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Tallawah’s best and two new books

Published:Thursday | December 4, 2014 | 10:03 AMMichael Reckord
Michael Reckord Tallawah 2014 special honoree Quindel Ferguson.
Michael Reckord Desmond Dennis (left) and David Crossgill in Heist.
Michael Reckord Honica Brown (left) and Akeem Mignott in The Final Game.
Michael Reckord Michael Crossgill (left) and Desmond Dennis in Heist.
Michael Reckord Best Actress LaTania Hall
Michael Reckord Drs Earl McKwenzie (left), Pamela Mordecai (centre) and Jean Small at Bookland, New Kingston, last Saturday.
Aston Cooke
File Glen Campbell

The emcees at the recent Best of Tallawah evening, held at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, were probably reading from a script when they declared that the UWI's 2104 drama festival had been "a resounding success".

Among other things, they said, more than 22 educational institutions and individuals had competed in the four-night event.

Still, by the end of the evening, having seen the high-quality presentations (plays and poems) chosen as the "best of ...", I came to agree with the emcees' verdict. The reports given by the four competition judges - Dr Alude Mahali, Dahlia Harris, Fabian Thomas and Michael Daley, all experienced theatre practitioners - indicated that they, too, were impressed.

Heist, written and directed by Maya Wilkinson, got the nod for Best Production. And all the actors were also recognised - Desmond Dennis with the Best Actor award, Darian Reid as Best Supporting Actor and David Crossgill with a high commendation.

Also awarded Best New Play and Best Set, the hilarious comedy is about the ultimately vain attempt by two bumbling burglars whop break into an art gallery to steal an expensive painting. In the realistic-looking gallery, complete with tall white columns and beautiful artwork, the inept pair encounter an equally dim-witted guard.

I won't spoil the ending for those who have not seen the play.

Best Director Joylene Alexander got the award for her work with Darian Reid and Chantelle Smith in Head Woman by Barbadian Matthew Murrell. Giving a twist to the rather commonplace teacher-student romance situation, the playwright shows a female student pursuing a male (married) teacher. Eventually, in a perfectly structured approximately 25 minutes steadily increasing tension, she tries to blackmail him into continuing the relationship.

University of Technology, Jamaica's (UTech) LaTania Hall got the Best Actress award for playing the mother, Mary, in Precious, a segment from the movie of the same name. The movie is about 16-year-old Harlem resident Precious, an illiterate, overweight black girl who is abused by her mother and raped by her otherwise absent father, but who comes to believe she can escape the situation by learning to read and write.

Patrick Brown's intriguing duppy story, The Final Game, was one of the best received plays of the night. The two-hander featured Akeem Mignott as a man who takes a mysterious woman he met in a cemetery at a funeral back to a hotel room. Honica Brown played the woman who, after the fact, has really, really bad news about men who have sex with duppies.

Danar Royal skilfully directed the atmospheric piece for Jamaica Youth Theatre (JYT). It got the Best Lighting and Best Sound awards, as well as commendations in other areas.

Two stalwarts of theatre for at least the last couple of decades were selected by the Tallawah committee as the 2014 honorees. They are costumier and stage manager Quindel Ferguson and actor Glen Campbell, who is one of the four principals of Jambiz International.

Ferguson was present to hear a glowing citation about her contribution to theatre in Jamaica and accept her trophy. However, Campbell was absent because, the audience was told, he was on another stage at the time doing "what he does best."

New publications

At the end of the show I got a welcome gift from Aston Cooke, a copy of the recently published book with two of his popular plays, Country Duppy and Jonkanoo Jamboree. Unfortunately, very few of the hundreds of full-length plays produced in Jamaica since Independence have been published, so theatre lovers and drama teachers will be happy with this publication.

I enjoyed both plays when they were produced - Country Duppy, with Leonie Forbes and others at Barn Theatre in 2000, and Jonkanoo Jamboree, featuring quite a number of those associated with this Tallawah, at the PSCCA last year.

Speaking of books, poet, short story writer, dramatist and novelist Dr Pamela (Pam) Mordecai launched her latest book on November 22 at Bookland, New Kingston. Before an audience of many UWI friends and former colleagues Mordecai actress/director Jean Small and poet/philosopher Dr Earl McKenzie read some of the poems.

Agreeing with the book's title, Subversive Sonnets, McKenzie said the poems attempt to change the country.

In answering questions after the readings Mordecai said, among other things, that having lived so long she didn't need to "hunt about for things to write about"; that if people troubled her, she got back at them in a poem; and that she'd rather write in creole, her "heart language", than in the Queen's English.

"Your heart language is the language you curse in and make love in," she said. "I'm grateful for my heart language."

Her husband and sometime collaborator, Martin, to whom one of the three love poems in Subversive Sonnets is dedicated, gave the vote of thanks.

Mordecai taught at Camperdown High School and Mico, joined the Faculty of Education, UWI, in 1974 as publications officer and worked there for 12 years. In more than 25 years, along with the late Grace Walker Gordon she produced a dozen textbooks for Caribbean schools.

Working part time, Mordecai took 16 years to complete her PhD for the Department of English, which Prof Mervyn Morris told me some years ago was one of the best he'd ever read.

Individually (and, happily, in less time), Mordecai has published a short story collection, five books of poetry, five children's books and, with Martin, a reference work called Culture and Customs of Jamaica.

In 2010, Mordecai's play El Numero Uno had its world premiere in Toronto at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. Thomas Allen will publish her first novel, Red Jacket, in February.