Differing comedy styles in ‘Frenemy’, ‘Heist’
Audiences of two comedies playing this weekend, Frenemy (Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, Cargill Avenue), and Heist (Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, Mona), should find lots of opportunity to laugh, for both plays are quite funny. But the laughter will be of two different kinds.
Patrons of Frenemy will find themselves laughing with the characters on stage, while those watching Heist, will laugh at the characters. The former is a realistic comedy with empathetic characters, or at least characters you can recognise, even if not like; the latter is a farce: the characters are cartoonish, the story the stuff of fantasy.
Frenemy's author, Oliver Samuels, likes to boast that he's from St Mary, a "countryman," not a "town" man, and in the play's main character, Freddie (whom Samuels plays), he has created a simple St Mary plumber, a kind-hearted man, though a little irascible. The audience sees the world through his eyes and takes on his troubles.
They are mainly people. One is his friend, Willie (Volier Johnson), who, very soon after the curtain rises, turns out to be a samfie man. The other is his son's girlfriend, Rose (Lakeisha Ellison), who is lazy, and what's worse can't cook. These two characters change quite a bit over the course of the play, with one improving and the other becoming really awful.
Now, since a major pleasure of experiencing stories - in plays, movies, short stories and novels - is observing characters change, especially if they develop, the psychological movement in those characters is satisfying. The play would have been more thought-provoking if the playwright had been able to make the other two characters, Freddie and his son, Carl (Dennis Titus), undergo change, too; as it is, they remain the same from beginning to end, but happily, there is a strong enough storyline (and sufficient jokes) to compensate for that weakness.
The single set is basic (we see the outside wall of a house, a bench, a small table and some potted plants), and the lighting even more so: lights go on, and they go off. But acting is strong. As the director, Samuels was working with actors he has known for years, and everyone looks comfortable, and believable in his/her role.
A light-hearted 'Heist'
Heist was born small, a light-hearted 20-minute romp which got, among other awards, the one for Best Production in Tallawah 2014. Now, playwright-director Maya Wilkinson has remoulded and blown it up into a 2-hour, 40 minute work with 16 characters (there were three originally) that does not work half as well.
There are two major weaknesses. The script needs cutting by at least 30 minutes, and the pace of the production should be increased to at least its original speed. Farces by nature move quickly; like Usain Bolt, they start fast and accelerate.
Because the story idea is quite fantastic - a newspaper owner tries to boost his sales by having a famous painting stolen from a gallery so that his reporters will have an exciting story - it should never be treated realistically. But not only are there realistic scenes (like the opening one in the newspaper office), those scenes will be followed by stylised ones in which the characters move and speak in non-naturalistically. The styles are confused and confusing.
On the positive side, the acting is good - with Desmond Dennis stealing the show again (he was Best Actor in the Tallawah production) and being well supported by the principal actors, David Crossgill, Everaldo Creary, Darian Reid and Chris McFarlane. And the lighting is excellent, carefully lighting various stage areas and enhancing the several moods of the piece.