop Trinbago, Arts in Action, Playwrights’ Circle – UWI 2014, Defense Lab, Bois Academy, and Map Brule Players.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
DIRECTORS’ WORKSHOP | COMPLETED 2016 | SECONDARY SCHOOLS’ DRAMA ASSOCIATION.
The workshop was geared towards drama/theatre arts teachers needing refresher courses specific to Directing, Playwriting and Improvisation.
Facilitators: Kurtis Gross and DMAD Company.
TEACHERS TRAINING WORKSHOP | COMPLETED 2015 | THE TRINIDAD THEATRE WORKSHOP, BELMONT.
For theatre and film practitioners and actors interested in passing on their craft, as well as educators interested in learning to use the dramatic arts to expand their teaching methods.
Related coursework: Teaching Acting through Text, Emotion and Movement.
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES, DEPARTMENT OF CREATIVE AND FESTIVAL ARTS, ST. AUGUSTINE CAMPUS TRINIDAD.
BA THEATRE (First Class Honours) – July 2014
Studies include: Playwriting, Directing, Caribbean and European Performance Theory, Caribbean Drama, Western Theatre History, Modern Theatre, Asian and African Theatre, Theory and Practice of Educative Theatre/ Community Drama/ Street Theatre, Caribbean Festivals, Drama and Society, Theatre Production and Contemporary Theatre.
Belinda Barnes (Assistant Professor in Acting at The University of Trinidad and Tobago, Academy for the Performing Arts and Interim Director at National Theatre Arts Company of Trinidad and Tobago) | firstname.lastname@example.org (Email)
Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson (Lecturer at The University of the West Indies, Creative and Festival Arts, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad) | email@example.com (Email)
Dr. Dani Lindersay (Lecturer at The University of The West Indies, Creative and Festival Arts, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad) | firstname.lastname@example.org (Email)
On Friday April 8th, I was afforded the opportunity to experience the Department of Creative and Festival Arts’ (DCFA)2016Student Theatre Production: Rashomon. DCFAis renowned for producing Caribbean based plays, so it was quite interesting to see them take on work originating from outside the region.
This is an imaginative play. The objective of the physical setting, lighting and music/sound is here to help create a magical mood-to cast a spell. Therefore ideally, all involved in re-creating and witnessing this world should allow their imaginations and talents the greatest freedom in fashioning something original and artful.”
(Dr Dani Lyndersay)
About the Play:
Rashomon is now perhaps our closing production in this space. A story which simultaneously clarifies and complicates what the audience knows or thinks it has seen, eventually creating a complex and contradictory vision of events that brings into question man’s ability or willingness to perceive and transmit objective truth.” (Dr Dani Lyndersay)
It was a spectacle oriented production, a beautiful work of art. Staging the Production outdoors was an interesting choice, in the open air, the forest setting was quite believable. The music that occupied the space before the play began was soothing and it magically carried me into the world or the play before I could think about it.
Together with the music, the lighting effortlessly allowed me to suspend my disbelief. However, since the actors were not miked, dialogue was lost from time to time due to being so close to the active bus route, and clashes with sounds/ music from the play itself.
Additionally, the set, language, costuming and makeup were effective in representing the differences between the poor and the wealthy in society. The dilapidated wooden “Rashomon Gate” versus the the bold red gate of the Magistrate’s Court, together with the ‘Standard English’ spoken by the higher classes in society versus the ‘creole’ spoken by those from the lower classes; and the Kimonos of the Samurai and his wife versus the “rags” worn by the bandit, the woodcutter, the wigmaker and the monk.
The strongest actor on stage was Rhesa Samuel, who did a superb job at playing Kinume (the Samurai’s wife). Her voice was always clear and she played the various versions of the character well, effectively communicating the various perspectives the characters had of her. Jeron Hackett‘s performance of Tajomaru, the bandit was full of energy and vigor, but I found him lacking range in the use of his voice and his approach to characterization, but I was happy to be able to hear his dialogue at all times.
The acting was generally indicative of students who are learning and growing, so I expect each performance to be one of diligent attempts at crafting and molding their art. The actors were obviously Caribbean people doing a Japanese play, whether this is a good or bad thing I cannot say. Maybe it allows for the Caribbean audience to experience the story and relate to the characters easily. However, this often disrupted my suspension of disbelief because, although the actors were dressed in Japanese clothing, I was not convinced that they were Japanese characters.
