Tue | May 23, 2017

Two plays and a ballet

Published:Friday | March 20, 2015 | 3:00 AMMichael Reckord
Suzette Barrett as Sister Grace in ‘Prayer Partner’.
Danielle (Shana Wilson, left) with Peter (David Tulloch), disguised as a woman in ‘Prayer Partner’.
Giovanni (Chris McFarlane, left) shows off an engagement ring to his rival, Peter (David Tulloch), in ‘Prayer Partner’.
Abe (Michael Nicholson) in a threatening moment during ‘Prayer Partner’.
Samantha Brevett (left) who plays Elizabeth and Faybian Grizzle (Jonathan) in ‘Prayer Partner’.
In the foreground are Tori-Ann Ivey (left) and Faybian Grizzle, who play a feuding brother and sister in ‘Ded Lef’.
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Michael Holgate and David Tulloch are among the versatile practitioners of Jamaica's performing arts. Among many other things, they write, produce, direct and act in plays.

They authored and directed productions now running in theatres on adjoining premises along Cargill Avenue, off Half-Way Tree Road, St Andrew. I saw Holgate's Ded Lef, a musical produced by Ashe, on Saturday evening, and Tulloch's Prayer Partner, a Probemaster comedy, on Sunday evening.

Earlier on Sunday, I saw Russia's Bolshoi Ballet company's latest production of the exquisite Swan Lake at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre. Alerted by a rush of bookings early in the week, Palace Amusement Company used both auditoriums for the audiences - and got decent houses in both. The ballet was also screened at Palace Multiplex in Montego Bay, St James.

The ballet audiences were much larger than those I saw for two nights of Ded Lef and one of Prayer Partner.

I spoke to Tulloch by phone on Monday. He is the author of both the triple X-rated Risque (which, when staged about a year ago, featured a dildo the size of some persons' arm, half-naked people and simulated sex on stage) and the religion-flavoured Prayer Partner. So I asked him which type of play he intended to focus on in the future.

He does not intend to specialise, Tulloch replied. Some of his audiences loved one type, some the other, and he wants to write for both.

 

well-tested ideas

 

Sunday's audience, though not large, loved Prayer Partner. Tulloch has employed a couple of well-tested ideas in his story. The first involves a romantic relationship between uptown and downtown individuals. It's as old as Cinderella, it's at the heart of David Heron's Ecstasy, and Basil Dawkins has used it in a couple of his plays.

The second idea involves a man disguising himself as a woman and then, to his dismay, finding that another man is attracted to him. The concept is used in the film Some Like It Hot and there are variations in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It, as well as the movies Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire.

The disguised character in Prayer Partner was Peter, played by Tulloch himself. Peter is a nerd, bright but diffident and with a prolonged snort for a laugh. Not surprisingly, the girl he loves, Danielle (Shana Wilson), regards him only as a platonic friend. Her real interest is the charismatic, self-assured Giovanni (Christopher McFarlane). Of course, her father, Abe (Michael Nicholson), prefers the highly educated nerd to the playboy, so conflict arises between father and daughter.

The play's other character, Sis Grace (Suzette Barrett), is a professional prayer partner who will visit your home. A loud, Bible-quoting, larger-than-life character, she regularly gets text messages from God. Barrett's zany acting tends to pull a play that, up to her entrance in Act 2 was a comedy, into the realms of farce.

Prayer Partner delivers what it set out to give, two hours of entertainment. With Def Lef, Holgate and Ashe, which has a tradition of educating while entertaining, has a weightier purpose.

 

Plot

 

The story is about a man in search of his roots. Born in Jamaica, at six years old, Jonathan (Faybian Grizzle) was taken to England by his mother, Elizabeth (Samantha Brevett). He returns to Jamaica as an adult to bury his mother in the rural community they came from, but is met by a hostile sister and residents who have trouble understanding his pronounced English accent.

Jonathan has even more trouble understanding the community, especially the nine-night ceremony, residents are planning to give Elizabeth a proper send-off. His girlfriend Shelly (Britanny Bailey), sister Akeemah (Tori-Ann Ivey) and father (Rudolph Tomlinson) are among those who try to get Jonathan to embrace his culture.

Very cleverly, Holgate uses traditional and popular songs to comment on situations and personalities, propelling the story forward. With the songs come energetic dancing he also choreographed. The musical arrangement was done by Conroy Wilson, who also designed the colourful costumes.

On behalf of a professional, middle-class couple I know, I need to ask Holgate some questions. The play has a traditional nine-night setting, so why are so many of the dances in the modern dancehall style? The couple, who told me they couldn't take the dancehall music and accompanying gyrations and left the show at intermission, love ballets like Swan Lake and the classical music accompanying them.

 

Holgate's intent

 

They are Jamaican. They embrace their European heritage. If Ded Lef is making a statement about Jamaican roots as a whole - the 'Out of Many One' concept - why did Holgate twin dancehall and revival music for the show and not European music, too?

If his answer is that the play is about one individual's return to his roots, not a nation's, that is fair enough. But that brings me to the matter of Jonathan's language. Why, after his epiphany, does he completely revert to Jamaican creole? Isn't Standard English part of our heritage and especially his, since he lived in England most of his life?

Ironically, the reason the couple went to Ded Lef in the first place was because their good friends highly recommended the production.

The saying "each to his taste" applies most strongly to matters cultural.