Sat | Oct 19, 2019

Mixed moods in BOJ, National Gallery shows

Published:Friday | October 4, 2019 | 12:20 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Quilt male performers in a skit showing a police round-up.
Quilt male performers in a skit showing a police round-up.

As admission prices for regular theatrical productions continue to rise, the end-of-month free shows at the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) and the National Gallery (NG) become more precious. People turned out in large numbers for both the BOJ’s Comedy Hour at its lunchtime concert on Friday and the NG’s more sombre early-afternoon presentation on Sunday.

Judging by their enthusiastic responses to the performers, the audiences went home satisfied. At the BOJ, they saw Chris ‘Johnny’ Daley, Bobby Finzi-Smith, and Dahlia Harris doing stand-up comedy routines. At the NG, they saw the Quilt Performing Arts Company in a multifaceted show involving music, dance, and drama.

Harris, who has been a theatre practitioner and media personality for many years, can now add ‘stand-up comic’ to her résumé. Her conversational skills, publicly honed on radio and television and her numerous appearances onstage as an actress, stood her in good stead.

Rather than going with prepared jokes, she chatted with the audience about the humorous side of work and an encounter (obviously highly embellished) with the security guard as she arrived at the BOJ shortly before. Then followed one-on-one interactions with members of the audience as she made witty remarks about the communities they came from – like Lottery in St James.

Smith, the second headliner, said that he had recently retired. He has apparently gone back into stand-up comedy, the field I first encountered him in more than a decade ago. He recalled amusing incidents from his youthful days in Vineyard Town, including one in which his father insisted on eating stew peas from the pot on the stove(to the annoyance of his mother), and another in which father dragged him away from a dance while he was dancing with a girl he had long admired. He wrapped up his act with prepared jokes about how differently men and women use their cells phones when speaking in public to their lovers.

Daley, the youngest of the trio, but the most experienced as a bona fide comic, assured the audience that the occupation was the most difficult of the stage arts. The stand-up comedian was alone onstage, he said, with no music, no band, and no script to support him. He closed with a plug for his weekly show, Johnny Live Productions.

Quilt at the NG

Quilt will be 10 years old next year, Rayon McLean, the founder and artistic director of the ensemble, told me on Sunday, and one of the features he has introduced into the performances is playfulness.

The master’s degree programme he recently undertook, he said, taught him that there could be “seriousness in play”.

The themes of the first two pieces, inspired, McLean said, by two of the artworks in the NG’s current exhibition, were quite dark. They were concerned with crime and corruption in the society and attempts to undermine the efforts of the security forces. An all-male group of eight or nine young men, using the stairs, balcony, and ground floor’s performance area, portrayed soldiers, police, wayward youths, and criminals.

A song, dance, and drama piece, depicting a presumably typical Monday morning in the inner city, was about the death of a student. On the lighter side, there was an episode involving a teacher in a classroom explaining that he wanted the students to make a real-life movie about dinosaurs.

In various musical interludes, a saxophonist and drummer played and groups of young women sang mournful songs like the Billie Holiday classic, Strange Fruit about racial injustice in the American South.