Monday, 24 November 2014

WOMAN OF HER WORD: Author Pamela Mordecai readies her first novel, reflects on the literary life

HEAD TABLE: Mordecai (centre) reading selections at Bookland, alongside Dr. Earl McKenzie and Jean Small.

Pamela Mordecai may be regarded across the globe as the legendary author of some of the most wistful stories for kids, informative classroom texts and evocative poetry that dually enlighten and mesmerize, but her writing reveals yet another dimension in Subversive Sonnets, her newest collection of poems which, as the book's title suggests, daringly toys with convention and goes against the grain in exploring everything from relationship dynamics and slavery to domestic strife and other big universal themes. 

"I admire what she does with language; how she uses the vernacular and slips effortlessly from one register to another," observes poetess Millicent Graham in an interview with TALLAWAH. "She writes about everyday things, but the perspective she brings to it is just so illuminating." 

Subversive Sonnets is indeed revelatory and finds Mordecai in candid, no-holds-barred form. Originally released in 2012, Sonnets got its Jamaican launch on Saturday afternoon inside New Kingston's Bookland, where Dr. Earl McKenzie and Jean Small read selections from the collection, and the likes of Prof. Eddie Baugh and Dr. Velma Pollard sat in the audience, which swelled as the event progressed. 

Raised by Catholic nuns in Kingston, where she attended Alpha Academy before heading off to North America's Newton College, Mordecai now divides her time between Jamaican and her adopted Canada, where she is as celebrated as that other Jamaican literary queen Lorna Goodison. But where Goodison has spent the greater part of her illustrious writing life chronicling our evolving history through poetry and short stories, Mordecai's forte has always lain in children's literature. To wit, her next anthology Roots, Rhythms and Rhymes — is a collection of some 100 poems for children. The manuscript is complete, she tells TALLAWAH, and she's presently seeking a publisher. 

Explaining her approach to writing for younger readers, she notes, "There has to be a balance. I will write serious poems and stories for children, but I'm going to write funny ones as well. Literature is supposed to help us with life; to understand it better and to remember that for everything there is a season." 

For all her accomplishments in the fields of academics, West Indian lit, and education (she's taught at Camperdown High and the Mico College), Mordecai is still experiencing career firsts — on the cusp of age 73. Red Jacket (Thomas Allen Publishers), her very first novel, comes out next February. Set on the fictitious Caribbean isle of St. Criss, the story nods to Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye regarding how race, class and colour continue to influence human relationships everywhere — and a little girl's enduring struggle to love herself. 

"In Jamaica, shade is such a touchy subject. People are really conscious of that," Mordecai says. "But it's something that needs to be discussed. I started working on this book around 2001, and I'm hoping it will contribute something very meaningful to the conversation." 

> NEXT TIME: Mordecai riffs on her health and the power of the Jamaican creole 

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GIRL POWER: Dance sensation Renée McDonald brings poise and intellect to her craft

SHOW AND TELL: McDonald, holding a young 'fan', with Dr. L'Antoinette Stines following Sunday's recital at the Little Theatre.

In person, the first thing that strikes you about dancer-choreographer Renée McDonald is her voice. Piercing and distinctive, it reels you into conversation with her, as her limpid does eyes widen with glee and hold you in place. When she expresses herself, you are in in awe of her refined tones, as if she were reared on lambs and literature, her words often peppered with witty repartee and accompanied by a river-wide smile. 

Such vitality, intellect and youthful vim also defines her creative expression as a choreographer with the Company Dance Theatre, and nowhere was this clearer than during Sunday's closing night of the troupe's 2014 season at the Little Theatre. 

McDonald offered "Divulgence," a fast-paced, moody and downright gripping examination of young womanhood and mortality that left audience members breathless. The vociferous applause that greeted the piece, which closed the first half, was the icing on the cake for McDonald, and the kind of encouragement that can keep a young creative genius' spirits lifted. "Working on this piece was very special for me, because it explores the personal choices each girl has to make, and that is something that I've never explored before. So it was very different for me. Very intense at times," reflects the 25-year-old budding choreographer. 

