Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Washed away: A review of Judgement in Paradise

Judgement in Paradise, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker-turned-playwright Adrian Wildgoose, promised the end of the world – well, The Bahamas – as we know it, but delivered something quite different. 
In the context of destruction, Wildgoose tried to hold a magnifying glass to Bahamian society by highlighting issues like religious hypocrisy, lack of political accountability, familial neglect and national dependence.
The play really focussed on the relationship issues of the protagonist, Destiny Wilshine, with her father, Christian; her grandfather, Grandpa Wilshine, and her best friend, Chance. Subsequently, Christian Wilshine (well-placed irony) sells The Bahamas to foreign investor Seymour Bucks, who then renames the archipelago “Laziton”.
While this is going on, reporter Terry Smith is convinced by a Mayan priest that The Bahamas is meant to be destroyed on December 21, 2012, which she feels she must share with the rest of the country.
Firstly, I have to commend the cast because they clearly put a lot of work into the production and their effort can not go unnoticed. It was a cast of young people, many of whom were COB students and alumni. Though some shone brighter than others, I didn't see one person on stage that made me remember I was watching people act. The players clearly had a sense of character and where they fit into the story.
So, did I come away feeling I had watched a good show? Not exactly. The fundamental element that was missing in this play was strong writing. Perhaps with the desire to tackle so many pressing issues, Wildgoose was being over ambitious. The play seemed chock full of issues and themes and perspectives, but there was a serious lack of cohesion.
In terms of characters, some were written and directed with a lot of insight into life and the human condition. Others... not so much. Many characters were written and directed with comedy or furtherance of one of the various plots rather than realism in mind.
The character of the journalist was trying to convince The Bahamas to be prepared for the end of the world, but she never said why (“Because the Mayans said so” is not much of an explanation). At the same time, the radio talk show host, Haroldina Thriller, had moments of gold and moments when I wondered if she was on the radio or at the hairdresser. Two characters that should have provided the bulk of the insight into the situation had no insight to offer.
The elephant in the room with productions at The College of The Bahamas (COB) is often the technical issues. So needless to say, the lighting in the Performing Arts Centre (PAC) needs to be revamped for plays. Unfortunately from the middle of the theater, the glare of the state-of-the-art concert lights made it impossible to see the characters and it actually hurt my eyes after a while.
 In addition to that, many would argue the use of microphones by the cast was a serious faux pas. Many would argue the opposite. The clincher? When the microphones didn't work, the audience couldn't hear the actors at all. This seldom happens when you use the good old lungs and project – something easily done in a theater like the PAC, which has less than 500 seats.
All in all, the concept of the play was brilliant, as well as the use of the Wilshine family as the audience’s window into the situation. But plays are about people – their wants, their actions and their purposes. Many players ended up just on stage acting, when they should have been playing three-dimensional characters with purpose.
This was a valiant effort by young people in theater that is absolutely essential for growth – both of the individuals and the industry. Wildgoose and his vibrant cast should be commended for taking the time to contribute to Bahamian theater, and hopefully, they will continue to produce and learn.

This review was written by Reva Cartwright-Carroll and was originally published in The Nassau Guardian on June 9.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

‘If you have tears, prepare to shed them’: A Review of ‘Julius Caesar’ (2011)

