Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
Oliver Samuels (left) and Glen 'Titus' Campbell in 'River Bottom'. - photos by Nathaniel Stewart/Freelance Photographer
At 7:50 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5, when The Gleaner took a look at River Bottom, the almost filled Centerstage Theatre was abuzz with anticipation. When the lights went up the cast and crew delivered and the audience duly responded. It was a festival of laughter prompted by eloquently delivered comical lines, performed by an experienced cast guided by brilliant directing of Patrick Brown and Trevor Nairne.
At the helm of the cast is Oliver Samuels, who plays 'Cappo'. Samuels, through his character, excited the audience (maybe fans) with his brand of humour - a stream of diatribe directed at both characters and audience.
In spite of Samuels being the darling of the audience, his worldly character was at times detestable; Cappo is a prophet for a church at River Bottom, but fails to live up to his religious title. Protecting his worldly possessions of a two-story, split-level house and a RAV 4 SUV are more of concern to him than winning lost souls for the Lord.
Glen Campbell (who plays two roles, Half Q and Mr Chin) performed at his usual high level. His stronger and more convincing performance was as the drunken Half Q. His portrayal of Mr Chin, though comical, left much to be desired. Campbell should not be blamed totally for this weakness. The error of having a dark complexioned man with kinky hair playing a Chinese man must be placed solely at the feet of the directors.
The performers of the night were Camille Davis as 'Pearle' and Courtney Wilson as Quatty. Their talents belie the combined 15 plays in which they have performed to date. (This total is far less than Samuels' over 60 and Campbell's more than 50.) Davis played her character with beauty and charm, presenting Pearle as the picture of innocence at the age of 24 and, in the flashback, at 12.
Wilson also showed and maintained Quatty's growth and charm from childhood to adulthood. His delivery of the song Should I Tell Her was passionate and convincing. However, both Davis and Wilson should watch the tendency to play 12-year-olds as retarded children. But how much better would it have been to have two 12-year-olds performing instead?
Also making up the cast were Belinda Reid as 'Cherry', Christopher Hutchinson as 'Mas Viv' and Megan Lewis as 'Mums'. All gave commendable performances, although Reid did not physically fit the role of 24-year-old Pearle's mother.
Oh yes, about the play. The story, written by Patrick Brown, unfolds in a village called River Bottom. It is written in the non-realistic style with a blend of three forms of theatre, comedy, satire and verfremdung (forcing the audience to remain emotionally detached, with Samuels and Campbell addressing the audience.)
It is a simple plot, in which an elderly Cappo wants to marry a young Pearle but must first get rid of young Quatty ,who is also in love with Pearle. River Bottom is a satire on Christian leaders and their gullible flocks, as well as providing a social commentary on Jamaicans whose goal in life is to get to the United States at all costs.
But the overriding message is that Jamaicans should work to build Jamaica and this is reinforced in the song Mek we Start Over Shoulder to Shoulder.
Except in scene two, the pacing of the story was moderate. There was some inconsistency in the transition from present to past.
Technically, the play was great for the most part. Both directors, Trevor Nairne and Patrick Brown, directed well. But having what appeared to be new plastic chairs contrasting with a roughly built podium juxtaposed with creatively constructed rocks and painted backdrop demonstrated Nairne's set designing skill. He, however, was excellent in his costume designs, except for Cappo's opening costume that brought back memories of a certain commercial. The spectacle of the hurricane was refreshing, but about two minutes too long. Dances and songs were effective in style and presentation.
The well-written programme, which boasts a calendar with pictures of the cast, is worth purchasing.
Quatty' (left) basks in the attention of 'Pearle'.