'Masqueraders' unmasks audience
Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Masqueraders, the late Stafford Ashani's play which was first staged in 1977, is not the kind of production one goes to fashionably late and then plays catch-up.
For one, until the play within the play, where the audience is at first ridiculed and rebuffed for its drooling over the prospect of light, entertaining fare, is revealed, chances are those who were there at the beginning would not have understood, anyway.
However, in a theatrical catch 22, if one was not there from the beginning, then catching up with the plot as a group of street theatre, independent practitioners first rail against and then concede to the stricture of formal theatre space, would have been well-nigh impossible, anyway.
So, close to intermission (which was explained elaborately to the audience), when one of the five players in the seemingly rag-tag theatrical outfit whose determined, eventually futile rush away from conventional theatre space and script forms the narrative of Masqueraders, asked "yu tink dem understand what a gwaan up ya so far?", there was a collective snigger of 'no' from a significant portion of the audience.
Burst of humour
However, there was a gust and then sustained laughter from that same section at Sunday night's final show in the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, at a scatological burst - literally - of humour.
Leader of the group, Day (Omaro Mazlyn), tries to find out who stole the milk powder his baby with Fatty (Carlene Solomon) needs.
Naturally all - Mad Dog (Akeem Mignott), Hawk (Shaun Drysdale), Hopey (Orlando Lawrence), Lilly (Jessica Cole) and Pitchy Patchy (Ricardo McFarlane) deny, then there is tell-tale flatulence from Hawk.
Since critique - sometimes scathing - of the audience is at the core of the production it was a telling moment. I was five years old when Masqueraders was first staged at the School of Drama. Maybe Ashani's anger at the demands of entertainment upon theatre was understood then but, 32 years after the curtains came up on the production and two years since the curtains came down on the playwright, the bottom line was that moment of laughter.
It is regrettable, because Masqueraders is a very good play - not a novel observation after three decades, but generations pass and it bears reinforcement. The boundaries between audience and actors are not the only ones which are blurred at the playwright's will; so too are those between improvisation and script, rehearsal and formal performance, present and past. It is a traversing of conceptual space which requires instantaneous adjustment by the cast and they all handle it well.
However, in this revival of Masqueraders directed by Trevor Nairne, more - much more - is required of Mignott than the others as he is also Heirstone. This is the man with the keys to the theatre which they are trying to access long-term after a beating in Solas Market effectively puts paid to their independent street theatre aspirations.
Mignott manages the transformation in speech pattern, posture and mannerisms which accompany his costume changes - done in full view of the audience - very well.
There is some obvious updating of the dance moves, cast members required to sing at points.
When the burning of the accursed script, infighting among members of the group, costume changes (at one point the men are in dresses) and Pitchy Patchy's squeaks are over, one is left with the advice to "live life like it's your last show".
Too bad that last Sunday night, a significant portion of the audience seemed to have missed Ashani's final point.