For the Reckord | Written by UWI graduates, staged by Players - Readings of playwright trio's work end Sunday
On the outside wall of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI, Mona, are posters with the photographs of three Jamaican playwrights, Dahlia Harris, Basil Dawkins and Patrick Brown. Under the photos are the titles of about 30 plays that, collectively, the three have written, selected from their oeuvre. The University Players is staging a three-part production of the works of the trio, all UWI graduates. The three-weekend production closes on Sunday.
Harris' To the Finish, directed by Paul Issa, starts at 8 p.m. tonight. Dawkins' Champagne & Sky Juice, directed by Jean-Paul Menou, starts at 8 p.m. tomorrow; and Brown's December, directed by Nadean Rawlins, starts at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
To the Finish is about a gifted runner, Victoria Speed (Katherine Johnson) who, beginning to wilt under the tremendous pressure her coach (Alwyn Scott) puts her under in training, is tempted by her manager Don Walker (Philip Clark) to take performance-enhancing drugs. Added pressure comes from her bickering parents, played by Melward Morris and Doreen King, who have very reasonable disagreements about whether Victoria should focus on her studies or training. No one is pure saint or sinner in this realistic drama.
That is also applicable to the two-hander Champagne & Sky Juice, which features Gracia Thompson and Canute Fagan as Gregory and Beverly, a husband and wife who are trying to survive in an economically depressed Jamaica before and after the 1980 general election. Very like Jim and Gloria in Trevor Rhone's Two Can Play, he is a bit of a parasite, while she is a go-getter.
Patrick Brown's 1991 December, his amazingly mature debut work, is also a two-hander. Ezra and Titta (Earle Brown and Grace McGhie) are 80-odd and in the last years of their lives. They show their love for each other mainly by fussing, most often about black power and black pride, but also about their estranged daughter, Gloria, who is coming for a visit from Norway, where she lives with her white husband. Though the productions are readings, you soon forget the scripts in the actors' hands and become oblivious of the minimal sets, because the stories are gripping and the acting excellent.
To the best of my knowledge, none of the trio's plays has been published in book form. That's a problem to persons now studying Jamaican theatre here and abroad, and it'll be a problem to the historian writing 80 years from now about Jamaican theatre in the 21st century - perhaps a companion book to Wycliffe and Hazel Bennett's 2011 book on our theatre in the 20th century.
Also unpublished, for the most part, are the hundreds of other plays that have been written by Jamaicans since Independence. Other forms of our creative writing - novels, poems, stories and songs (with music) - have been extensively published and praised by the world. Jamaica has been in love with theatre for hundreds of years. There was reportedly a theatre here as early as the 1680s, and 109 years ago it was observed in The Colonial Standard newspaper that "indisputably, the love of drama abounds to an extent which, we venture to assert, is unequalled in this quarter of the globe."