Tuesday, 1 September 2015

FACING THE MUSIC: Hilarity and sobering message give Samson its strength and vigour

STREET  BEAT: Hendricks and Rowe play homeless hustlers who form a musical duo.

Samson & Di Liar (Scarlett Beharie Productions)
Director: Scarlet Beharie, Tony Hendricks and Ricky Rowe
Cast: Tony Hendricks and Ricky Rowe
Venue: Little Little Theatre, Kingston

Picture this: Tony ‘Paleface’ Hendricks dressed in rags and channeling Luciano Pavarotti to belt out “I Am an Innocent Man”, an operatic aria complete with top-of-the-lungs high notes and clever lyrics that weave a compelling tale of responsibility and regret. The scene I’m describing is one of the most visceral and laugh-out-loud funny moments in Samson & Di Liar, a solidly penned and incredibly well-acted drama-comedy that’s bringing the house down at the Little Little Theatre in Kingston.

That the show pairs up a comedic maverick like Hendricks with a thrilling and versatile talent like Rowe (performing a script by Winston ‘Bello’ Bell) is what transforms this production into a sizzling two-hander rich in entertainment value.

So how does Hendricks’ character Samson wind up singing opera of all things? Turns out he’s a musician and composer (with a flair for the dramatic and a dark past) who’s fallen on hard times - a homeless man trying to make life on the means streets of New Kingston. When he encounters Earsring (Rowe), a skinny, two-timing hustler with whom he has a few things in common, they strike up an unlikely friendship and decide to form a musical duo that’s willing to, more or less, sing for their supper. That’s where Samson’s musical gifts come into play, recalling Jamie Foxx’s memorable turn as Nathaniel Ayers in The Soloist

Though Hendricks is well known for his belly-busting stand-up comedy routines, as Samson he reveals another dimension to his acting talents – a spiky gift for dramatic intensity. In the end, he renders one of the most majestic male-lead performances this critic has witnessed in local theatre all year. For his part, Rowe is nimble and quick on his feet and keeps pace with Hendricks. Together, they produce some of that Bello & Blake-type joie de vivre that keeps the crowd in their thrall. 

But, thankfully, the play (in spite of its minor hiccups) doesn’t gloss over serious and pertinent matters like the plight of the city’s homeless folk – a demographic that continues to grow at an alarming rate in Jamaica. Not to mention the subtle interweaving of such themes as religion, the global status quo and the art of surviving on skid row when all you’ve got left is courage to face the harsh realities, come what may.

Simply hilarious and boasting a pair of fine performances, Samson & Di Liar is a terrific example of what can result when comedy and drama, entertainment and sobering message are (almost) seamlessly combined. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

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