Tales in several styles
Fabian Thomas and his performing arts collective, Tribe Sankofa, staged an afternoon multimedia show at the National Gallery as a part of its February Last Sundays programme.
Black Bodies honours the memories of four Jamaicans (Vanessa Kirkland, Michael Gayle, Mario Deane and Jhaneel Goulbourne) killed in recent years by the police or while in police custody. It also paid tribute to several African-Americans who died in similar circumstances in the United States.
"I am a teller of stories," says Tella (Keanu Daley), the Black Bodies narrator/griot who leads the audience through the harrowing stories. But the performers don't just talk. The first tale - the shoot-up of the taxi in which 16-year-old student Kirkland was a passenger - is told largely in a dance by Renee McDonald.
Gayle's story is told in a dub poem, The Beatings, The Screaming. Actor Darian Reid chants the piece, accompanied on drum by another Sankofa Tribe member. Gayle was beaten by the police and later died in hospital days after with ruptured intestines.
Deane was jailed on August 3, 2014 because he was found with a spliff. In a monologue, we hear that he was locked up with six men, one a mentally challenged person, and was found the next day beaten to death.
A skit was chosen for the fourth victim's story. The characters are Goulbourne (Toni-Ann Ewen), her abuser-guardian, a policeman (Jamaal McKnight), and the gunman who kills her (Reid).
Although portrayed with an intensity that conveys the victims' pain and suffering, all the episodes end with a peaceful ritual performed by Tella. In the final moments, the dead person's spirit is escorted off-stage by persons chanting "we release you into the light, with love".
Black Bodies ends with the dramatic recitation of Dennis Scott's poem Epitaph, singing of the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and chanting of Mount Zion Children, Walk Holy.
Black Bodies is an ugly tragedy studded with beautiful moments. Later at the Phoenix Theatre (formerly Theatre Place) on Haining Road, I saw the latest DHM Productions comedy, Same Difference, written, directed, produced and with set and lighting design by Dahlia Harris. Same Difference is a comedy which occasionally becomes farcical (or 'rootsical', putting it Jamaican-style), nevertheless addressing serious issues.
It begins with a farce's speed, two young people fussing and chasing each other in the tiny backyard of their upscale Chancery Hall home. Candy (Shantol Jackson) is rather simple-minded, while her bespectacled older brother, Ivor (Desmond Dennis), a lover of big words, is a university student.
Their yard adjoins that of Buster (Volier Johnson), a doctor, and his wife, Liv (Maylynne Lowe), who have just moved in. They have also moved up, as Liv reminds Buster, from a less prestigious part of Kingston.
The energy and speed of the young people's home contrasts starkly with the relaxed feel of their neighbours. Though complexion is never spoken of, the contrast between the light-skinned older couple and their darker neighbours is always before the audience.
Those contrasts quickly heighten when the loud, creole-speaking Minnie (Deon Silvera) enters the scene, trying to control her children (Candy and Ivor), and later when loud dancehall music emanates from their house. Buster and Liv, who want peace and quiet, are disturbed (to say the least).
Tension rapidly builds and the tale develops all sorts of twists when we find out that the two women had a prior unpleasant, even tragic, relationship. But the conflict is not just between the women; conflict also exists between Buster and Liv, Candy and Ivor, and Candy and Minnie.
While Black Bodies and Same Difference are studies in contrast, they have fine acting, energetic directing and engaging stories in common. I was told that the former will resurface, while the latter continues its run this weekend.