At intervals during our post-show interview, kudos arrived from admirers like the NDTC's Marisa Benain and Dr. L'Antoinette Stines, who quipped "Choreographers are born," while giving Renée a job-well-done pat on the back. 

All her life Renée McDonald has had an intense affair with the performing arts, the dance world in particular, but when it came to choosing her future career path, the legal profession won out. A Campion College alumna, Renee is presently in her second year at UWI's law school with about three more to go. And before law school, she completed a first degree in marketing. 

Is it hard balancing the books with her commitments as ballet mistress of a prominent Jamaican dance company? "It's extremely difficult," she admits laughing. "I've definitely had to improve on my time management but now that the season is over, it's books, books, books." 

McDonald, who plans to practise entertainment and intellectual property law, described being in a dance troupe as diverse and demanding as the Tony Wilson-led company as living with a cool little family in which she can still maintain her her identity as a fiercely talented individual. "The company is my home, really. It allows me to represent Mr. Wilson's style, while still being myself," she says. "Everything I do comes from a passionate place, so I try at all times to just be myself." 

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IN LIVING COLOUR: The 'Real' Show rocks the stage with humour and bold truth-telling

SCENE CHANGES: Allen (centre) getting into character; Mignott and Donaldson as a conflicted father-son duo.

The 'Real' Show (Itarbaby Productions)
Director: Ricardo Nicholas and Sherine Bailey
Cast: Alwyn Allen, Chantal Dormer, Alya Lewis, Shawna-Kae Burns and Akeem Mignott
Venue: Theatre Place, New Kingston
Domestic dysfunction, gang violence, homophobia and a wallop of family drama. You get all that and more while taking in The Real Show, a moderately amusing, searingly realistic dramedy revue (from the new theatrical outfit Itarbaby) about daring to be different and the hefty emotional (sometimes physical) toll that can incur. 

The show's central character Twist (the very funny Alwyn Allen), a poster boy for the flambuoyant gay Jamaican male, is a riot who makes no bones about flaunting his true colours and multiple personalities (including the fiery-tongued Miss Likkle), which can land him in all kinds of scrapes and sticky situations. Luckily, he has his cunning and his wits about him and, more of than not, emerges victorious. 

As for the remainder of the cast, promising writer-showrunner Sherine Bailey (a veteran with the Ashe Performing Arts Company) valiantly kicks convention and gender stereotypes to the curb, casting female actors in roles clearly written for men — like the tough-minded rudeboy Hype (La-Toya Moulton), the Rastafarian juvenile pacifist Ni-Ah (Chantal Dormer), Alya Lewis as the fashion-loving Eliot Black Jr. and Paula-Gaye Donaldson as Reno, whose disapproving dad insists he evolve into a more macho specimen, military style. 

Working with first-time director Ricardo Nicholas — and seasoned thespies Akeem Mignott and Shauna-Kae Burns (Thicker Than Water) — Bailey makes a courageous effort to flesh out these recognizable characters. In the end, the results are mixed but you can't deny the keenness of the observations Bailey brings to the work and her commendable objective of drawing much-needed attention to the key social-awareness issues of our day. Tyrone's Verdict: B 

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Friday, 21 November 2014

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Musings from the front-lines of modern Jamaican theatre

LEADING LADIES: We've long made no secret of the fact that we're huge admirers of Deon Silvera, the livewire actress who never fails to surprise, frequently lighting up the stage with her vivacity (Jamaica 2 Rahtid), sense of humour (Judgement) and expert comic timing (Back A Yaad). This December we expect her to deliver much of the same when she reteams with bonafide theatre sister Dahlia Harris, alongside living legend Volier 'Maffie' Johnson, for Ole Firestick, a three-hander of a romantic comedy to be mounted inside a Kingston venue to be announced in short order. The show will mark Silvera's umpteenth collabo with Harris, whom we are happy to report, is fully focussed on helping to usher Jamaican theatre into a bold new chapter. With her immense clout and the ever-widening ambition of her DMH Productions, there's much to look forward to.