Dr Dani Lyndersay was quite successful in crafting the magical experience she set out to create. She utilized spectacle in the form of lighting and sound masterfully in moving the action of the play. The transitions between scenes were filmic, moving almost like the changing of frames in a movie. However, I must question the use of the opening “corpse”dance and the “wisps”. The dance seemed repetitive, hence it lost my interest early on and the lighting of that scene made it difficult to see it clearly. The wisps or spirits of the forest were highly decorated Moko Jumbies whogave life to the forest when the “Medium” summoned the spirit of the dead to witness at the trial. While the costuming was interesting, the wisps seemed to be under-utilized, thereby having little more than aesthetic value.
Rashomon was both an enjoyable and thought provoking experience. The story is intriguing with enough philosophical and psychological overtones to have you on the edge of your seat. A wonderful spectacle, Go See It!
On Friday 9th October 2015, I was afforded the opportunity to see the opening night of Teatro Journee‘s presentation of “Working with P.E.P“. It was more than a show, it was an experience, utilizing other mini performances and engaging activities after the show. Last month a number of local thespians, including myself, were bemoaning the existence of a lackluster two sentence description of the Trinbagonian Theatrical landscape, which we found in a certain ‘tourist guide booklet’. On the contrary, our work is amazing, we need more than two sentences!
The work is reminiscent of Jamaica’s Sistren Theatre Collective and their Documentary Theatre/ Protest theatre, due to graphic dramatization of the lives of those oppressed by our society, done by an all female cast and director. The performance of “Working with P.E.P” was a near perfect example of how to create and maintain the “suspension of disbelief“. We often take for granted that an audience would suspend their disbelief, however it is our job as performer(s) to create and maintain the conditions necessary for the activity. “Working with P.E.P” was well paced, engaging, pore raising, enjoyable and prize worthy.
ABOUT THE PLAY:
“Working with P.E.P” written by local playwright Lisa- Morris Julian tells the stories of three women who work in the Community -based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme otherwise known as C.E.P.E.P.. The play carries us on a journey which highlights the sudden judgements of society because of their chosen career and the class system that enslaves us still today. They are almost invisible to society as they are classed as merely stereotypes. One look at this play and you would see strong, courageous, fearful, fearless women who no longer guard their vulnerability but are now fighting for their voices to be heard” (Teatro Journee).
When the acting is good everything falls into place. Anisty Frederick, Tyker Pionero Giselle and Zoe White worked really well together. White’s performance was nothing short of committed, believable, and entertaining. Frederick’s strong presence and powerful voice captivated you especially when she sang, and Giselle’s performance commendable, though it seemed a bit ‘too much’ at first, it got better as the show progressed.
The lighting worked in perfect unison with the action (if there were errors I didn’t notice), so no complaints there. The costuming was both adequate and detailed. Although the play traversed time, place and memories the three actors were dressed as ‘C.E.P.E.P. workers’ throughout the play. Each character was dressed within the framework of the personal identity of the specific worker. An example of this was the worker who did no work had the newest and cleanest clothing and accessories. In addition to characterization, various pieces of cloth, hand and set properties were used to facilitate the transitions from location, time and with characters. The sound/ sound effects were functional and complemented the play very well, my only complaint is that the initial recorded announcements came on too loudly, but it was fixed almost immediately.
One of my favourite quotes is “You see the hand of the director less when the performance is good, and you see it a lot more when it’s bad” (Dr. L. Efebo Wilkinson).I found myself trying to figure out how much of the performance was done by the hand of the director, how much was the playwright’s vision and how much of it was the actor’s interpretation (s).
Furthermore, the Trinidad Theatre Workshop‘s theatrical space is intimate, but holds a fair amount of difficulty to maneuver to create a performance. This space isn’t your usual proscenium view. The director has to shape the action so that it has to be presented to three different audiences simultaneously or split the action in such a way that you craft what you want specific sections to see. Tafar Chia Lewis accomplished this to a near masterful efficiency.
Proscenium Theatre Company’s “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl“ is a must see! I was initially hesitant to view this production; during my theatre programme at UWI DCFA, I spent an entire semester interpreting and viewing various interpretations of every scene, so I know it relatively well and was conscious that I may be predisposed to my own bias. Still, I attended their opening night performance on Thursday 11th June 2015 at the Little Carib Theatre and while It was not a perfect show, it was an enjoyable performance and I imagine that it can only get better. There were amazing, emotionally captivating moments that had you on the edge of your seat, but there were also those that left you wishing that more was done. Incidentally, there were aspects of the performance that made it easy to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and there were aspects that made it more difficult to remain in the world of theplay.
