Fri | Aug 18, 2017

For the Reckord | 'Ds' playwrights tackle violence differently - Strong audience reaction to Michael Dawson, Basil Dawkins' scripts

Published:Friday | January 27, 2017 | 1:00 AM
Supt. O'Mally (Oliver Samuels, left) and his girlfriend, Gwen (Ruth Ho Shing), make up a mutual admiration list in 'Four Can't Play', staged at the Little Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew.
Michael Reckord Supt. O'Mally (Oliver Samuels, left) listens sceptically to a proposition from his friend Barry (Dennis Titus) in 'Four Can't Play', staged at the Little Little Theatre.
Vincent (Jean-Paul Menou, left) asks for forgiveness for his abuse of Karen (Shana Wilson) in 'Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi'.
Karen (Shana Wilson, left) gets angry with and her abusive boyfriend Vincent (Jean-Paul Menou) in 'Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi', staged at the Jamaica Shopping Club Theatre, 6 Cargill Avenue, St Andrew.
Karen (Shana Wilson, left) and her mother, Audrey (Rosie Murray) discuss the abuse Karen has suffered in the play 'Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi'.
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Michael Dawson and Basil Dawkins take diametrically opposed approaches to violence in their current plays, Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi and Four Can't Play, respectively. Yet, both have been getting good houses and equally vociferous audiences.

However, those attending Dawson's drama also get angry as the story of domestic abuse unfolds, while those at Dawkins' comedy about a dangerously jealous husband laugh uproariously throughout. This should be good news for those playwrights who, in the belief that sufficiently large numbers of theatregoers will only attend comedies and dramedies (plays with serious themes treated comically), have avoided tackling tragedies.

Directed by Michael Nicholson, Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi features Jean-Paul Menou as Vincent, a married man who continually batters his girlfriend, Karen (Shana Wilson). Her mother, Audrey (Rosie Murray), desperate to get her daughter married to Vincent and go off with him to Canada, downplays the seriousness of the abuse, while Karen's friend, Toni (Brittaney Bailey) gives comfort and support.

While the preachy, overly wordy script handicapped the actors' naturalness and the small stage cramped the director's ability to place them, the power of the story frees audiences to express their feelings with gusto. Many would have left the theatre unhappy as I was at the play's 'up-in-the-air- you-figure-out-what-happened ending' they want to know if the wicked are punished.

power of the story frees audiences to express their feelings with gusto. Many would have left the theatre unhappy as I was at the play's 'up-in-the-air- you-figure-out-what-happened ending' they want to know if the wicked are punished.

 

Comedy in tragedy

 

With Four Can't Play (Little Little Theatre) Dawkins continues to "tek bad something mek laugh." Former police superintendent O'Mally (Oliver Samuels) has a couple of problems; he's stingy with his money and he snores like a freight train. So his fiancee, Gwen (Ruth Ho Shing), is reluctant to go ahead with the marriage.

At the hotel where they go to try to iron things out they meet a married couple, Barry (Dennis Titus), and Annie (Maylynne Lowe), who are on the verge of divorce because of Barry's jealousy and attendant violence. A bigger stage, a more imaginative set (by Michael Lorde) and more conversational script enable directors Douglas Prout and Toni-Kay Dawkins and the actors to make the production more entertaining than Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi. However, Tek Yuh Han Offa Mi was written to do more than entertain.

Ironically, Dawson came to the conclusion that audiences wanted more than comedies when he was a promoter/producer of comedies. This, he told me, was between 2011 and 2014 when he helped to form Oliver Samuels Marketing and Entertainment (OSME) and was executive producer of the Samuels plays Who A Di Don (2011), Embassy Saga (2013) and Dolly House (2014).

While managing OSME tours, Dawson began to interact with promoters in the Jamaican Diaspora. "It appeared that, in addition to Oliver's plays, the 'reality' bug that took over USA mainstream television, had taken over Diaspora theatergoers and they wanted to see plays that reflect what was happening today 'back a yaad'," Dawson said.

This led to his writing Tek Yuh Hand Offa Me and producing it at the former Green Gables Theatre, 6 Cargill Avenue, St Andrew. Now under his management, the complex has been renamed the Jamaica Shopping Club Theatre. It has two performance spaces, one with 150 seats inside the building and one on the outside with 350 seats.

I saw Tek Yuh Hand Offa Me in the latter space on the final night of regular showings and it was packed, even after opening in November.

Special benefits and a North American tour are in the offing.

He has two other plays in the pipeline, Where is my Daughter, about human trafficking in Jamaica, and Dem Say Anything Too Black Nuh Good, about race relations in the country.