Laughter with a dash of risk
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Laff It Off, produced by Oliver Mair and directed by Craig McNally (both double up by having relatively brief on-stage roles) is a riot of a revue. Running at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, for two weekends - which end with shows this Friday, Saturday and Sunday - last Sunday's audience raised the roof with extreme merriment.
The laughter for the series of self-contained skits, with song playing a strong role throughout as is standard for a revue, was for the most part sustained. Whatever slight lull there was - and that was only relative to the highs otherwise - came in the immediate post-intermission period. And this was because the first section was so strong.
However, by the time Rodney Campbell as Mutabaruka in dress and voice ("yes, yes") had interviewed a weeping Vegas (Russhaine 'Dutty' Berry), Muta's assistant (Christina Starz) handing over various mopping up implements, the howls of laughter were back at peak level and stayed there. There was a redefinition of peak at the end of Laff It Off, through a confluence of preparation and circumstance.
The preparation was in the script, the last skit being a prison scene in which Buju Banton (Campbell) and Vybz Kartel (Akeem Mignott) are amazed when the warder (Mark 'Bones' Martin) tells Busy Signal (Berry) that he is free to go. As in real life, Busy's early release is attributed to his lawyer and, with Dalton Spence on guitar, the band of boys did a take-off of The Beatles' Let It Be, sing that when someone is in legal trouble they should "call starbway" and "get KD".
The circumstance was that KD Knight was in the audience, the actors indicating him in coordinated movement several times as the audience howled. Knight was even involved in the curtain call, delivering a brief jiggy moment to send the audience into yet another paroxysm of delight.
It was a fitting end to a strong production in script, acting and technical details (there was intermittent use of multimedia which augmented rather than distracted from the onstage action), with the topical subject matter resonating with the audience. If there was a consistent thread, it was Patria-Kaye Aarons as a recurrent Portia Simpson Miller, hurrying across the stage with a travelling bag, after a number of Jamaica's past prime ministers spoke (Mair's Seaga-like facial tic, took the house down before he said a word) and turning down interviews as she was "working, working, working".
Members of the audience chanted the busy PM's mantra, as they had cooperatively sung along near the beginning of Laff It Off to a tune against exorbitant light bills ("JPS, JPS the light bill too high"), conducted by Berry who separated the audience. There was a high of another kind in Simone Clarke-Cooper's voice, as she went high to outdo a happily hapless Madam Consuela - who did not take being upstaged lightly.
But the revue was not averse to some risk-taking, as in two instances, it tackled topical homosexuality squarely. In one skit, Mignott was directing a beating up of himself, while a video recording was being made of the moment. A woman comes in on the scene and is aghast at the mauling, until Mignott (who, along with Campbell and Martin get a lot of excellent stage time in Laff It Off), explains that two youth who were caught in a bathroom at a popular tertiary institution, had been given scholarships to go abroad.
She promptly led the resumption of the mauling, very enthusiastically.
In another scene, two rats (Martin and Campbell) debate the wisdom of moving out of New Kingston, Martin adamant that he was leaving as the new breed was taking over. That new breed was revealed soon enough, a cross-dresser coming on stage, moving slowly across the front of the audience to smile and wave at a male audience member.
In both cases, the laughter went over well.
There was graphic reference to the sliding dollar, which beat out Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Carl Lewis as athlete of the century, a sermon from a 'bad breed' pastor who made no bones about his materialism, a Roman trial with a choice between Kartel and Damion Crawford (played by McNally), a traffic police spelling test of a motorist with a hilarious misspelling of 'truck', a slew of talk show complaints and a Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) leadership debate that went over 'Nicely'.
It all added up to many a loud, lasting laugh.
Playing in August ...
Enjoy the coolest summer at the movies. It's definitely in to be out at the movies! And as Summer sizzles on, fans can continue to enjoy the coolest entertainment option, in a family-friendly atmosphere, at Carib 5, Palace Cineplex, Odeon Cineplex and Palace Multiplex, where there's a flick for just about everyone. See you at the movies!