• Karian Forde as “Rosa” • Jordan Penco-Marshall as “Esther” • Glenn Davis as “Old Mack” • Cecilia Salazar as “Sophia” • Zion Henry as “Young Murray” • Keino S. Swamber as “Ketch” • Kemlon Nero as “Mavis” • Gervon Bj Abraham as “Prince” • Stefan Simmons as “Charlie” • Andrew Hall as “Ephraim” • Stephen Hadeed Jr. as the “American Soldier” • Charles Reid. as the “American Sailor”
ABOUT THE PLAY:
“…John’s play shows us a world of limited opportunities and economic hardship. His setting is a rundown backyard owned by a dandified lech, Old Mack, who likes to enjoy seigneurial rights over the female occupants. The main focus, however, is on two of the male tenants. Ephraim is a trolleybus driver who plans to escape to England in spite of the demands of his girlfriend, Rosa. Meanwhile his neighbour Charlie, a former fast bowler who was a victim of the snobberies of pre-war West Indian cricket, is a hopeless dreamer heavily dependent on his truculent, seamstress wife…”
Proscenium Theatre Company could not have found a better actor/actress to play “Sophia”, veteran Cecilia Salazar had a refreshing presence, whenever the energy of the play was beginning to wane her presence resuscitated it and brought renewed life to the action. UTT’s Academy for the Performing Arts should be proud of its graduates, Karian Forde and Kemlon Nero. Forde did justice to “Rosa”, so much so that I expect that she is going to be a ‘much in demand’ actress in the near future (if she isn’t already). Nero (one of my favourite upcoming actresses/actors) was a crowd pleaser, but I felt as if it was not her best work. Stefan Simmons‘ characterization of “Charlie” was well done, his voice was pleasing to hear, but he mumbled his lines from time to time (something to work on). Keino S. Swamber‘s performance of “Ketch” was delightful, I couldn’t think of a better way to play the character. Visually Andrew Hall made a very interesting “Ephraim” but I felt as if I needed more from him in relation to an understanding of motivation for action. If he accomplishes this the play will improve significantly. Finally, the other actors did well, I only wish that “Esther’s” speech was a little less eloquent, and more indicative of one born to the barrack-yard.
The lighting worked well, but the costuming was not always period specific, with the exception of “Sophia” and I had issues with that. For impoverished people struggling to survive and living in a ‘barrack-yard’ they possessed some ‘pretty nice clothes’ and shoes (maybe some aging is necessary), and I wished thatthemore ofthe ‘vocal’ sound effects were live rather than pre-recorded, but other than these issues the technical aspects were ‘suspension of disbelief’ worthy.
While the director put together a good ‘moment to moment’ movement of the action, I have a few critiques to express in relation to Mervyn de Goeas‘ interpretation of “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl”. Firstly, I am not yet convinced that playing Mavis’ scenes farcically was the right choice, I thought that those scenes were too contrasting from the realism that drove the rest of the play. Those scenes could have still been comical without obviously playing for laughs. Additionally, a bit more work might be needed to make the tensions that usually exists in a barrack-yard setting become more visible. However, the work is ‘good’ and shows potential to be ‘great’ by the last run.
Moon on a Rainbow Shawl continues at the Little Carib Theatre
• Thurs. 11th -Sat. 13th at 8pm • Sun. 14th at 5pm
Crick Crack, Monkey break he back, for a piece a pomerac… In a Trinidad Guardian article on 21 June, 1970 Derek Walcott described Ti-Jean and His Brothers as his most ‘West Indian’ play. Furthermore, he called this play “the least forced, most spontaneous and least laboured [of his plays thus far] both in rhythm and concept”. However, if you attended Monkey Mountain‘s first performance of Ti-Jean on Thursday 28th May 2015 , you would disagree almost entirely. It was the worst performance I have seen in quite some time…it felt and looked like the most amateur of student productions, which is quite surprising since the cast consisted of a significant number of very skilled actors/ performers like Muhammad Muwakil, Tishanna Williams; Kurtis Gross just to name a few. In retrospect it was mostly due to the inefficiency of the technical aspects of the production that made the performance difficult to enjoy. (Hopefully they have improved!)
