Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Fine production of Walcott classic

Published:Friday | November 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Basil (Romaine Pottinger) walks away from the dying Moustique (Duvaughn Burke).-Photos by Michael Reckord
Makak (Chris McFarlane) prepares to destroy his vision (Juette Carty) in 'Dream on Monkey Mountain'.
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Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

One of the truly great Caribbean plays, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain, is currently running at the School of Drama, Edna Manley College (EMC) of the Visual and Performing Arts. It has been given an excellent production by two multi-award winning theatre practitioners, producer Eugene Williams (who is head of the school) and director Trevor Nairne.

It's a pity that hundreds of English Literature students who would benefit immensely from seeing the play - especially those from rural schools - will probably not do so. For very good reasons, the production has been staged in the EMC's outdoor amphitheatre. Consequently, unfortunately, that means shows could not begin before 6 p.m.

It's too darn hot. And too bright, which means the show's excellent lighting effects would be nullified. Perhaps those problems caused the audience to be lamentably small for the show's opening last Friday.

In the notes for the printed programme, Nairne calls the play "a quest for an African identity and the liberation of selfhood," a quest that "has occupied the consciousness of our ancestors since the dawn of slavery".

Since, Nairne continued, he regards Rastafari as "the most unique and reliable manifestation of black revolutionary consciousness on the planet", it made sense to him to stage the play (which, though set in St Lucia, speaks to the entire Caribbean) as a Rastafarian meditation. However, the Rastafarian colours and attire are seen only briefly during a couple of Nyabinghi celebrations; the rest of the time, in the body of the play, the colours and dress are more African than Rasta. And since the text is followed pretty faithfully and there are no references to Rastafari (only here and there is a "Jah" inserted), the Rastafarian link comes across weakly.

However, as a whole, the production is powerful. The acting, especially by principals Chris McFarlane as the half-mad dreamer Makak; Duvaughn Burke as his friend, Moustique; and Alicia Taylor as Corporal Lestrade; is excellent.

The size of the set, designed by another Actor Boy-award winner, Ron Steger, fits Walcott's huge concept. Nairne utilises the entire natural bowl in which the amphitheatre rests, with as much action taking place on the stone stage, steps and adjacent tower as on the hillocks around the stage.

The story centres around a drunken dream of charcoal seller Makak, who is lying in the cell he was thrown into by Cpl Lestrade on a Saturday night for being drunk and disorderly in public. In the dream, Makak frees himself of an obsession with whiteness, symbolised by a white-faced dancer, and some of the trappings of colonialism.

Though Dream on Monkey Mountain has another three nights to run, it seemed to me that it, as well as the recently closed Venus before it, should have larger audiences. I asked Williams what the responses of audiences to productions at the nearly 40-year-old drama school have been over the years.

The responses, he said, have been as varied as the audiences themselves. Those he considers cultural and educational critics support the Drama School's objectives and understand the productions' context. "They recognise the fact," he said, "that you are often witnessing second-year students or students who are in a teacher education programme discovering and growing in a new learning experience and, in many cases, producing compelling performances."

"These patrons are often able to provide objective critique that affirms the process and identify

interesting interpretations, even when the production does not hit the mark. Most of these patrons have expressed the view that the school's productions are an integral source of entertainment and meaningful sustenance to them."

However, Williams said, "There are those who are accustomed to the commercial fare and are sometimes disappointed, or those who expect to see the work of senior students of a conservatory (the old English Drama School model) and sometimes end up having a miserable experience and can find no redeeming qualities in the work, except when the demands or accessibility of the play seem to fit the talents of the cast and teaching strategies of the director."

He continued: "There are also those who have glowing things to say most of the time. But, importantly for us faculty and students, it is the very rigorous post-production critique and the contextualised responses from audiences that centre everyone and allow the students to focus on the learning that is still ahead."

Dream on Monkey Mountain plays tonight and tomorrow from 7:30 p.m. and closes after Sunday's 6 p.m. show.