Monday, 17 October 2011

WHAT WOMEN WANT: From conviction to power, Not About Eve has it all

IN MY MOTHER'S HOUSE: Rawlins (left) and Williams.

Five years ago, playwright and actor Karl Williams introduced a fascinatingly provocative new work to Jamaican theatregoers, drawing on the collective skill of actresses Karen Harriott, Sabrena McDonald and Dorothy Cunningham. Staged at the Pantry, Not About Eve was an instant hit and undoubtedly became one of 2006’s top stage sensations with critical acclaim and multiple award nominations for cast and writer. Fast-forward to 2011, and ace director Brian Heap and his tireless University Players have smartly chosen to breathe new life into the piece, featuring the fantastic trio of Nadean Rawlins, Carol Lawes and newcomer Lisa Williams.

It’s a wonderfully fresh and deeply affecting take on Karl Williams’ vision, where the cast and crew not so much faithfully remount the play than give it a polishing so brilliant that it gleams under the gorgeous lighting of the Philip Sherlock Centre, where it opened Saturday night.

The complex Katherine Shields (Rawlins) is a driven Kingston-based PR woman juggling work and family while quietly masking disappointment over certain aspects of her life, especially how her now-25-year-old daughter Kim (Williams) takes an almost care-free approach to things, losing jobs here and there but clinging passionately to her love of “jewelry” design and other bohemian delights. When they bump heads, it’s usually up to Mama Agatha (Carol Lawes), old-fashioned but level-headed, to play referee.

As soon becomes clear, Not About Eve (with its three generations of women) is an oestrogen-rich drama exploring family, identity, womanhood, sexuality and the lifelong quest of making sense of one’s place in the world, especially in these rapidly evolving times. Remounting a good play, there’s always the challenge of matching the oomph and zing of the original. And although the new Heap-directed version cannot hold a candle to the 2006 blueprint, it retains a great deal of that bruising edge and crackling tension.

A clear indication of his artistic comfort zone, Heap continues to display a propensity for work that critically dissects the domestic space, turning the spotlight on its dark crevices and moth-infested passageways. And here he maintains that tradition with a terrific work riddled with hard-hitting truths and heaps of emotion.

In large part, Heap’s deft direction aside, the show’s success hinges on the ideal casting of the three actresses who do justice to Williams’ well-drawn characters. Rawlins’ performance, in particular, is simply ovation-worthy. Portraying a woman who knows all too well how much image matters, she mesmerizes, delivering the kind of turn that’s captivating enough to change one’s perception of an actor. It’s clearly the type of role Rawlins has been waiting for.

Lawes’ natural approach to inhabiting a character works extremely well, as she makes the doting, world-weary Mama seem all too recognizable. And kudos to young Miss Williams, who keeps pace remarkably with her more seasoned castmates, swapping lines with the pros with surprisingly second-nature élan. As a performer, Miss Williams still has much deepening to do, but this is a star-making performance that seriously trumps her big-screen role in Ghett’a Life.

Aside from its ethnic, minimalist set, what stands out most about Not About Eve is that these women aren’t looking to turn their lives upside down but instead long to be understood and find lasting happiness within themselves and in their close relationships. It’s superbly acted with an emphasis on moments of telling revelation, even as it builds to a crescendo of powerful and conflicting emotions. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-



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