ABOUT THE PLAY:
Nobel Prize-winning author Derek Walcott explores the power of good versus evil, poor versus wealthy and the search for what defines humanness. This folk tale—told by the animals of the rainforest through dialogue, dance and song—tells the tale of a poor widowed mother, her three sons, and their bargain with the devil.
In relation to structure Walcott intentionally ‘bastardized’ greek drama by fusing it with Caribbean storytelling and other indigenous rituals. Furthermore, he claimed to be following in Aeschylus‘ footsteps, he goes as far as making this proclamation within the play itself:
FROG: Greek-croak, Greek-croak.
CRICKET: Greek-croak, Greek-croak.
FROG: (sneezing) Aeschylus me!
Walcott uses the story of the mother and son and their participation in a game of “Who vex loss” with the Devil to examine the Caribbean’s search for it’s place among the global community of sovereign states. In the book Plays for Today, Errol Hill cites John Simmons’ analysis of the play: “the play exists on several levels…” as a simple folk tale, a metaphysical verse play and a relevant black parable inciting to anti-white revolution. Hill also cites Eric Roach’s view that the three brothers are symbolic of the movement of generations through West Indian History. In essence the play is noted as a representation of the struggle against colonialism with the use of Greek and Caribbean theatrical/ritual/folk forms.
With the ticket prices for this production, you’re set up to expect a flawless show. As a theatre goer, when you see ticket prices over $150.00TT, you expect a lot especially when the evening is started with complimentary wine and beautiful house music that really helped to put you in the mood for something great. In the theatre, the set was colourful and the use of gobos for trees on the side of the walls set the mood for a magical experience, so you ‘suspend your disbelief’… and then it began…
The animals appeared with interesting and beautifully coloured costumes and you tell yourself, “brace yourself for a once in a lifetime experience”… however, after a few minutes you began to think that you never want to experience this again. Mouth Open, Story Jump Out! The first half of the performance was poor and the experience didn’t improve by the second! The music overpowered the dialogue and even when there was no music and the voices were audible, you almost never understood what was said. The only characters whose dialogue were clear and distinguishable were Ti-Jean (Muhammed Muwakil) and Gros-Jean (Kurtis Gross). It was obvious that the cast never worked with the set before since they seemed to be fighting each other for what little space was left after the scaffolding for the orchestra and flats were placed on-stage,the lighting cues were slow and mistimed at times, often leaving stagehands with no other choice but to awkwardly walk on and off a brightly lit stage to change set while there were blackouts for them to do these actions early on in the performance. Additionally, some of the dances seemed forced unto the play.
The best things about the production were the last song and dance before the curtain call and Danielle Lewis’ almost solo curtain call. This performance looked like a dress rehearsal rather than an actual performance.
It is important to note that everyone except Muwakil and Gross seemed to have problems with enunciation or their microphones, therefore for most of the play the audience was left wondering what was actually being said. My main critique of the performance is that there was a lack of clarity in relation to the dialogue, and I am not quite sure whether it was due to vocal techniques or technical issues.
Asha Sheppard: Frog
Sheppard’s characterization was good but I just wish that I actually heard her dialogue. I was only aware of what was being said, because I am relatively familiar with the script. Other than that, it wasn’t a bad job, but there is room for growth especially with combining croaking with dialogue.
Jesus Patterson: Cricket/Goat
There was no clearer indicator that the group never worked in the space with the set or costumes before, than observing this fellow. Cricket’s antennas were so long that they were literally whipping everyone in close proximity to them. However, his control of his body was quite good, and he did really well to compensate for the lack of experience wearing the costume as the play progressed.
Nailah Blackman-Thornhill: Bird
When I recall her performance I think “oh what a nice dancer”…but…other than that, nothing else really comes to mind.
“Work those wings girl!” Parris never let her energy fall, of all the creatures in the forest I remember the firefly most vividly. Simply because she did a really good job in maintaining her character…just wish I heard her dialogue.
Leslie-Ann Lavine: Mother
Lavine’s energy and physicality were ‘on point’, however, I would really have loved to hear her words.
Kurtis Gross: Gros-Jean
I couldn’t imagine a more underwhelming performance from such an experienced actor. It seemed as if he never worked with his hand held prop before, moreover the most belief breaking moment of the play was when he dropped his axe (personal prop) in anticipation for a choreographed ‘dance’ move with the character called ‘Bird’. However, it was nice to actually hear his dialogue.
