For the Reckord | Comedies in contrast
The two comedies staged at Phoenix Theatre, Haining Road, over the weekend are dissimilar in structure and content. Rosemary Murray's Slice of Life, which I saw on Saturday, is a coherent one-woman show about Murray's interests and incidents in her life. Dahlia Harris' Dat A Gwan Jamaica, which I saw on Sunday, is a fragmented revue performed by five actors and focused largely on national issues. Both, though, are immensely engaging.
Murray is an experienced actress and uses her face, voice, gestures and movement to deliver lines with power and variety. Her presentation alone is entertaining, and she probably could use those acting tools to make the reading of a telephone book enjoyable.
But what holds our interest at least as much is the story she tells. Now 58 years old, Murray exposes details of her life that, she suggests, as a younger woman she'd have been too inhibited to share with an audience of strangers. For example, we hear about her ganja-smoking days, her drinking nights, and that time, as an adult, she messed up herself and had to wash her dress and underwear in a nearby bathroom and then walk on the street in wet clothes.
She talks about sex, getting pregnant at 29, discovering that many men are attracted to pregnant women, and the painful effects of undergoing a Caesarean delivery. Murray talks about her experience at the funeral parlour with the man embalming her mother. And she touches on many other topics and incidents which, on the face of it, are serious. Yet she makes them not only amusing, but hilarious.
Helping with the show's appeal are the colourful set (designed by Owen Francis), which provides lots of hanging space for the many items of clothing Murray wears, and the music (selected by Tesfa Edwards) she plays and dances to. Add to those the fact that for the entire first act while she is talking to her audience, Murray is putting the ingredients of a pudding together - really. The very clever production is directed by Owen 'Blakka' Ellis.
FIVE GOOD PLAYERS
Dat A Gwan Jamaica, which continues at Phoenix Theatre this weekend, was produced by Harris' company. She also wrote, directed and acts in the show, demonstrating again that she is equally good at all three tasks.
The actors she hired - Christopher McFarlane, Maylynne Lowe, Orville Hall, and Kadeem Wilson - are as good as she is, which means Harris' production has an all-star cast. Each member plays many parts, some of which recur. For example, McFarlane plays On Stage host Winford Williams a couple times, Hall comes back repeatedly as both Gully Bop and the dreadlocked higgler Rootsy, and Wilson is seen more than once as a street seller of ladies' underwear.
In addition to a dozen or so skits, the revue contains songs, dances, and dub poems. Augment that variety of performance forms with a host of topics (crime and violence, the use of language, the overuse of the telephone by politicians, envy and jealousy in show business, and the public's opinion of fat women, to name just a few) and you get a dramatic smorgasbord that should satisfy most audiences.
The problem I had with this, and the previous Harris production, is that her actors sometimes sacrifice clear diction for realistic street speech. Harris should insist that every word she writes must be heard.