Intense, rhythmic and methodical — all words that describe Shakespeare In Paradise’s 2011 signature performance, Julius Caesar.
After working front of house for Julius Caesar over three days and catching bits and pieces of the show, I sat down to watch it on its final night.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
“If you have tears, prepare to shed them.”
SiP’s signature play was directed by Bahamian legend, Philip Burrows. Burrow’s show was perhaps the best show I saw during the festival. Some say it was boring, apparently falling asleep even. I disagree.
He slashed Shakespeare’s original script to ribbons, axing scenes, monologues, characters — by god, you name it, Philip ‘Sweeny Todded’ it.
The show is two and a half hours long with intermission, but I didn’t want to leave the theater after the show — I wanted more.
Many have walked away from The Tempest (2009) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010) amazed by the set. Some claim that that was all they remembered of the show. Well, Caesar only had a black set of stairs and the character’s costumes (which were in earth tones), so what were they going to walk away with this year?
The play apparently.
It was intense, never letting up the tension, drama and death. Most plays I’ve seen have a hard time balancing tension. Either plays are too tense with no room to breathe or they are too comical with no overall point to the madnesss. Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” can easily suffer from too much tension — it is after all, about betrayal, suicide and politics — but it doesn’t and Burrows did a good job balancing this on stage.
Perhaps one of his more risky moves was to incorporate Bob Marley’s music in his show. I felt that it paid off as the songs he chose fit in perfectly in the play. I spoke to a few others who saw the show and they felt that it didn’t fit in the overall setting of the play, and it is a valid point. However, I felt the music set the atmosphere perfectly.
The actors did a fantastic job bringing to life these hundred-year-old characters. I’ve seen too few a Bahamian actress like Jovanna Hepburn (Cassius). To say she stole the show sounds almost cliché to me, but she did. Hepburn was phenomenal. She convinced me, held me and threw me against the wall — all with her lines. I had people asking me from the first performance what her name was. For her part, she really brought her character to life — as did all of the other actors.
Matthew Wildgoose continues to mature as an actor. As Mark Antony, he excelled, never allowing his comic genius to emerge. Antony, in this play, is a calculating, decisive and serious character. Wildgoose did an excellent job.
David Burrows was fantastic. As Brutus he served as an excellent companion to Hepburn’s Cassius. Their intensity was brutal and a scene with the pair always promised earth shattering exchanges.
Gordon Mills was perhaps the actor who I felt played Caesar a bit too light heartedly. When I think of Caesar, I think of the ruler that conquered the Ghals and left his enemies begging for mercy. The man was prone to genocidal tendencies after all. One can argue that Mills’ portrayal made him more sympathetic when he died, but I would have preferred a more serious Caesar.
The rest of the cast did a fantastic job and I was quite pleased to see many new faces to the Shakespeare In Paradise scene.

This review first appeared in The Nassau Guardian on October 28th, 2011.

Review: Mariah Brown (2011)

Mariah Brown is not a play that can please a wide range of audiences. Those who are used to big explosions, raunchy sex scenes and hollow protagonists will find no pleasure in this one-woman play out of Florida. Instead, Brown offers a satisfying historical and emotional view of a Bahamian migrant who pioneered Key West’s Coconut Grove in the early 1880s.
That’s right, Shakespeare In Paradise presents yet another one-man show from the United States, following last year’s “Paul Robeson” and 2009’s “Zora”. I might also add that audiences loved those performances. So it is no small wonder that “Mariah Brown” quietly pleases audiences this lap. I say quietly because Brown is no showstopper about a suspected communist or the great Zora Neale Hurston, but rather, focuses on a mammy — a good natured servant — in search of a better life.
This is where Brown shines, as Laverne Cuzzocrea (Mariah Brown) transplants audiences back to the early 1880s and delivers one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen in any recent play. Cuzzocrea breaks down her performance with direct contact with the audience and exerting raw emotion. Her performance is quiet yet boisterous.
Central to the story was Brown’s hope and fortitude in learning to read and write. There is such a similarity here with Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”. Learning to read is intrinsically linked with education and social awareness and this proves true as Brown warns her daughters of the ‘killings’ occurring in Florida.
She also finds an appreciation of poetry, especially the works of Walt Whitman and Shakespeare. Brown’s love for words, letters, reading and writing is ironically opposed to the blindness that her husband suffers. It is almost as if the playwright weakens the patriarch to truly reveal the strength that Brown possess.
Perhaps the most important theme of the play is community development. Brown was a pioneer, building the first home in Coconut Grove and persuading others to join her settlement. Here she shines not only as a mammy archetype, but also as a new archetype, earth mother. Brown cares for her community, especially her boss in the Peacock Inn who helps her to read. These elements, in my opinion, made the script fantastic.
There were no physically technical aspects to the play: no music, lights or fancy robots. It was simple. Cuzzocrea wore a traditional dress fitting that of a servant. For the most part, this worked well for the play, as the simplicity of the dress stayed in line with the atmosphere of the performance and the script. The greatest alien element to the play was the venue — The Historical Society — that fits nicely with the historical aspects of the play.
I honestly I have no qualms with the play. It was the right length, proved to be highly educational and it followed the three unities of playwriting; time, place and action. It didn’t hurt that Cuzzocrea was fantastic as Brown. I mean she had the audience.
Writer and director Sandra Riley first staged Mariah Brown in 2003 and followed with two additional performances in 2004 and 2007.
This was the first time Mariah Brown was staged in The Bahamas.

