Concubine? part of MoBay's theatre thrust
Saturday night's audience at Montego Bay's Fairfield Theatre for Aston Cooke's comedy, Concubine?, was enthusiastic, to say the least. It included two busloads of teenaged students who laughed at every joke (especially the sexy ones) and sang along with all the dancehall songs played during the many scene-change blackouts.
The students were bussed in by the play's producer, Sydney Reid, as part of what he terms "creative ways" to get bodies into the seats of the "way out of the way" theatre. (It sits atop a hill about 15 minutes' drive from the city centre and a potholed, rock-strewn, unpaved road takes you the final two chains from the main road to the theatre.)
Reid told me in an post-show chat that he is "battling for a theatre in the city", trying to get "a top-of-the line one with 150-200 seats" included in the Montego Bay development programme being led by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).
Meanwhile, he is looking for temporary theatre space in Montego Bay "to test the audience."
Reid is confident that the city and its environs can supply large audiences.
"We have enough people to support a five-month run," he declared.
I have heard other producers say otherwise, but Reid should know what he's talking about. He has been promoting and producing plays from the late 1970s, starting with the Ed Wallace production Operation p--!? at Holiday Inn. The sold out show encouraged Rhone to promote others and eventually direct, produce and promote Trevor Rhone's Two Can Play at Wexford Court Hotel.
Featuring Montegonians Lloyd B. Smith and Betty-Mae Lawrence, the two-hander got standing ovations every night. Reid said, "It was then I realised, OK, I'm in theatre," Reid said. And he has not looked back since.
"Over the years, I have brought all the big players from Kingston to Montego Bay - the actors and playwrights, all the big names. And I've taken them across the country - to Mandeville, Savanna-la-mar, Ocho Rios, anywhere, though I've never gone to Portland."
His current mission is to develop all aspects of theatre in Montego Bay - the actors, directors, writers, producers and patrons - in addition to getting a proper, centrally-located playhouse.
"It's the talents we need to improve on. My struggle is to get the actors to the standard that I want, so that any play we give them they can deliver," he said. If this was an indirect criticism of the acting in Concubine?, it was well deserved; the performances were workmanlike, rather than sparkling.
Nevertheless, Reid continued by asserting that with the requisite training theatre in Montego Bay can be as good as theatre in Kingston. "We have won three Actor Boy Awards already," he reminded me. [They include Lloyd B. Smith and Makeda Solomon being chosen Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively.] "But we need to be consistent," Reid said.
As our talk drew to a close, Reid told me of a serious grouse.
"Theatre world in the country has changed. Writers are now producers. As a promoter, not a writer, I'd love to get material to produce, but with the writers now producing themselves, I may have to go overseas for scripts, or use one already used," Reid said.
"So you want original material for Montego Bay?" I asked.
"The whole country wants material," Reid replied, and began naming our major playwrights. He was right; they are all producers as well.
FLAWED PRODUCTION SCRIPT
Even though Reid said that Concubine? has had a good run since it opened on Boxing Day 2015 and he is planning on taking it to other venues, I see major weaknesses in both the production and script.
The main characters, Patsy (Kerisha Nelson) and Winston (Marlon Brown), have been in a common-law relationship for 15 years. Although Patsy keeps asking, in fact begging, Winston to marry her, he keeps refusing. His mother, he confesses to Patsy, has told him that he can find a more suitable wife than a former exotic dancer.
After Patsy tries to seduce Winston with a very tame dance routine, he tells her that he has found someone else. She is Lisa (Dawnett Toppin), the human resources manager at his workplace. Lisa is supposed to be sophisticated, but neither her speech nor her appearance convinces.
At the other end of the spectrum, Patsy's former dance colleague, Shelly (Alexia Stewart), is supposed to be a "sketel", but doesn't quite bring it off. She is too loud, too broad, and is obviously acting.
Brown's acting is too much on one level, laid-back, even in tension-filled moments. Ricardo Redwood, who plays Winston's friend Desi, has perhaps the easiest role; he has nothing to lose or win in the story and is there just to convey information.
Patsy's begging for marriage goes on far too long; it's repetitious and causes the story to drag. This speaks to both its demeaning portrayal of a Jamaican woman and the play's structure. It would have been much more interesting if Patsy had started to fight back early in Act 1, rather than halfway through Act 2.
The material probably didn't allow the director, Nadean Rawlins, to be more than just so-so with this production.