Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
Violent political past brought into sharp focus
Saturday saw the opening of the University Players' production of Ginger Knight's play, Whiplash.
The play, directed by Brian Heap, shows - and Knight does this very well - the debilitating effect politics has on what was a healthy relationship between two brothers, Dennis and Alton.
It is a theme Heap and his cast were able to capture, but not without a struggle.
Whiplash is set in 1970 Jamaica, during a period of the country's unsavoury political history. However, the story begins with hope. An elated 'Dennis' (Brian Johnson) teases his brother 'Alton' (Orlando Lawrence) on the loss of his football team to Dennis' team. Dennis was scorer of the only and winning goal. Alton was goalkeeper on the losing side. But Dennis commends his brother for preventing 10 other attempts at goal.
Also on hand is 'Sweetie' (Shanique Brown), Dennis' streetwise and assertive girlfriend.
The setting of that first scene shows a yard, but the story later unfolds in the house of 'Miss Inez' (Nadean Rawlins).
On the entry of Miss Inez to the stage, the teasing and banter is checked by the reality of unemployment. Miss Inez is more concerned about when her two young adult boys will seek employment.
The two do get jobs driving forklifts at the Kingston Wharf and work there for 16 months.
Dennis is caught taking a roll of tape - apparently something that is normal practice among workers on the wharf. Both brothers are fired.
Ultimately, the main reason for their dismissal is political interference. Dennis and Alton are supporters of opposing parties. With hardship looming over their heads, the two brothers resort to the selling of drugs while getting more involved in the nefarious activities of their respective political parties.
Eventually, they both become the ranking generals of their respective parties.
With an election looming, the brothers' relationship is sacrificed. Both die, their attempt at making peace lost in a media report that doesn't get the facts.
The moral deterioration of Dennis and Alton was nicely captured by Heap and his two actors, Johnson and Lawrence, especially in their physical appearance and the tones which they take on.
Using the two actors, the director was able to move the characters from being happy boys to a pair capable of cold-blooded murderers. It was believable.
Quindell Ferguson's costumes made the transformation even more palatable.
In Sweetie, Knight also presented a wonderfully developed character.
The loose girl presented at the beginning of the story grows into an ambitious young woman. She returns to school to advance herself and her children for whom she wants only the best. Again Heap guided Brown as Sweetie to give a splendid portrayal of the character.
But Brown, Lawrence and Johnson did have difficult moments as there were pauses where they seemed to struggle with their lines, though it should have been instances where the characters were giving thought to a situation.
Rawlins, playing Inez, also had her fair share of problems.
Developing the character of Inez was difficult because her goals were always based on the success of others, making it difficult to create a personality for the audience to relate to. There were some good moments though.
Heap also doubled as set designer for the production. It was a simple one. A yard defined by sheets of zinc placed centre stage right and a few hanging over the upstage areas. The one room occupied by Inez and her two boys is identified by one layer of blocks forming a square on the stage of the Sir Philip Sherlock Centre. Among the furniture in the room is a single bed.
Whiplash is worth seeing. The language is humorous despite the overriding hopelessness the play generates in many instances.
There is hope though. Miss Inez, clinging to her young grandchild, as she weeps for her two sons symbolises a future of hope in the next generation.