Thursday, 31 March 2011

(UPDATED) ‘WHITE WITCH’ Debate: Is the award-winning musical racially offensive?

Reader (via email): White Witch?! The play where only the whites had any sense and the Blacks were buffoons?! This is a sad commentary.
Me: Not necessarily true. The Blacks were an oppressed set who ultimately led a successful coup against their tormentors to re-write history. The production won for its sheer delightful entertainment and exceptional acting.
Reader: Well - I saw it - technically good - racially offensive.
Me: I think you just game me an idea for my next article. Thanks. Hope you don't mind if I use your quote, just for context. I think it's something worth exploring.
Reader: No no, Tyrone - this is a private conversation - don't use my name if you quote me! Take care now.
Me: Ok, no names.

Is it at all possible to dip into the annals of slavery to depict the true character of the era without the issue of racism coming into play? Granted, it was an ugly period, especially for our Black forebears, who toiled like beasts-of-burden at the behest of their white superiors. But it’s safe to conclude that highlighting such events in a theatrical production, a la White Witch, is to show the true nature of life for our ancestors back in those days.

Earlier this week when an avid reader (an influential columnist who requests anonymity) brought to my attention the opinion that while White Witch is “a technically good” production, it portrays the Whites as sensible but pitches the Black characters as “buffoons,” I was sent musing on the trickiness of art. Though not always the primary intent, art has the dual effect of inspiring some while offending others.

In the case of White Witch (centred on the life and romantic misadventures of Annie Palmer of Rose Hall) as a work of artistic excellence it is a thoroughly thrilling production bolstered by tour-de-force acting, a solid script and a frequently stirring score. And though the musical is not without flaw, I certainly didn’t find it racially offensive. The Blacks (slaves) who might have displayed signs of buffoonery in early scenes are the same cunning lot who, by the end of the production, successfully turn the tables on their white tormentors and seize control of the plantation.

The issue of race is eternally a touchy, sensitive matter. But it does make for an exciting talking point in works of art, including theatrical productions (particularly ones like White Witch) that are real and make a strong point while confronting a difficult, controversial subject.

And do I even need mention that anything with the name Annie Palmer attached to it is bound to spark controversy?

AWARDS TRIUMPH: ‘White Witch’ sets new record with 13 Actor Boy wins

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

FABRIC OF OUR LIVES: Ensemble piece ‘Tapestry’ teaches and provokes but could do with tighter weaving

DADDY DEAREST: Shayne Powell (right) and Akeem Mignott.

They say parenthood is a dually rewarding and taxing experience, and one is reminded of this while watching Tapestry, the first new work from Sankofa Arts and Facilitation to hit the stage this year (seen at the Theatre Place, New Kingston). Throughout the production, mothers and fathers are in for core-shaking awakenings, whether it involves coming to terms with a child’s admission of homosexuality, a teenager’s suicide, or a father (Maurice Bryan) reuniting with his disappointed son (Shayne Powell) for the first time in over two decades. But while the revelations in these scenarios are not always profound, the viewer’s awareness of the issues at play is certainly heightened.

Dubbed a collaborative performance piece,Tapestry (written and directed by Fabian Thomas) is eye-opening and educational and confronts crucial societal matters, ranging from homophobia and crime to family dysfunction and self-acceptance. A series of skits (identified as ‘threads’), the production regularly falters, however, whenever the writing veers from depth and tautness and dips into contrivance, notably when it aims for laughs with a what-if scenario centred on the fictitious Jamaican Agency for the Approval of Parental Privileges.

As for the performances, there is much to commend, including smart turns from Bryan, Powell (a genuine rising star) and the indomitable Barbara McCalla, who is memorable as the apprehensive mother of a son who “likes boys.” But the real gem in the cast is young Akeem Mignott, remarkably convincing in the supporting role of a teen grappling with weighty personal and domestic problems.

Though Tapestry is teeming with lessons identifiable across barriers, and it provides timely and much-welcomed social criticism, too often it feels like a work not yet fully realized. Tyrone’s Verdict: B-

MORE: Savour the moody, powerful ‘Vagina Monologues’

JANE CRICHTON Exclusive: “I felt a connection to Annie Palmer”

ANNIE AND I: Playwright Jane Crichton (left) and actress Maylynne Lowe Walton.

For playwright Jane Crichton, what started out quite harmlessly as a product of her curiosity has morphed into a cultural juggernaut that has taken the local theatre community by storm. Crichton, the scribe behind the multi-award-winning production White Witch confesses that her fascination with Annie Palmer, the woman’s myth and mystery began with trips to that equally infamous Rose Hall Great House. “It started out with the house many many years ago, when it was still in ruins,” she tells TALLAWAH at Monday’s Actor Boy Awards. “Friends of mine and I used to go there, and I just felt a connection to Annie.”

