Monday, 3 January 2011

CRUEL INTENTIONS: Explosive revenge drama ‘Judgement’ cuts deep

COULD IT BE LOVE? Deon Silvera and Andre Morris are head over heels in Judgement.

Judgement (DMH Productions)
Director: Dahlia Harris
Cast: Deon Silvera, Andre Morris and Dahlia Harris
Venue: Pantry Playhouse, New Kingston

Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

If anything, Judgement is a stark reminder that karma is a bitch. With its mix of gripping dramatic tension, edge-of-your-seat thrills and regular splashes of comic relief, the play is a thoroughly engrossing affair, buoyed by a terrific debut script from writer-director-costar Dahlia Harris, powerful acting and a timely meditation on the dark side of human nature. It’s easily one of the best productions of 2010.

At the centre is an unflinching story of friendship, betrayal and vengeance, told with a fluid and commanding grasp of the way Jamaicans (at home and abroad) interact and a flair for our colourful language.

Judgement focuses on New York-based Janet (Deon Silvera), an idealistic romantic-at-heart who believes she’s found true love when Antonio (Andre Morris), a tall, dark and handsome drink-of-water whom she met online, waltzes into her life. With his movie-star good looks and killer charm, Antonio is the perfect catch. But Janet’s storybook romance comes crashing down when her rowdy best friend Sasha (Harris) reveals that Antonio is not who he appears to be. In fact, according to Sasha, he is a dangerous man from her past.

Why has this ‘Antonio’ character suddenly resurfaced in Sasha’s life? What intricate revenge scheme is he plotting to “pay her back”? These are the questions that drive the carefully crafted plot and much of the action in Judgement, which benefits from Harris’ sharp and observant take on people, our capacity for goodness and our greater tendency to exact wicked games on each other. The play’s greatest assets, however, are the fleet-footed pacing, which keeps the show from dragging, and the ultra-talented trio of actors.

The casting is excellent. Silvera effectively draws on her characteristic blend of spunk and sass to play the somewhat naïve yet strong-willed Janet. Morris is ideal as the suave, smooth-talking hunk with a frightening villainous streak. It’s a star-making performance from Morris. Then there’s Harris who, hands-down, perfectly embodies the boisterous but affable Sasha, a tough cookie with a heart of gold. This is Harris in her finest outing since she stole the show in 2007’s Concubine?

The onstage sparring among the actors seems effortless, especially when you consider that Silvera is the actress with whom Harris has the most natural chemistry in local theatre. Who can forget their memorable pairing for Jamaica 2 Rahtid?

For some viewers, the thrilling last five or so minutes of the play might stretch credibility a tad, but it’s something I’m willing to let slide. As a tale of the power of friendship, Judgement works better than if it were to be pitched solely as a revenge saga. It is such an absorbing piece of Jamaican theatre that my complaints are very few. For a first-time writer-director Harris does not disappoint, allowing the action (which mainly takes place in Janet’s chic apartment) to unfold at its own pace without forced urgency, while steering clear of predictability and melodrama.

Powerful and superbly well performed, Judgement is a remarkable achievement for Harris and her team.

HEATED: Harris, Silvera and Morris in a tense moment from the hit new drama Judgement.

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