This review first appeared in The Nassau Guardian on October 10th 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Better The Devil You Know Review

P. Anthony White’s classic play, Better The Devil You Know saw a return to the stage this year thanks in part to the St Agnes Players and director Anthony ‘Skeebo” Roberts. The tale follows the exploits of a divorced couple in New York, 1980. The tagline refers to the play as a romantic comedy but there was really little romance. Instead, White’s tale offers something other plays this year did not – an insight into the human condition of both men and women. What followed was an introspective look into many themes, namely gender identity, migration and Post-Colonialism – not a small feat for such an old play.

Visiting from The Bahamas, Virginia (J. Camille King) finds that she is unable to adapt to the cold environs of New York. To make matters worse, Paul Christie (Anthony Roberts), her former husband takes up board in the same apartment. What ensues is an interesting dynamic between the two who share old stories and slice open new wounds. I found it interesting that the core action of the play (what the characters wanted) was written in the subtext as opposed in the literal – something most modern Bahamian plays do not do. Essentially Virginia wants to reconnect with Paul and vice versa. However, Virginia’s intentions are masked in malice and bitterness. Paul, who had manipulated their marriage of almost fifteen years, reveals that he could not love another woman and found it hard to move on—so much so that his current love interest is also named Virginia. At the core of White’s play is the fantastic issue of the human soul and love. This play is about a man and a woman trying to reconnect with each other and not knowing how. Isn’t that how we operate? Both are alcoholics, both lie, cheat and manipulate the other for whatever gain is available. For me this was the “AHA” moment of the play which is again, something that happens rarely.

Out of all of the clashes come great scenes that could have benefited from some dramaturgy though. Virginia and Leslie spent too much time giving exposition when more meaningful conversations could have occurred. The characters spent most of the play drinking and I mean drinking, drinking like sailors after a hurricane drinking. That’s all well and good but this drowning of sorrows in alcohol is never addressed in the play by the characters on a serious level. Why should they? Simply because the drinking has much to do with celebrating their daughter’s wedding as it does about the fact that these former lovers are nervous about staying with each other. It’s a way to dull the pain of a failed marriage that still stings them like it happened last night.

Both Leslie and Eva were unnecessary characters that had no action. To make matters worse the actresses were none too good either. Leslie (Zena Cooper) seemed to have one voice setting – which was set at 11 - whereas Eva (Emily Osadebay) who provided comic relief in her appearances in key moments never got to capitalize on her entrance, she would merely stagger off stage a few seconds later mumbling a line or two. I think with a little dramaturgy the play would have been a ton more interesting with just Paul, Virginia and a better developed Eva.

Roberts and King did a decent job opposite each other, but I feel with a little more rehearsal time and some more coaching for King, their performances could have been fantastic. Roberts knew what he was doing – this is familiar territory for him – but King seemed to be getting her feet wet again. This became apparent to me when King was first opposite Cooper. Sorry to say but her performance was like the sinking Titanic, but once Roberts joined her there was a noticeable change in her acting. I would have liked to have seen that from the beginning.

The stage was pretty dynamic and good measure was used to take advantage of the living and dining room and the upstairs area. I must say, other than Woman Take Two and the two previous Shakespeare plays done by Shakespeare In Paradise, I’ve never seen such a complex set design. The lights, music, props and costumes were incorporated superbly and only complemented the vast and glorious set.

As this is Roberts directorial debut I believe he managed to put on an entertaining evening. With time I hope to see more and more performances from the St. Agnes Players, ones that are as insightful as White’s.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Blog

So I created a new blog the other day. I know what I want it to be, so I'll see if that's what it will become. For now you can follow the link and see for yourself if Bahamian drama is your cup of tea -- and please fret not, this blog isn't going anywhere.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Cabinet Review

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to The Cabinet, a play about politics in The Bahamas. That’s right another political satire about our government. I can hear the other critics now...deep heaving sighs mixed with vodka shots and a great melancholy with ponderings on why God, why don’t they write something else for a change, or a, I thought of that ten friggin years ago can’t they be more original? I know how some of you feel, but please fret not, this was a play more about the human condition than anything and it worked! That’s right, it was good.

