Brilliant 'Old Story Time'
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
For a number of generations, the character Pa Ben in Trevor Rhone's classic Old Story Time is synonymous with the late Charles Hyatt. And there is good reason for this.
As a member of the original cast, Hyatt created a Pa Ben that became the template for the character. But while Hyatt's place is cemented in history, Pa Ben now has a new face. It is that of Winston 'Bello' Bell.
In a production that was, for the most part, clinically executed, Bell, along with co-star Dorothy Cunningham as Miss Aggy, led a cast of six.
Nicely balanced between veteran and rising actors, the entire team was instrumental in executing director Eugene Williams' concept into a more than competent performance of Old Story Time.
Rhone, in Old Story Time, draws on one of Jamaica's cultural forms, storytelling, as the medium to examine a number of social issues such as class and racial prejudices.
The story unfolds through narration by Pa Ben, along with the dramatisation of significant episodes in the lives of the characters.
Transition from one setting to another was made clear with the use of ring games and songs.
The setting is in the 1980s and moves mainly from a rural district to a place in the city. On a few occasions, the audience is taken to the campus of Munro College.
RELATING THE STORY
Pa Ben enters from audience's left and after greeting the audience, he joins an onstage audience. Soon he proceeds to relate a story centred on Miss Aggy and her son Len (Canute Fagan).
The story surrounds Miss Aggy and her son Len, who is of dark complexion (important to the story) and a brilliant student who, through scholarship, attended the prestigious Munro College. His mother wants only the best for him. And that includes him marrying her employer's light-skinned girl, Margaret (Keneisha Bowes).
However, having not been born among the privileged class (Miss Aggy is a helper), Len's secondary-education experience was traumatic.
Len overcomes the obstacles with help from Lois (Patria-Kaye Aarons), whom he later marries. He travels extensively while studying abroad and eventually reads for his PhD in economics.
On his return to Jamaica, he learns that his mother is being swindled out of her money by his high-school nemesis, George McFarlane (Michael Forrest).
The discovery provides the opportunity to take revenge on the antagonist. The twists in the plot ultimately lead to the purging of Miss Aggy's prejudices.
Mounted at Stages Theatre, the entire production was excellent.
The Ron Steger-designed set, Williams' creative movement of his cast, and the actors' characterisations were formidable.
Each actor was on cue and paced their lines well, producing the required emotional response from the audience.
It was superb acting from veterans Forrest, Cunningham and Bell.
Bell demonstrated a clear knowledge of his character. If there was worry of being compared to Hyatt, it was not visible. With aplomb he moved and delivered the dual roles of Pa Ben as narrator and part of the plot, albeit there were a few moments when his lines were not quite audible.
PLAYED ROLE WELL
Cunningham was just as strong, as she attempted to portray Miss Aggy.
She captured the complexities of the character with charm.
Forrest was also convincing in his portrayal of the despicable McFarlane. With the aid of a red cap and a jacket, he was able to play McFarlane as a student at Munro, and McFarlane as the manager of his company, ABC Homes.
Rising stars Aarons, Bowes and Fagan also played their roles well.
Fagan was commanding as Len, as was Aarons, but it was Bowes who appeared to be the most promising.
Playing Pearl, Bowes brought home the hopelessness of growing up without the proper guidance to remarkable effect.
She seemed to have captured the heart of Pearl in walk and demeanour. Bowes later returned (as scripted) in a contrasting role as Margaret.
But at the heart of the actors' success was the solid guidance from director Williams.
From Pa Ben and Miss Aggy's ride on the bus, the entrances and exits, actors communicating with backs to audience, the use of levels, and the changing pictures on stage - all made the production one worth seeing.