Nickolai Salcedo: Mi-Jean
I was left wondering if he ever used the fishing net in rehearsal, since while on stage he seemed to not know what to do with it. However, Salcedo brought an energy and commitment to the performance that kept you alert, but I’m not sure if it was enough to help the audience to maintain a suspension of disbelief.
Muhammad Muwakil: Ti-Jean
One of the most experienced actors, with multiple Cacique awards to his name, Muwakil was the easiest actor/character to follow, though the scene where he played drunk left me confused.
Tishanna Williams: Bolom
Admittedly one of my favourite local actresses/actors, I felt disappointed to witness her performance. While her characterization was awesome, it felt unoriginal (Whether this is good or bad, I don’t know)…she seemed to be obviously imitating ‘Smeagol’ from the Lord of the Ring series, both in body and voice. Furthermore, her enunciation was bad, so I am yet to hear a single word she uttered on stage.
Aaron Schneider: Devil/Planter/Old Man:
“A poor ‘Wendell Manwarren’ imitation”, it looked as if he spent more time trying to imitate Manwarren (the character he seemed to be playing was Mr Manwarren rather than the Devil/Planter) than he spent creating his character(s). I heard bits and pieces of his dialogue, but his performance became labouring to look at since it seemed as if he was struggling with remembering his lines. So much so that Muwakil seemed to be attempting to help push the play forward while Schneider seemed to really want to remember his lines.
I once heard Dr. L. Efebo Wilkinson say, “You see the hand of the director less when the performance is good, and you see it a lot more when it’s bad”. Well, I couldn’t help but question the producer’s choice in the Director. Plays aren’t easy to put together, but this was the worst meshing together of ‘moment to moment’ movement that I can recall having witnessed since watching amateur student productions. I felt as if the Director did not understand the structure or the essence of the play, which led to a wide range of decisions based on spectacle/aesthetics rather than moving the play from beat to beat, moment to moment. Moreover, it’s quite possible that most of the flaws which I noted earlier, regarding the use of the stage, showed an inherent lack of understanding of the theater space and what is needed (and not needed) to allow for optimal use of the Little Carib’s intimate setting. This performance is a reminder that despite past achievements, your most current production is most telling, so keep working Christine Johnston, your work not done yet!
Brenda Hughes- Producer (Left), Christine Johnston – Director (Center), Carol LaChapelle- Choreographer (Right) and the Cast of Monkey Mountain’s Ti-Jean and His Brothers
“The play is about a Trinidad situation of a family in crisis. Comedy, as any good Trinidadian knows, can be found in all aspects of our lives and even in the most unlikely of scenarios…When someone loses his wife and finds out that his son is gay on the same day—we laugh (Norman is that You; 1999), someone gets “horn” and physically abused—we laugh (Diary of a Bad Red Woman; 2014); we even laugh at funerals (Death at a Funeral; 2010” (Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 21 Feb 2015).
HEAR THIS NAH! (Stole this phrase from my good friend Lalonde Ochoa…hope that he forgives me). On Thursday 26 February, 2015; I FINALLY made it to my first “Raymond Choo Kong” play/production “Party Done for the Freak Next Door”! Braving the inclement weather meant that I missed the house announcements. However, I don’t think that seven minutes would disqualify me from having the ‘right’ to write a review…so let’s get to it!
It was amazing to see that despite weather that would normally keep Trinis away from school and work, Queens Hall was packed and the curtain opened on time. If the remaining nights are so generously attended, I expect that this play would be an economic success (As most shows of this genre tend to be in Trinidad). This performance boasts a star-studded cast including multiple Cacique Awardees; the cast consisted of Arnold Goindhan, Kevon Brooks, Caroline Taylor, Raymond Choo Kong, Cecilia Salazar and Trevon C. Jugmohan. Unfortunately, the opening night was not perfect but it was not horrible either, it was ‘good’ (How do we really measure quality?). The tragedy of comedy is that we (the audience) laugh when we should cry, converse when should be silent and ignore what we should pay attention to e.g. we laughed uncontrollably at the following line: “Look at Bill Crosby, seventy-six woman lying on an innocent man” (Barry). Furthermore, the play “Party Done for the Freak Next Door” seemed more a tragedy than a comedy in dramatic style, since the “Tragic Hero”, deals with a “tragic flaw” and eventually “falls from grace”. These are all attributes of a tragedy, not a comedy.
