YESTERDAY AND TODAY – 2 PLAYS FOR JAMAICA 50

BLACK ON BLACKE

Jamaica is a country of contrasts, carved out by its history as a former slave plantation and British colony. It is mere divine co-incidence that in this Jamaica50 year celebrating the start of the ‘new Jamaica’, two plays currently running in Kingston demonstrate very accurately the development of the nation from the start of the struggle for freedom, to the Jamaica of today, showing the difference between Uptown and Downtown, rich and poor, two studies in Black and Blacke.

MR & MRS BLACKE is set in the Uptown Kingston world of gated communities and three-bedroom townhouses with designer décor, where a stay-at-home wife and her investment broker husband battle verbally to define their marriage and secure their financial goals.

Mr. & Mrs Blacke are obsessed with wealth. Mr. Blacke is anxious to seal a deal with a former boss that will earn him Millions, but Mrs. Blacke is jealous of the former boss – a woman, and suspects the deal and the relationship. As the viability of the deal is questioned, the foundation of the mutually-childless relationship frays and the quarrel that has been simmering under their 10-year-old marriage erupts into a fight that opens old wounds. Mr. Blacke throws Mrs. Blacke out of the house, she returns defiantly and then …. no, I won’t spoil the ending.

STANLEY, FAY, PULARCHIE & P takes place nearly a century ago in a Downtown Kingston tenement yard, at a time when poor Jamaican workers were beginning to protest slave wages in a series of island-wide strikes and riots that gave birth to the modern trade union movement.

Ferril, Titus, Davis, Newland
Photo: Rudolph Brown/ GLEANER

BLACK WORKING CLASS          S,F,P & P was written by the late Gloria Lannaman with a central theme of the labour unrest of the 1930s. The playwright uses this period of Jamaica’s history to weave a tale of the life and human conditions of the Black working class people of that time and the significant political and social developments that led to the Jamaica of today. Stanley, a wharf worker who lives with and loves Fay, is agitating the other workers to demand a raise in their hourly wage from NinePence to One Shilling an hour – a surprisingly princely sum to Joey, the country-bumpkin-come-to-town who earns NinePence a day as a farm manager!

Stanley’s efforts to persuade the workers to join his demands for more pay are resisted by Silas, who says workers cannot win against management when there is so much willing, free labour. Stanley’s efforts to mobilize the workers causes him to lose his job, then as rioting begins in the street, Silas is killed and Stanley is framed for his murder. To escape, he must … no I won’t spoil the ending either.

SOCIAL CONTRASTS  Seeing these two plays one night after the other was an unusual experience of social contrasts for me. In two nights of good theatre, Jamaica takes an astonishing leap from yesterday to today. You get the feeling that if the characters in either play met each other in real life, neither would recognize or acknowledge the reality of the other. No one in 1938 could have believed that their grandchildren could have left the ghetto so spectacularly as the two uptowners in their pristine white townhouse. Nor could the two uptowners — accustomed to their smartphones, gymn appointments and expensive lunch dates – ever believe they came from the humble beginnings of Stanley and Fay’s yard, though in fact, we ALL came from there in one way or other.

Compared with the pathos and emotion of STANLEY & FAY, MR & MRS BLACKE’s marital strife seems trivial and even amusing. But it is as real a picture of the economic lives that fashion Jamaica today, as was STANLEY & FAY of yesterday’s Jamaica. In fact, it is so uncanny how similar both couples are, that both plays should be a compulsory double-bill presentation for all Jamaica to see.

King, Patterson, Issa

STELLAR PERFORMANCES  What both plays have in common are some stellar performances, rarely seen on a Jamaican stage. MR & MRS BLACKE has only two actors, Keiran King who is not just a good actor believable in the role, but he also wrote the play and produced it. He and Keisha Patterson – a perfect portrayal of female yuppie hysteria — occupy the stage throughout the entire play in a perfectly co-ordinated duologue that ranges through all emotions that expose the highs and lows of their relationship with keen acting talent. The story of the yuppie couple gives a telling (and perhaps accurate) glimpse of the life, interests and aspirations of those behind the gated walls of ‘uptown’ and the play is a tour-de-force of acting, as well as a well-written story not often seen in Jamaican theatre. The surprising ending adds up, but it’s a story we hope isn’t fully over, perhaps a sequel – as it was such a pleasure.

Director Paul Issa moves his actors effortslessly across the stage, giving them dramatic action and pacing that makes the play a delight to enjoy. He says he worked hard to present the characters tuthfully, without passing judgment on their flawed but human natures. The producers Eight, Seven, Six Productions, whose brochure states that they ‘set their standards high’, presented an exceptionally beautiful set that gave an accurate setting for the drama, including an outdoor garden with plants on which ‘rain’ falls very realistically in one part of the play.

SET DESIGN    Set design is again a beautiful feature of the STANLEY & FAY set, this time the brick and board, zinc roofs of a Downtown yard are spread across the stage. At one side the walls of one house disappear in a scene change to reveal a bedroom in another part of town, while in another scene a very realistic ‘country truck’ bumps and jolts the comic relief couple, Joey and Doris towards the country. The audience was in awe of the set changes which were quick and quiet.

