Mon | Oct 23, 2017

'Not My Child' an excellent tragedy - But Tulloch's direction needs improvement

Published:Monday | February 15, 2016 | 12:00 AMMarcia Rowe
Deondra (Crystal Fletcher) and her grandmother Mavis (Leonie Forbes).
Mavis (Leonie Forbes, left), Alvin (Donald Anderson, centre) and Mary (Belinda Reid) in 'Not My Child', playing at the Green Gables Theatre, Cargill Avenue, St Andrew.
Deondra (Crystal Fletcher, left) and Alvin (Donald Anderson) in 'Not My Child', playing at the Green Gables Theatre, Cargill Avenue, St Andrew.
Mary (Belinda Reid) and Mavis (Leonie Forbes).
Mavis (Leonie Forbes, left) and Patience (Rosie Murray).
Alvin (Donald Anderson) and Mary (Belinda Reid).
Patience (Rosie Murray) reacts to hearing sad news in a radio broadcast.
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David Tulloch's tragedy Not My Child is more than entertainment. It is a catalyst for change.

The play is based on a true story and Tulloch not only cleverly conceals the lines between reality and creativity, but, as the director, is also able to pull together a pool of talented actors who are astounding in their roles.

Seen on Wednesday at the smaller indoor theatre of the Green Gables complex on Cargill Avenue, St Andrew, the cathartic play is set in an inner-city community called Andrews Lane. It explores the themes of infidelity, deception and poverty (and more) through the lives of two families. One consists of 74-year-old helper Mavis (Leonie Forbes), her mentally challenged daughter Patience (Rosie Murray) and feisty 14-year-old grandchild Deondra Myrie (Crystal Fletcher). The other family is Mavis' employers, Mary James (Belinda Reid) and her husband Alvin (Donald Anderson).

In the opening scene, set in an obscure but lavish room at the James' house, Mavis is fired from her job of 52 years. When her plea to remain on the job seems to fall on deaf ears, Mavis leaves in anger with a pronouncement of destruction on the James household. The result is a gut-wrenching ending.

While Tulloch must be commended on his dramatic interpretation of the tragic occurrence, sprinkling the seriousness with laugh lines (perhaps to remind the audience it is a play) was quite effective. He is also able to generate feelings of unease through the plot's unpredictable construction and excellent acting from his cast.

Leading the charge are two veterans, Murray and Forbes. To say they are amazing is an understatement. Forbes is incredible in evoking empathy for Mavis, while raising questions about her actions and decisions. Hardened by her life circumstances, Mavis seems to believe the end always justifies the means. This is fully understood by Forbes, who portrays these qualities throughout the play. And in the closing scene, while not shedding a tear, Mavis declares her granddaughter's death a "sacrifice" while comforting her distraught daughter Patience.

Murray is able to create the mentally challenged Patience with knowledge and empathy. From physical appearance to speech, she was spot on. Patience's appearances, in comparison to the other characters, are few, but Murray makes sure she is not forgotten. Murray stamps her authority on the often repetitive lines with just the right intonation, thus evoking pity for her character.

There was also an excellent performance from Fletcher, who plays the defiant, alluring teenager Deondra. She captures the fickleness of the age group with aplomb, through appropriate gestures, mannerisms and correct timing.

Anderson and Reid, while not as outstanding as Forbes, Murray and Fletcher, held their own. However, except in a 'seduction' scene, Anderson was in perpetual motion, with excessive gestures that competed with his ability to internalise his character. Whereas she was convincing in her character's moments of deception, Reid needs to internalise Mary's feelings, especially when she is addressing financial matters.

 

BETTER WRITING

 

Tulloch proves to be a better playwright than director. Except for the seduction scene that showed some well-thought-out positioning of the actors, movement for the rest of the play is mundane. Having Mavis and the rest of the family repeatedly sitting on the settee on a stage with a house that has some limitations was not the best decision. However, the entrances and exits were clear and well defined.

The double stage set is reflective of the characters' status. Both sets create the illusion of small dwellings. To the right (facing the stage) is the shabby-looking living room of Mavis and her family, and to the left a more affluent-looking room for the James family. The costumes are also compatible with the characters' social status.

Other elements, such as lighting and music, are just as effective.