The plot was ‘interesting’ (full of bacchanal; scandalous behaviour/happenings; twists and turns; intriguing storyline etc). The performance surprised me because I expected to see a comedy with sex scandals etc, but instead I saw a tragedy with comical moments. In essence the script deals with a number of social phenomena and issues (crime and deviance, kinship/family, love, gender roles, etc) which were presented satirically on stage (on a side note: I once heard Brendon O’ Brian say: “satire is funny because it’s one news report away from being true”-does this understanding have any bearing on the play/performance? I don’t know); the most disconcerting thing about the performance is the audience’s response to said ‘issues’, We laughed at everything! (Even things that weren’t comical) This was done so frequently that it caused me to miss large portions of dialogue. (Sometimes I think as a people, we trinis need to grow up!) Ok enough ranting…moving on!
The first half (ACT) was solid, the action moved from “moment to moment” at a good pace, the vocals were audible, but I didn’t understand the use of music, except for the lyrical content in some cases. So yay first half!
The second half (ACT) flopped, it contained a significant amount of dialogue and the action seemed to lose pace. Furthermore, the only interesting action(s) that appeared in this half were those scenes featuring the silhouettes of the “Freak Next Door” and T. C. Jugmohan’s character.
THE ACTING: I’ve seen these characters before! I felt as if the acting was lazy: (NB. compared to other productions/companies it was very well done, the characters were well-crafted etc.) Experience teaches the ‘tricks’ of the trade, so actors have at their disposal said tricks and previous discoveries to ‘produce’ a character. In this show, I felt as if the characters took little effort to assemble, although some might not see this as an issue and may welcome seeing their “favourite” actor in his “normal” role, I would prefer to see skilled/talented actors ‘work’.
Arnold Goindhan: “Ron”
When you are a multiple cacique award winner, who can really critique your work? Commonly known as “Pinny”, Arnold is an actor that every director would be grateful to have, he knows his work. However, maybe he knows it too well, I’ve seen him play this character before, I wish he was pushed more, but I can’t pick out any significant flaws in his performance (if any existed).
Kevon Brooks: “Curtis”
Honestly, I haven’t done my homework so I don’t know much about Mr Brooks, additionally I am unfamiliar with his work, but I believe he did his job well. I heard everything he had to say (except when the audience burst out laughing). Maybe, a little more work on threading the audience’s laughter needs to be done; his movement across the space was fine and his characterization was good. So I saw no reason to dislike his acting. Although I hated his character and wish I could do harm to Curtis, I can safely say that Brooks is Iere.
Caroline Taylor: “Pauline”
If there was any character “my blood cyar take” it was Pauline. Her voice was irritating, so much so that I was relieved whenever she wasn’t speaking. Pauline was intentionally crafted to be disliked, in addition to her voice, her body movements, the way she speaks, the way she relates to the other characters etc were easy to dislike, so well done! However, I have one little critique, I felt as if Ms Taylor overplayed her character from time to time, it was a little too obvious that she was acting so much so she was caught waiting for the audience to laugh at what she believed were her character’s punch lines. But, she did a good job regardless.
Raymond Choo Kong: “Barry”
The most likeable character on stage, Barry reminded me of Jeff Dunham’s puppet “Walter” (a mean old man who says comical or satirical things that we appreciate listening to). He is the “tragic hero” with a “tragic flaw” (his obvious disrespect for his wife; blind trust in and love for his son) which eventually leads to him committing murder and suicide. Choo Kong played his character well, but I suspect that he dropped lines from time to time, since the pace of the play seemed a bit odd in some of his scenes. I could be wrong.
Cecilia Salazar: “Janice”
Another well-known cacique award winner, Salazar looked more a “Miss Miles” than a “Janice”. Arguably the best actor to have on your cast, and an easy ‘director’s pet’ I felt as if her role demanded little from her. Other than my ‘pet peeve’ for not working talent and skill hard enough, there is little advice that can be given to someone who has been doing the job before you dared to dream about it. However, I dare to question the necessity of some of her stage moment, there were times when I was curious whether she forgot the blocking. But it is Cecilia Salazar and picking out possible flaws in her performance is a task I’m not ready to try.
Trevon C. Jugmohan: “Alan”
I’m not quite sure what to make of Alan, I wonder if it was necessary to see him (the character) on stage, I’m yet to figure out the value of his presence. Character aside, I believe Mr Jugmohan did a good job in his presentation. Maybe, a bit more work on stage presence is needed, but like “the freak next door” I would have been satisfied with just seeing Alan’s silhouette at the end of the play. (Maybe it’s a script thing?)
