CHARACTER STUDY: Actors enact a scene from the School of Drama's Blood Wedding.
2013 was undoubtedly the Year of the Actor, featuring an astonishing range of memorable turns by performers seemingly bent on redefining the idea of the Jamaican thespian. And that only made my job as critic all the more thrilling and, I'll admit it, fun -- but extremely difficult when it came to narrowing down the overall bounty of shows to a Top Ten. Still, I took immense pleasure in hand-picking the absolute cream of the crop and present them here (in no particular order) as my year-in-review tribute to Jamaican stage magic:
1. JAMAICA SWEET: Performed by a riotous ensemble cast (Terri Salmon, Michael 'Stringbeans' Nicholson) and featuring terrific writing from David Tulloch, the show came off as a smashing song-and-dance revue that entertainingly captures the heart and soul of Jamrock.
2. THICKER THAN WATER: Ace writer-director-producer-actress Dahlia Harris compellingly led a stellar all-female army in this oestrogen-spiked examination of gender, a whole new way of "relating" to family, and the workplace as battlefield.
3. MY GOD DON'T WEAR PAJAMAS: Anchored by standout work from actors Donald 'Iceman' Anderson and Zandriann Maye, Pajamas (laced with dramatic intensity and sharp dialogue) offered bold new testimony of Basil Dawkins' talent as a first-class storyteller still very much in his prime.
4. THE GOLDEN MACCA FAT: Alternately wild and whimsical, but undeniably wholesome, the 2013-14 LTM National Pantomime struck a delightful chord with its blend of gorgeous imagery, irrepressible community spirit, and catchy tunes backed by athletic choreography.
5. TABOO: The daringly unorthodox subject matter aside, Keiran King's 2013 offering won over critics and audiences alike with a definitive collaborative approach -- and secured riveting performances by Lisa Williams and Rodney Campbell.
6. CLUE: Heralding the arrival of a refreshing new voice in Jamaican playwrighting (actress-turned-writer/producer Laveda Thompson)) -- and an outside-the-regular addition to the annual bounty -- this spooky whodunit delivered intricate plotting as well as passionate acting from stars Makeda Solomon and Jerry Benzwick.
7. LADIES OF THE NIGHT: A clever and sharply funny comedy-drama exploring the world's oldest profession from a Jamaican perspective while showing us the fears and the heartache and the dangers that these hustlers face in the name of survival.
8. TOY BOY: Maylynne Lowe and Christopher McFarlane, giving two of the year's most electric performances, breathed new life into the popular Basil Dawkins' two-hander, under startlingly mature direction from debutante Toni-Kaye Dawkins, the playwright's daughter.
9. JONKANOO JAMBOREE: Steeped in Jamaican folklore and star-power appeal (Nadean Rawlins, Bryan Johnson and Julene Robinson costarred), a rousing community musical drama from Mona's University Players, creatively orchestrated by the dynamic writing-directing duo of Aston Cooke and Michael Holgate.
10. BLOOD WEDDING: One can always count on the Edna Manley College's School of Drama to annually mount productions laced with universal resonance. Their memorable, emotionally rich take on the Lorca classic scored dramatic gold and yielded, too, a fierce breakout turn from Neeka Whyte as it's stern, disapproving matriarch.