Quantity with quality - Good showings surface on packed weekend
The Corporate Area guarantees lovers of the performing arts a full cup of shows every weekend. Last weekend the cup overflowed.
Even the most enthusiastic fans of dance, drama and music (even art) would have found it impossible to partake of everything on the menu. For one, many events happened simultaneously.
And since some were on for the weekend only, what was missed might have been gone forever. I missed a lot, including the Wolmer's and the Alvin Ailey dance concerts at The Little Theatre. Still, I did manage to take in four events in three days.
I started in downtown Kingston on Friday afternoon, with the Bank of Jamaica's free end-of-month show. The featured act was the internationally acclaimed Jamaican Folk Singers.
Led by Christine MacDonald-Nevers, the bandana-clad singers entertained an almost full auditorium with music and movement for an hour. On the whole, the songs painted a nostalgic picture of Jamaica, with musical tales of village life, work and of relationships, good and bad.
Couples danced romantically Under De Coconut Tree, but also threatened to break up. There was the pleasure of friends meeting after a long time apart and singing Dis Long Time Gal Mi Neva See Yu and of Raftin' On De Rio Grande.
There was also the pain of War O, inspired by the Morant Bay Rebellion.
That evening found me uptown in Mona, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA) at the University of the West Indies, for the opening night of the Eight by Ten Theatre Festival. It was started a few years ago by PSCCA head Dr Brian Heap, and this time featured 24 directors with as many short plays, a different set being staged on each of the three nights.
I saw the 16 plays offered on nights one and two. I missed night three, on Sunday, because I had to attend another function, Music Through the Ages, a concert being presented by the Jamaica America Friendship Association (JAFA) across the road at the university's chapel.
Generally speaking, the Eight by Ten productions were good. I was particularly interested in the locally written plays which. On Friday, there were 'Losing Heart', by Desmond Dennis, about the reluctance of a mother to accept her bright daughter's lower class boyfriend and 'Poetry for Bogle', by Barbara Gloudon, a powerful poem telling the Paul Bogle story, acted out by Derrick Clarke.
Also on Friday were 'Balance', written, directed and performed by Jean Small, about a 79-year-old woman gradually realising during a phone conversation with a declared admirer that he really means her no good, and 'The Couch', by Karl O. Williams, about how patient-therapist roles get switched around during a counselling session.
There was also an experimental piece directed by the PSCCA's technical director, Nadia Roxburgh, which showed the problems a technical crew can have in preparing for a show. It was quite forgettable, but the other pieces showed good directing and acting, as well as writing.
Seven of Saturday night's eight 10-minute plays were locally written. The first, 'MEs', written and directed by Nicole Williams, showed Williams in the main role of a woman with multiple personalities being interviewed by a doctor. For me, the continually twisting, high-energy piece was a highlight of the festival.
'The Affair', written and directed by Rayon McLean, revolves around the conflict between a wife and her pastor-husband as he dresses for church one Sunday morning. She is upset because he is more devoted to the church than to her. While entertaining, the play lacks a resolution.
Fae Ellington's one-woman play, 'Mi Nuh Ready' is about an old woman reminiscing on her past and occasionally praying to Jesus, whom she wants to meet in heaven but, as the title indicates, she is not ready to go just yet.
Fabian Thomas' 'Devon' shows an inner-city father trying to stop his gangster son from going off to fight for the area leader, to whom the young man is devoted. Thomas' characters came alive, but there was no change in the characters' positions - which may be the point of the play.
'No Place at the Table', a dramatic monologue by the late Earl Warner, was visually well-staged by Joan Belfon. It's about a gay man who laments that every time he makes love he breaks the law. He moves from being sorry for himself to being defiantly himself.
'Oh John', written and directed by Tyane Robinson, was yet another play showing one- character, an old woman, reminiscing. She recalls the various happy and sad events of her, life, with the assistance of a picture album.
Patrick Brown's 'The Bucket List' is about a mother and daughter quarrelling about the daughter's many lovers, especially her current one. The play provoked much laughter, except at the end when the playwright imposed his own agenda on his story and dragged a bloodstained knife into the scene. The red gore suddenly turned the play 'black'.
While structurally twists in the tails of 10-minute plays (and short stories) are desirable, the authors also need to maintain consistency in the work's tone.
On Sunday afternoon, I was downtown again, at the National Gallery, which was having its regular Last Sundays programme.
A month before, I had heard Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna formally open the current exhibition, In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica. I went back last week for 'Soulscapinig', choreographed by Oneil Pryce and danced by three members of his company, the Barre None Dance Collective.
The performers, Neila Ebanks, Sophia McKain and Kayon Wray, danced on two levels of the building while reciting an amalgam of poems from Tim M. West's collection, 'Soul is Unfinished Business'. The dance was interesting and innovative, but it was difficult for the audience to hear the words of the poem which, Pryce told me after the dance, is an examination of the weight, smell and general nature of the soul.
A friend of a friend, visiting from Guyana and attending Eight by Ten, remarked that nothing like the entertainment offered in Kingston is available in his country.
Nor anywhere else in the Caribbean, I suspect.