Monday, 25 October 2010

AN EDUCATION: Pride, class relations and life lessons ‘mix and mingle’ in Patrick Brown’s ‘Vibes’

THE RULES OF ATTRACTION: Camille Davis and Glen Campbell in a scene from Vibes.

Patrick Brown never shies away from tackling class relations in his work, consistently and unfailingly presenting to his audience thought-provoking discourse on the cultural exchange (and clashes) that often play out when the social classes intermingle. Now finding new life at Centrestage in New Kingston, Vibes is another particularly superb dramedy from the canon of the prolific writer, which boasts appealing, well-crafted characters and an easily recognisable setting. In short, it’s easily one of Brown’s most enlightening, engaging works.

Corrosively funny, well-acted and smartly directed, Vibes introduces us to an upper-crust lawyer couple, Steve (Glen Campbell) and Valerie Hurley (Noelle Kerr), who are desperate to hire new household help following the loss of their previous housekeeper. Enter Dimples (the appealing Camille Davis), dragging her oversized suitcase, fresh from the employment agency and eager to work. She is a little rough-around-the-edges, something the icy, condescending Valerie zones in on at once.

Once she lands the job, however, and begins to settle in, Dimples quickly proves herself an industrious, energetic, worker though not one to hold her tongue, probably a side effect of growing up in a rough-and-tumble community. Kind-hearted and gentle, a stark foil for his officious wife, Steve takes Dimples under his wings, teaching her proper etiquette and new words to expand her vocabulary. And let’s just say that gradually Dimples imparts a few choice words and lessons of her own too.

Keeping a very close watch on the growing attachment between boss and newly arrived housekeeper is the family’s gardener with a playboy heart, Chris (Courtney Wilson), who has the hots for Dimples but soon grows suspicious of her intentions. For Chris – and the audience at large – Steve and Dimples seem to be playing with fire, but the resolution of their storylines doesn’t fall into predictability, which makes the play (particularly its climax) one that keeps you engrossed till the end.

Brown patiently explores the role social class system plays in our society, but equally palpable is the quiet desperation people of privilege so often try feverishly to conceal. That said, Brown’s use of the Hurleys as a canvas to show what can happen when an awakening rocks your comfort zone to the core and pries open the door to your perfect little existence, nudging you into the real world, comes across effectively.

As the fiery sexpot, Davis amazes, captivating with a mix of sass and sweetness, even as the actress shows just how much she’s grown as a performer since her last outing. Kerr nicely follows up her award-worthy turn in this year’s White Witch with a fantastic take on Valerie, lending a blend of stoicism and vulnerability to the sometimes disconcerting character. Campbell, meanwhile, steps out his comedic comfort zone, demonstrating incredible versatility that renders his performance a believable exercise in proper stagecraft and compassion of spirit. Much can be said, too, of Wilson, who reprises his award-winning role with the boundless energy and humour that viewers have come to associate with his Jambiz work.

The great set design and lighting options make sterling contributions. I am not too crazy about the musical selections though – with the exception of Norah Jones’ beautifully haunting “Come Away with Me” and The Phantom of the Opera’s “Think of Me,” which both hold metaphorical significance for characters in the play.

Overall, while claiming its place as a decidedly heart-warming, frequently amusing dramedy, Vibes holds up a mirror to society, with the reminder that despite the class boundaries that seem to separate us as humans, there are common threads that unite us. We all desire, crave affection and have the power to turn mistakes into gratifying life lessons. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

THREE WAY: Noelle Kerr, Glen Campbell and Camille Davis share stage time.

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