Former PM Hon. P.J. Patterson with STANLEY & FAY cast
PHOTO: Rudolph Brown

The players are each excellent. Dennis Titus as Stanley shines in his role as the labour leader, with Sherando Ferril as his girlfriend Fay. Maurice Bryan plays Stanley’s friend Nathan who joins him, while veteran actor Carl Davis plays Silas who does not suport the cause. Marguerite Newland plays Miss Pularchie, matron of the yard and mother of Doris, and actually played the role of Doris in the original staging of the play in 1974. Special mention must be made of Donald ‘Iceman’ Anderson who played ‘Joey’ with a unique comedic talent that made his scenes memorable. Director Pablo Hoilet can be proud of his work. This was a class production, no wonder as the production’s Patron was former PM. P.J. Patterson who attended the night I was there.

STANLEY & FAY was a great reminder of days gone by. The language so carefully researched by writer Lannaman, caused us to laugh to hear it. Remember ‘chuppence’ (Threepence) or ‘grip’ (small suitcase)’? “Whe’ yu ben dey?” (Where were you?) caused the loudest laugh of the night. But more than the laughs was the opportunity to be reminded of what our forefathers endured to win the full freedoms from slavery, through the struggle of the 1938 workers. It’s a battle worth remembering, as we celebrate 50 years of an Independent Jamaica.  Congrats to producers Marjorie Whylie and Pauline Stone-Myrie, who played Fay and Ms. Pularchie in the original production.

JAMAICAN THEATRE EXCELLENCE    Overall, these two plays show that Jamaican theatre still has moments of excellence, amidst the popular camaraderie that graces our stages. I encourage productions to have a film record made of these theatrical gems, so that generations to come may have the opportunity shared by a few adventurous theatre-goers who value live, high quality entertainment.  GO SEE THESE PLAYS!!!

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FESTIVAL JAMAICA STEALS REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL

Ol’ pirates yes they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships.…’ BOB MARLEY

Ziggi Golding

In a shocking development, while the organizers of the Jamaica Reggae Film Festival have been waiting since October 2011 on the promise of a contract from a British organization to bring the event to London for the Olympics and Jamaica 50 celebrations, the England-based organizers have instead pirated the Reggae Film Festival concept, booked reggae films directly and designed a new logo that advertises the Reggae Film Festival as part of a British event that competes with the official Jamaica 50 celebrations being held at the O2 Arena.

Festival Jamaica 2012, scheduled to begin July 27 in Stratford, London, is organized by UK-based Ziggi Golding and a British team. The event website advertises a Jamaica Film Festival and a Reggae Film Festival as key events of an 11 day programme. The event, which promises to be an annual activity that will tour the UK and Europe promoting Jamaica, has no official Jamaica approval or endorsement.

RFF STILL WAITING FOR PROMISED CONTRACT

In correspondence with RFF organizer Barbara Blake Hannah and Festival Jamaica organizer Golding dating back to June 2011, the Reggae Film Festival was invited to be a pivotal event of the Festival Jamaica 2012 activity and advertised on its website. However, despite scores of emails over 12 months from Mrs. Hannah to Ms. Golding while the RFF was being advertised on the Festival website, the last promise of a contract and payment for the RFF to be part of the event was made on July 9.

On July 14 the Festival Jamaica website was unveiled with a new Reggae Film Festival logo, a list of films to be shown and information that the film festival is being programmed by an employee of the BBC whose media center is housed at the Festival Jamaica 2012 venue, along with the CNN news studio.  The website informs that the 11 days of the Jamaica/Reggae Film Festival will be curated by Maxine Watson, BBC Commissioning Executive for Documentary on BBC One, from the archive of BBC, Independent features, informational and sponsored films.

Films to be shown include ROCKERS, by Greek-American director Ted Bafaloukas; the films LIFE & DEBT, H2 WORKER and AFRICA UNITE by American Stephanie Black; Chris Blackwell’s DANCEHALL QUEEN and COUNTRYMAN.

IMITATION SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY?  Since its inception in 2008 the Reggae Film Festival has been imitated all over the world. In the past five years several Caribbean islands have copied Jamaica’s lead and started film festivals, while in Amsterdam a Dutch company has been hosting an annual screening of films with Jamaican themes and topics, some of which it produces and distributes. This week a ‘German-Jamaican society’ advertised it will present “The FIRST OFFICIAL JAMAICA FILM FESTIVAL” in Frankfurt in October as its Jamaica 50 tribute.

An important feature of the programme proposed by the RFF was the screening of 15 award-winning CINE JAMAICA short, animated and feature films by new, young Jamaican film makers to give an opportunity for their work to gain international attention at the Olympic event. “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not the most honourable,” says RFF Director Blake-Hannah. “This piracy of the Reggae Film Festival concept is a real slap in the face for the indigenous Jamaican film industry that is struggling to survive and find resources to capture and tell Jamaican stories.  It’s wonderful to see that we have inspired these events, but at the same time it’s a shame that year after year we struggle to find the support in Jamaica that these international events have. ”

The REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL officially registered its name and logo with the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) in 2008, but registration in Jamaica does not provide international protection. The Jamaica Film Academy committee is considering what steps should now be taken.