HERE COMES TROUBLE: Easily one of the most avidly anticipated shows of the imminent holiday season, Bashment Granny 3 will have its big world premiere on Dec. 19 at the Green Gables Theatre, featuring a dizzyingly talented cast led by Keith 'Shebada' Ramsey, Terri Salmon, Garfield Reid and Junior Williams, among others. With showbiz mastermind Bunny Allen leading the charge, Stages and RBT Productions have already embarked on a major promo campaign aimed at attracting nightly sold-out audiences. It's been quite a few years since the original Bashment Granny (with Maxwell Grant in the lead) and its laugh-out-loud Part 2 etched their collective place in the consciousness of the theatre-going public. Folks have been clamouring for more ever since. It's not immediately clear what accounted for the long delay in rebooting the rootsy franchise, but we understand that a movie version was in the works, with plans for its debut in the local cinemas. It remains to be seen if that will come to light. For the time being, devoted fans of the Bashment Granny series remain intrigued to see what Shebada and his motley crew are up to this time around.

THE BEST OF HIM: Local roots theatre aficionados have lost one of their favourite entertainers, with the sudden passing of cross-dressing actor Cleve 'Chu Chu' Warren, who died on Thursday at the St. Ann's Bay Hospital, where he was taken after complaining, reportedly, of feeling dizzy. He was 46. Here at TALLAWAH, we are indeed saddened by the news and offer our sincere condolences to his relatives and friends. A bonafide star of the stage, Chu Chu had natural comedic flair and understood the healing power of laughter, clearly relishing nothing more than to give the people what they want - often sending us rolling in the aisles with his side-splittingly funny punchlines. For all he brought to Jamaican theatre during his brief time with us, we want to say thank you, thank you. 

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TRUE COLOURS: Brilliant Beyond the Lights takes a heartfelt look at family and the price of fame

CAN YOU SEE ME? Mbatha-Raw as singing sensation Noni Jean, with Parker as Officer Kaz Nicol.

Early in the immensely likeable romantic drama Beyond the Lights, there's a car scene where the young cop Kaz (played by The Secret Life of Bees' Nate Parker) takes off his jacket and drapes it around the shoulders of his soon-to-be girlfriend Noni (the superb newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw). It is not just a thoughtful and protective gesture; it grants us a peek into the rapidly developing bond between two people who were meant to save each other.

For what it's worth, Beyond the Lights is much more than a love story centred on two people whose paths cross under less-than-ideal circumstances, fall hard for each other, and witness their young lives forever transformed. At the core of this beautifully layered, terrifically acted film, penned and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), lurks the Dilemma of the Modern Superstar, specifically the behind-the-scenes drama young female rising stars encounter and the omnipresent danger of losing their true selves in a world of record labels, power struggles and mind games.

Mere hours after winning a prestigious award and blazing the stage much to the delight of her legions of fans, Noni (music's latest sensation) — the talented girl with Brixton roots who seems to have it all — is found perched on the balcony of her luxury hotel suite until cop Kaz (short for Kazam) rescues her, setting the course for a series of events that irreversibly alters both of their lives.

As for the film's supporting cast, there's much to applaud. Minnie Driver (Phantom of the Opera) plays to a tee the plum role of Noni's seriously hands-on mom-ager; indie film sensation Darryl Stephens is her stylist Quentin; with the characteristically sturdy Danny Glover portraying the world-weary police captain and Kaz's father.

Besides the lingering and emotionally precise performances she draws from her actors, Prince-Bythewood's real triumph here is the very real and much-welcome dive into the inner workings of the multi-billion-dollar music biz and the dynamic if complicated lives of its most prominent stars. In the case of Noni and Kaz, we not only see a beautiful, soulful portrait of transformational love among the ruins, coupled with the price of fame, but the timeless import of staying true to who we really are at heart. Tyrone's Verdict: B+ 

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Thursday, 20 November 2014

MADE IN JAMAICA: Revitalize and re-energize with Doctor Bird Herbals' life-saving remedies

MIRACLE IN A BOTTLE: Munroe, with some of the products from the line, which made its public debut at the recent Jamaica Wellness and Beauty Expo.

