Saturday, 31 October 2009
THEATRE SPOTLIGHT: Me and Mi Chapsie
Me and Mi Chapsie (Aston Cooke Productions)
Director: Michael Nicholson
Cast: Dahlia Harris, Everaldo Creary, Danar Royal, Carlene Taylor and Zandriann Maye
Venue: Pantry Playhouse, New Kingston
Tyrone’s Verdict: A-
chapsie (noun): a virile young man who dates an older woman, usually for economic gain
The twisted ‘indecencies’ of life in some corners of Jamaica bubble to the surface in Aston Cooke’s latest offering, Me and Mi Chapsie, a jolting and scandalous but cleverly made theatrical production that both entertains and provokes thought. At the same time, the play provides much juice for its leading actors, Dahlia Harris and Everaldo Creary, who respond to their roles with vigour and relish under the on-the-ball direction of Michael Nicholson.
Most of the action in Me and Mi Chapsie takes place in upper St Andrew, somewhere between the realms of Notes On A Scandal and The Graduate on the world’s psychic highway. So you know that there’s trouble brewing. The trouble – humorous and serious in turn – begins when two hungry souls collide. Marilyn Simpson (Harris) is a 50-year-old career woman whose husband left her for ‘fresh meat’ after 25 years of marriage.
In the opening scenes of the play she comes across as an uptight prude who is lost in work and always arguing with someone, whether it’s her free-spirited housekeeper, Sheryl (Carlene Taylor/Zandriann Maye) or Janice (a delightful Marsha Campbell) from the company where she works. When Janice invites her out to ‘Bembe’ (of all places) one night, Marilyn meets Donald (Creary), the handsome and sweet-talking sound system selector, who is nearly 30 years her junior. While Donald enjoys the looseness and gangster posturing that is attendant to the dancehall club scene, he is not as immature as his ‘doops’ Sean (Danar Royal, a young actor who shows promise).
After getting off to a rather interesting start in their courtship, Marilyn and Donald are quickly shaken out of their childlike stupor by the dangerous grown-up desire that overwhelms them. Uncertainty soon gives way to potent animal lust as the ‘cougar’ and the ‘cub’ morph into lovebirds. Having been at the shallow end of the dating pool for too long, Marilyn has every intention of making her new relationship work. Hence, she invites her “sexy young stud” to move in, raising concern in her housekeeper and other curious onlookers.
But is Donald, who hails from the ghetto, too good to be true? Is he a schemer just looking to finally ‘come up?’ Almost immediately, the gossip and prejudice come into sharp focus. As expected, the lack of psychological awareness on the part of many in society when it comes to the older man/younger girl, older woman/younger man romantic affair remains pathetically immature. Cooke addresses this in his writing with just the faintest raising of an eyebrow and some sophisticated lines like: “Love has no boundaries; it leaps fences and penetrates walls.”
While the power of the playwright to captivate his audience falters slightly in some scenes, he brilliantly explores middle class naïveté and how something as simple as a conversation at a dance session can become something emotionally important and then sexually urgent. What’s more, Cooke is able to fit the puzzle pieces together honestly, while providing his director and actors with adequate creative space to work.
Harris and Creary make a riveting and attractive pair of lovers who know what they want and what they need out of life and their relationship. The ‘love’ scenes on stage are frank without being lewd, something with which only an actress as confident, classy and honest as Harris can be entrusted, and to which Creary impressively responds with raw masculine energy.
Me and Mi Chapsie, which coincides with the first season of the funny, new ABC comedy Cougar Town, is successful in its examination of human relationships on the strength of the lead performances, a well-researched script and the fact that Nicholson directs with the same sensitivity to male and female failings he brought to 2007’s Concubine.
When it comes to the cougar/cub, older woman/younger man liaison, can such a relationship truly work? Is it really love or simply animal lust? It largely depends on one’s attitude to ‘wants’ versus ‘needs’.