Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
It is always a welcome change when plays with predominantly religious themes appear on the Jamaican theatre stage, instead of in churches.
The Devon Morgan-penned Backslider is the latest one to do so. But while the story provides strong thematic messages and the singing was commendable, overacting and technical flaws marred an otherwise fair attempt at commercial theatre.
The play got off to an interesting beginning. From the aisles of Theatre Place, the actors made a dramatic entrance on to a stage boasting a sofa, up stage centre, and an empty breakfront at centre stage left.
After a brief stint on stage with the actors making indiscernible sounds, they exited. They would return shortly in blue choir gowns to deliver a spirited message in song.
When the plot finally unfolded two orphans April (Jordonha Wilson) and June (D'andra Brown) migrated to England to live with their uncle, Pastor Bowen (Peter Heslop).
Both young ladies are Christians, and promise their grandmother (Pilar Johnson) to maintain the principles and values of their religion.
On their arrival to England, they encounter challenges that almost derail their promise to keep those Christian principles.
Cousin Rose (Stephanie Wright), Pastor Bowen's daughter, has not only moved out of her parents' house, but is an unmarried mother. She no longer attends church and her father refuses to speak to her or look at his grandchild.
Additionally, June has an affair with Bullet, an off-the-stage character, and April falls in love with Jabba, a Rastafarian played by Kadeem Wilson.
In spite of the effective use of scripture, strategically placed throughout the script, Morgan's writing has some issues, like the seemingly hurried ending.
Pablo Hoilett was responsible for guiding the mostly inexperienced cast. In parts his blocking was solid.
But the decisions taken for scenes with a different setting from the living room were questionable. Why was the couch not removed? And in the case of the studio why were the actions not taken in front of the adjusted set?
In spite of a poorly developed character, Heslop was able to give a creditable portrayal of Pastor Bowen. It was a similar case for Suzette Barrett who played Mrs Bowen, and Kadeem Wilson.
Jordohana Wilson's character, April, was the most developed character, and showed some signs of growth towards the end.
Wright too gave a creditable portrayal of Rose, but that was not the case for Dawnetter Hinds-Furzer, who hammed Pearlene with her overacting. Pilar Johnson was also guilty of believing that to show a zealous Christian as the grandmother it was okay to exaggerate.
Generally, the strength of the Sunday performance was in the singing, although a larger size chorus would have been more effective. In its present form Backslider is just an average production but still worth seeing for its powerful message.