On April 1st, The Cabinet premiered at The Dundas Centre for The Performing Arts to a warm and enthusiastic audience. The play mirrors to an extent the events that occurred in The Bahamas at the turn of the century. Sir Lymon Leadah, former Prime Minister for over thirty years has just passed away and in that wake the current Prime Minsiter, Reggie Moxey, is conflicted about a promise he made to the people to only serve two terms in office. However after Lymon’s ghost starts appearing to Reggie, he decides to concoct a plan that would ensure his position as Prime Minister in years to come.

Written by Ward Minnis and directed by Dr. Ian Strachan, the play is set in the fictional isles of The Archipelago and stars Chigoze Ijeoma as Reginald Moxey, Ward Minnis as Jerome Cartwright, Ian Strachan as Sir Limon Leadah, Sophia Smith as Latoya Darling, Matthew Wildgoose as Kendrick Johnson and Arthur Maycock Jr as Fenton Green. In our tiny nation, this counts as an all-star cast. So with these points in mind, let’s see how The Cabinet fairs.

What it did right

It made me laugh. Then it made me laugh again and some more after that too until I was busting my guts. Yeah, some of the jokes, puns and acting may have been a bit cheesy in some spots, but together as a cohesive piece, the comedy shone through like the glittering piece of British humor it reminds me of. That’s right, I went there, Britain! Matthew Wildgoose proved once again that he is a comical genius in any role given to him. As Kendrick, Wildgoose showed a dynamic of not just performing over the top idiocy, but also quiet moments of inner turmoil that just busted guts. Wildgoose is no newcomer to the scene either; he’s been acting for over five years now and proves that comedy is his comfort zone. Minnis as Cartwright was fantastic. He was never too overbearing but had the right amount of range to pull off the comical bits written for the exceptionally dry character. Ijeoma should be here as well, but I actually found him limited in his acting and we’ll talk about that later.

The script was well written and a decent job was done to bring it to the stage. And while we’re talking about the stage, it was set up in three spaces, Cartwright’s front room, Moxey’s office and his study at home. The spaces were dynamic and well placed. No one space blocked the view of another. I appreciate that as Moxey’s study table could have easily blocked any of the other two spaces from view.

What it could have done better

Moxey’s character is a direct caricature of a certain Prime Minister, but you knew that, the man was miming Hubert’s voice and laugh for goodness sakes. However, I found that very voice too soft to hear at times, and honestly I heard the laugh once despite him doing it in almost every scene. Ijeoma’s problem was, he never projected to the audience, except for the two instances where he shouted. To make matters worse, after the intermission he didn’t ride the laughs anymore. What I mean is, he said a funny line, the audience laughed and while we were laughing he continued with his line. Know what that means, we missed the line. That’s not cool.

And while we’re talking about Ijeoma, I felt his acting was flat. But now get this, when I read The Cabinet his character was not. I had similar problems with Latoya and Fenton, but sadly they were written flat. They were only meant to be catalysts, nothing more. This means that Ijeoma had some bad direction. When he was meant to seem melancholy, excited or deeply touched, I didn’t believe him because he was not displaying the range expected of the part.

Sir Lymon Leadeah was an interesting character as he had the most dynamic scenes with Moxey. However I felt these two really could have capitalized on some scenes better than they did, especially the father-son moment they shared in their final scene. I feel the comedy was played more than the emotional connection I was looking for in a scene like that.

I can see the stones heading my way now! “Stone that bastard!” they shout. “What he know anyway?” I sorry, I sorry!

Back on track, The Cabinet was fantastic ya! It’s just what we needed back in 2007, an actual play about the government, but here it is now and it’s still funny. Like I said before, the script is fantastic – it works. Does that mean it’s not without flaws? No, it has some, but that’s ok. Nobody cares; this production was well done and shows that Dr. Strachan is slowly moving forward in his role as director. If you are looking for a good night of laughs then look no further, The Cabinet aims to please and returns to The Dundas on April 7th.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not My Good Child Review

Stirring, but not much of a dramatic play...