THE SPECTACLE:Lacking…The majority of the play was done with white lights, the stage was flooded for most of the performance and blackouts were used intermittently, but not regularly. The only significant use of lighting effects that I can recall is the use of silhouettes on a screen. So the lighting side of the spectacle was a little banal for this project. Additionally, the music felt out of place, in relation social context (since the play was local in setting, context etc, maybe local music could follow suit – my real issue with it is that I prefer live music, I believe it sounds better than recordings in most theatres); I don’t have any problems with the costuming; the props didn’t bother me either, but I’m not sure what to say about the set…It looked good, but I don’t understand it. It seemed to be a hybrid between a realistic set and an abstract piece of art, but I’m still not sure what to make of it.
The play was well put together, it flowed well, moved from moment to moment efficiently, everything that needed to be seen was seen…honestly, I’m not sure if I can really give a cacique award winning director any tips. However, I think closer inspection might need to be paid to some of the stage movement, there were moments that I didn’t understand the motivation or reason for moving in the space. Additionally, the second ACT should be tighter, and maybe something could be done to make the “wordy-ness” of the script more bearable.
So to end the review: although the play was marketed as a comedy, in terms of dramatic structure it was a tragedy. Furthermore, I consider it tragic that the audience received such serious issues in such an immature manner. It was a good performance, but I expected more from such a skilled cast.
PARTY DØNE for the FREAK NEXT DOOR is being HELD OVER b Popular Demand at CIPRIANI COLLEGE OF LABOUR • Thursday 5 to Sunday 8 March 2015. See Flyer for Details
On Thursday 18 December, 2014 Cipriani College’s CLR James Auditorium housed the opening of FAB-Productions‘ first production of “Miss Julie“, written by August Strindberg in (1888). It was Directed by Errol Sitahal, Co-Directed by Aryana Mohammed and Produced by Farrukh Altaf Barlas. Rebecca Foster played “Miss Julie”, Vedesh Nath played “Jean”, Tishanna Williams played Christine and Renee King played “Clara”.
“The play follows the relationship between Miss Julie a noble-woman and her young servant, Jean, on Christmas Eve night. Miss Julie has just broken off her engagement to her fiance, and is drawn to Jean’s charm. She flirts with Jean in front of his fiance, Christine, and Jean in turn encourages Miss Julie and flirts back.
Their relationship escalates when Jean pretends to be in love with Miss Julie, and persuades her to run away as it is the only way they can escape their dark pasts and even darker realities. But how far can they run before the darkness consumes them?” (FAB-Productions)
I enjoyed the performance, though it could have done without the lighting design; I did not like the set design either, but only because it felt disconnected from the set properties and the performance of the play; some of the acting and stage movement confused me because they lacked the character(s) intent; the attempts at adapting the language was not to my liking, because it felt “out of place” and disconnected from the characters. On the other hand, I thought FAB-Productions’ synopsis of Miss Julie intriguing and its tagline “A Lust Story” quite attractive. So I am pleased to have seen these things become manifest during the performance. It was not a bad performance, but it still needs work. I am not sure how to write about things I like, so this reflection/ review would focus on things I believe could/should be improved.
Firstly, I am always a bit cautious in approaching adapted plays for two reasons: (i) I do not believe that it is necessary to localize a play simply to update or make it more relevant to an audience (because your audience would be able to appreciate the work for what it is. If you do not think they would, then you should produce another play). (ii) A COMPLETE understanding of the essence of the text is necessary to adequately execute such an exercise and this is no easy task, if it is possible to achieve. A good example of an adapted work done well is Romeo + Juliet (1996) and yet the critic Roger Ebert saw it as a bad idea even IMBD rated it as a meager 6.9. So I usually advise against such dabbling.
“The desperation with which it tries to “update” the play and make it “relevant” is greatly depressing. In one grand but doomed gesture, writer-director Baz Luhrmann has made a film that (a) will dismay any lover of Shakespeare, and (b) bore anyone lured into the theater by promise of gang wars, MTV-style. This production was a very bad idea.” (Roger Ebert)
Despite Ebert’s harsh review of the Romeo + Juliet (2009) adaptation, I would not say that adaptations should be taboo. I would even say that FAB-Productions’ “Miss Julie” is a “fair-to-good” attempt at such an exercise. However, an alternative to the usual approach of sporadically interfering with the elements of drama (Plot, Theme, Characters, Dialogue, Music/Rhythm, Spectacle) to adapt a play could be: in addition to a local set design; personal/set properties etcetera, the iambic metre of the local language could be applied to the usage of the original text, instead of forcing local jargon and culture intermittently onto the existing text (A Derek Walcott suggestion-N.B. What the Twilight Says 1998).
