Dahlia Harris (left), Dorothy Cunningham, and Everaldo Creary make a good ensemble for Aston Cooke's 'Country Duppy,' now playing at Centerstage, Dominica Drive, New Kingston. - photos by Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer
Cooke's play, Country Duppy, directed by Michael Nicholson, is an amusing production
that revels in superstition and to a degree explores its meeting with the modern
world. The play is currently being staged at Centrestage Theatre in New Kingston
where it will remain until late November.
Country Duppy is the story of a haunting of the small rural village of Bamboo Belly when a supposedly mean-spirited but rich, Indian woman dies. Her death unveils deceit and attempts at trickery as some members of the community and an obeah man squabble over Maamee's "dead-lef".
Country Duppy has a good cast who handle their characters strongly, delivering an energetic well-paced performance. The play features both rising and established talent, Dorothy Cunningham, Dahlia Harris, Everaldo Creary, Peter Heslop and Christopher McFarlane who make a good ensemble.
Cunningham plays the upright dressmaker Beatrice whose yard provides the setting for the entire play. Though she initially declared to want nothing to do with superstition, she quickly turns to the obeah man when she believes her house is being haunted.
Harris tackles the role of Clara, a woman whose tongue and temperament were made with scotch-bonnet pepper as its main ingredient. Clara has turned her back on all things superstitious and instead looks towards a future filled with "foreign tings" as she makes numerous visits to the various embassies in Kingston. Harris is good in the role of the feisty Clara.
Everaldo Creary plays the simple-minded Moses who is intent on being rescued from poverty with his share of whatever "legacy" the dead Maamee has left him. Creary handles the broad-stroked comedic role well, and it will be interesting to see if as he develops he takes to a more nuanced delivery as easily.
Peter Heslop plays the obeah man Zacky who peddles trickery in equal parts as he does obeah. Like Creary, Heslop's heavy-handed exaggerations make for some hilarious moments in the farce. McFarlane's supporting role as Rocky once again highlights that he is a fantastic character actor and he captures the country accent with great aplomb.
With all the talk of duppies and rolling calves, the economics of obeah, attempts at deceit and the generally silly behaviour of the characters, Country Duppy offers quite a few good moments. Unfortunately, it has some structural problems which, if tackled, could have made for a much stronger play. Additionally, there seemed to have been some inconsistency in the research regarding rolling calves as they do not come about from just any death.
Its comedic efforts and structural weakness aside, what Country Duppy unfortunately highlights is that we still seem unable to take much of our folk culture seriously enough. Issues like obeah are always dismissed as mere stupidness and never explored for how they impact on people's lives (with the exception of how people are tricked by obeah). As such, Country Duppy has a potential which it never attempts to tap, and which its playwright has more than enough talent to explore and still retain the hilarity. It does, however, provide a good laugh, but it could do so much more.