If you ask any Bahamian on the street who Michael Pintard is, you’ll get a resounding, “He’s one playwright and a poet ya see.” If you ask anyone in theatre who Michael Pintard is, you’ll get a, “He’s one of the most serious and business oriented writers we have.” Well one or two might say that. Regardless, Pintard is as famous as drama writers (he’s not a playwright) get in this country. He’s up there with Ian Strachan, Nicolette Bethel and Telcine Turner.

For the past month Pintard has staged his newest play Not My Good Child between Grand Bahama and Nassau. NMGC tackles the theme of violence in the community. Like its tagline, it is a timely piece that does just what good drama is supposed to do – hold a mirror up to society. With that said, let’s look at what worked and what didn’t work in this production.

The Good.

One of the best attributes of the production was the acting. No matter how stony faced audiences tried to be, everyone left the theatre shaken. Pintard’s cast hit home with their charismatic and haunting performances. There were good comedic moments as well, but perhaps the only disappoint of the acting was that it was limited. The cast never really had any scenes to actually do anything – they just preached.

The stage was well utilized as a means to convey this sort of performance. On stage right was a group of upper middle class citizens consisting of Osborn the MP, Edwina the lawyer, Will the accountant and Edwina’s maid. They meet to discuss ways to tackle crime, but end up pointing fingers as to whose fault crime is. On stage left, the criminals defended their actions via soliloquies – which felt awkward at first. In the end, two worlds were represented in two very different spaces. Whilst the group’s space was homely and warm (representing security), the criminals space was bare with only a dim spotlight showing their presence –representing uncertainty.

The Bad.

This was not a dramatic play. NMGC isn’t a play, or a piece of drama at all. It’s more of a collection of soliloquies. High energy, teary eyed, shouting to the roof soliloquies. There were over nine of these speeches. Over nine. That’s nine too many. Plays have structure (a beginning, middle and an end). They build towards the high energy, teary eyed high point of dramatic tension. To stage a production that is basically nine orgasms but no fun of the actual sex gets old. In fact, the best part of a play is the build up to that dramatic high point right before catharsis. Now theatre of the absurd challenges this structure, but one must understand the conventions that one is breaking. Just a note though, Pintard’s stuff isn’t absurdist. I understand that this is how Pintard stages his stuff, but let’s be honest; he can’t take his productions anywhere else in the world and get good reviews, so I’m not cutting him any slack here.

There was no overarching story. Every character that came on stage had their own story about how they got caught up in violence, but none of them were connected to each other or the group’s story. It created this open mic night sort of atmosphere. This left me wanting more. I wanted to know more about these characters and just how crime really impacted their lives before the tension filled speeches hit my ears.

The Ugly

Production wise, Pintard should not have used microphones. Part of the theatre process for an actor is to project him/herself to the audience. Microphones make actors lazy on stage. It also causes the audience unneeded hearing problems. For instance, two soliloquies both had shouting performances. Shouting into the microphone equaled loss of hearing on my part and disturbed my enjoyment of the piece.

Whenever the four member group had a scene, lights came up. When the other members of the cast had to deliver soliloquies, the very dim spotlight was used. This spotlight was so dim I couldn’t actually see the actor, so I found myself looking at other things and only returning my gaze to said actor once they started shouting. However, I can’t really hold this against them as this was their first performance at The Dundas.

The group itself was obsolete. They acted as mediators between the different characters soliloquies where their job was to bring the energy down. However, when Osborn and Willy started having shouting matches; it didn’t work out so well, thus failing. After an hour and a half I dreaded having to hear Edwina tell the two men to stop bickering or watch the maid clean the bookstand for the fiftieth time.

The production also got preachy – which you never want to do to your audience. Instead of showing, characters were telling and expositing. There was so much of it that I never want to hear that word again. Where’s Poitier when you need him? Oh there he is! Poitier give me some showing instead of telling! Ah, that’s better. Where was I?

Theatre is about characters in conflict. But what happens when only the conflict is brought to the stage and no build up is given? Does it work? I don’t think so. NMGC captures the tension, sorrow and anger of a violent country, but I only wish that it was actually a dramatic play. And that is where it falls short.