Secondly, the lighting design did very little for me aesthetically. Furthermore, the attempts at setting the mood with limited fixtures (that they were unable to rig themselves due to restrictions of the space) failed. The lighting design seemed to attempt camera close-ups and transitions into movie-like thought bubbles (which the audience never saw). Therefore, more attention should be placed on the technical aspects of the performance in future performances. “Miss Julie” is a naturalistic play (This type of play examines its characters as ‘human organisms’; surroundings are described in detail and realistically depicted, emphasising the physiological effects of environment upon characters; Characters are driven primarily by natural urges and instincts…) so stretching outside the realm of realistic lighting is probably counterproductive. Exploration of area lighting or a simple whitewash would have been sufficient.
Thirdly, keeping in mind Strindberg’s naturalistic philosophy, the use of an abstract set design to reflect the chaotic emotions of Miss Julie and Christine’s “Christian” standpoint by using chaotic brush strokes on the flats and a very visible ‘cross’ just over Christine’s bedroom door, was unnecessary or contradictory to the playwright’s intentions.
Furthermore, the performance style, the costuming, and the personal and set properties were realistic so this set design did not fit neatly. Someone who is not familiar with the script would interpret it as a dirty wall (which when speaking to other patrons proved to be the case).
Fourthly, I thought a portion of the actors’ movement on stage was unnecessary. I understand the use of distance to create or stimulate tension, but it was difficult to believe that characters would randomly walk to the other side of the stage during ‘confrontational’ dialogue. Even if the blocking given by the director is to create distance or move to specific points on the stage, then it is the actor’s duty to find the character’s motivation to do so and to make said motivations accessible to the audience.
Additionally, for her first stage performance Rebecca Foster delivered a commendable presentation, especially since I learnt that she was battling chick v during the performance. Excuses aside, there were times that her dialogue was inaudible, and I was not always sure that she understood all the moments that she played. Additionally, “Miss Julie” and “Jean” lacked chemistry for the majority of the performance and the sexual tension was not always believable. There were times that the action on stage seemed forced, which was exacerbated by the sporadic use of local jargon and speech patterns.
Having spoken enough about my dislike for the use of language, I would now focus on other aspects of the performance (keeping in mind that the inconsistency of the use of language bothered me throughout the play). “Jean” played by Vedesh Nath maintained a monotonic speech pattern for the entire performance with the only variation coming via changes in volume, and the speed of delivery of his lines. I hope in future performances he would explore the use of tones and intentions/motivations for his dialogue and stage movement since his interaction with “Miss Julie” and “Christine” and theirs with him looked forced at times. Maybe work-shopping with characterization, trust and chemistry building exercises would help improve these forced moments.
I thought “Clara” played by Renee King was good, I enjoyed her performance though I’m struggling to understand the necessity of her presence other than for comic relief since the audience and Christine were both made aware of Jean and Miss Julie’s affair by other means. I may have to revisit the script to discover this. However, I can’t say that I have any advice for her. Tishanna Williams played “Christine” well, she brought life and energy to the play at moments when I was beginning to lose interest. She had a few forced moments when interacting with “Jean”, but these moments did not trouble me for long.
Finally, the total theatrical experience is one that must be examined from the moment you enter the doors and are greeted by the front-of-house personnel/arrangements. Therefore, it is necessary to mention the extremely pleasant ushers and the simple yet beautifully constructed front of house area. The evening was formal/ semi-formal in nature, whether this is pro or con I cannot say. Furthermore, the production carried with it a very exclusive aura, it seemed as if a “certain” type of audience was/is expected due to the price of the ticket and the “Please observe the following rules to ensure an uninterrupted performance” section of the ticket.
I enjoyed the performance and hope to see it improved and run from ‘moment to moment’ more efficiently. I had no love for the set and lighting design, but held no opposition towards the choices made for personal and set properties. However, I would like to see the actors do more work on building their characters’ relationships and understanding their characters’ intentions and motivations for every moment rather than most moments. Congratulations to the team! Continue to work and improve your product!
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