Despite this sort of first-hand inspiration, Crichton, who hails from St. James, admits that work on her script did not commence at once. “It took me a while,” she says. “And at first [White Witch] was written as a series of monologues.” Fast-forward and a revised version of Crichton’s work is brought to the attention of noted theatre director Douglas Prout, who whips into shape with the help of a team that includes actor and composer David Tulloch, transforming Crichton’s vision into a splendid theatrical production replete with powerful, universal themes, and heapings of rich music and arresting drama.

And how does Crichton feel about the play’s enormous success, which includes two Thespian Spirit Awards and a record-setting 13 Actor Boy trophies. “I am still speechless,” she says with a big smile. “And every time I pass the guest house I say ‘Annie, you not easy at all.’”

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND: Singer Mario Evon rocks Ashford and Simpson's Sugar Bar

Jamaican vocalist Mario Evon is wasting no time making a name for himself in the Big Apple, hastening to earn a rep as an island boi with that raw passion and fiery soul.

On the weekend, the rising reggae-R&B star completed his latest gig, a performance at the cozy Ashford and Simpson's Sugar bar in Manhattan. No doubt Evon had the crowd swaying and the ladies swooning as he gave them a taste of his trademark suave delivery and musical charm.

The event, which was promoted by TE Music, featured as the main act Yanelle Dugar as well as other talented openers such as Shalea, Ashton Martin & Daylan Knight.

SUPPORT CAST: Evon is flanked by friends Averil Weir, DeLeon Hazel and Tracy Smith, who came out to cheer on their boy.

(Photos cred: De Leon Hazel of 3Kings Magazine)

OCM Bocas Prize: Category winners announced for new Caribbean lit award

PEN WARRIORS: Edwidge Danticat, Derek Walcott, and Tiphanie Yanique

The finalists for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature have been named. On Monday, the judges announced the winners of the three genre categories, who are now finalists for the overall Prize, which comes with an award of US$10,000.

NON-FICTION: Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, who was given a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” in 2009, is the category winner for her essay collection Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, which the judges have described as “thoughtful, interesting, and varied in its insights, often moving, and beautifully written, in a passionate yet restrained style.”

POETRY: St. Lucian Nobel laureate Derek Walcott won for his book White Egrets, which has already been bestowed with the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize. The collection has been hailed as “a superb collection . . . that speaks for all of us who live and love and can’t ever take our eyes off the wonder of the world around us.”

FICTION: How to Escape a Leper Colony, the debut collection of short fiction by Tiphanie Yanique of the US Virgin Islands claimed the prize. According to the judges, the book is “extremely touching but never sentimental. This is a wonderfully engaging gathering of stories by a genuinely gifted writer.”

The overall winner of the prize will be announced on April 30, during the first annual Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, which takes place from April 28 to May 1.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

WHAT A SWEEP! Musical drama ‘White Witch’ cleans up at Actor Boy Awards with record 13 wins

PROUD PROUT: Director Douglas Prout speaks on the Best Production win for White Witch, the daring 2010 musical based on the life and terror of Annie Palmer. At left, are Actor Boy co-chair/presenter Scarlett Beharie and one of the night's trophy ladies.

Somewhere in the supernatural realm Annie Palmer is having the last laugh.

It was a 'White'-wash at last evening's Actor Boy Awards as White Witch, the smashingly successful and critically acclaimed Fairfield Theatre musical production, loosely based on the life and misadventures of the historically notorious queen of Rose Hall, captured a stunning haul of 13 wins (from 15 nominations) at the Actor Boy Awards ceremony at New Kingston’s Pantry Playhouse – setting what is quite possibly a new record for awards season triumph in local theatre.

In addition to copping trophies for production of the year, best director (Douglas Prout), original score and musical, the play dominated the acting categories, securing wins for Keiran King (lead actor), Noelle Kerr (supporting actress), Philip Clarke (supporting actor) and Maylynne Lowe Walton (lead actress).

Losing out on only two trophies (lighting design and one of its entries for original song), White Witch also claimed statuettes for choreography, set, costumes, and new Jamaican play. Among the evening’s other notable winners: The Plumber, which scored an upset win over Appropriate Behaviour for Best Comedy, and the year’s most powerful drama Against His Will, thankfully, got recognition for its sole nomination (!) as Best Drama.

This year's special Actor Boy Award for Excellence in Jamaican Theatre went to the National Schools’ Drama Festival for its six-decade-plus contribution to cultivating a rich legacy dedicated to the theatrical arts.

WHO WON WHAT: See the full list of winners at this year's Actor Boy Awards

A 'WHITE'-WASH: The Fairfield Theatre production of Jane Crichton's White Witch dominated at last evening's Actor Boy Awards, securing 13 trophies, including wins for the main cast led by Maylynne Lowe Walton (right), Keiran King and Noelle Kerr.