To hear Elizabeth Munroe recount the healing properties of "Inflam-Ease," one of the miracle workers among the newly launched Doctor Bird line of herbal formulas, is to be convinced it is the most effective remedy against ailments like the mighty chikungunya (Chik-V) virus. "It is an excellent formula for the joints and to boost immune power against the virus," the sales rep explains. "It comes with the guinea hen weed that is well-known to destroy the virus, as well as turmeric and basil and other natural anti-inflammatories."

In a nutshell, the Doctor Bird line, made up of nearly 20 products, is perfect for detoxing and recharging the human body. And, as the brochure attests, that's exactly what the estimable Dr. Heinz-Peter Becker had in mind when he set about concocting the all-natural Jamaican formulas that eventually took shape as a line of "safe and effective botanical medicines formulated with attention to documented research on the medicinal use of organic and wildcrafted herbs."

Among the batch of products, ideal for the health-conscious and holistic-minded, are Internal Formulas like the "Athletes Power Tonic," a secret of top Jamaican athletes to maximize energy and endurance and boost peak performance; the respiratory-aiding "Breathe Free"; and the mental acuity-improving "Forget-Me-Not."

Rejuvenate and energize yourself with "New U Detox and Cleanse", bolster the nervous system with "Stress Ease" and experience sustained weight management with "Pounds Away." Want to enjoy deep and restful sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed by daylight? Then "Sweet Dreams" is right up your alley.

Meanwhile, Doctor Bird's nearly ten Topical Formulas (AdZuki Facial Scrub and Wrinkle Free among them) promise to deliver the glowing skin of your youth or, as Dr. Becker so eloquently puts it, "facial rejuvenation." 

> To learn more about the Doctor Bird line, contact or log on to 

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

GIRL OF THE MOMENT: Rising thespian Alicia Taylor commands our full attention

SPREADING HER WINGS: "It's the experience; learning more than I did before, " says the actress, photographed inside the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre.

"When I was growing up, acting was something I was always interested in, but I never thought I could actually do it," recalls Alicia Taylor, who mesmerized audiences with her recent bravura turn as the brutish Colonel Lestrade in the School of Drama's brilliant ampitheatre rendering of Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain

Interestingly, a few years ago when the Merle Grove High alum was filling out the paperwork to begin studies at the Edna Manley College, the Music School was foremost on her mind. "Then I heard a voice say, Why not try out for Drama?" And so she did.

Thankfully, she heeded her instincts and has embarked on an artistic journey that has her poised to be the next big thing. Though she's appeared in the college's small productions of God's Door and the critically acclaimed Desdemona, it is Monkey Mountain that has secured her proper notice and could end up launching her professional career once she completes final-year studies.

Having landed the role of Lestrade, Taylor says she knocked herself out preparing to put on the performance of her life. "It was like stripping myself down to nothing to take on this mulatto, who is such a complex character," remembers the 26-year-old, utterly convincing in a role originally intended for a male. "It was a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of tears. And [director Trevor] Nairne just drilled me. But I'm happy with what I came up with."

As the curtains come down on the School of Drama's 2014 season, Taylor is leaving the show with only fond memories and a firmer grasp of how writers like Derek Walcott achieve their vision. "I found [the play] a brilliant piece, and having gone through the whole process of doing the show, I have a better understanding of Walcott's idea of colonialism and mentally freeing the Black race, so to speak," she concedes.

In person, the statuesque Taylor (who stands at six-three) is very girl-next-door, articulate and warm if a tad tomboyish, which makes it easy to see why Nairne cast her in the pivotal role of Lestrade. She counts Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman among her acting idols and is looking forward to one day combining her passions for the stage and singing into a one-woman tour-de-force. 

"It's the experience; learning more than I did before," she tells TALLAWAH of the singular thrill of being an actress whose star is on the rise. "And when I go out there on the stage to perform and people later come up to me and say, I really got what you were doing out there, for me that's what makes it all worth it." 

> Director Trevor Nairne in the artist spotlight
> Review: 'Monkey Mountain' scores a solid B+ 

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