CHARACTER WORK: Cunningham and Samantha Brevett in a scene from Mama.
Dorothy Cunningham is used to breathing life into strong, archetypal Jamaican women and has been doing so for years. Lime Tree Lane’s no-nonsense matriarch Miss Zella ranks among her most popular roles to date. But even at this ripe stage of her illustrious acting career, every now and again she comes across a pleasantly surprising character that challenges her in rewarding ways.
“This is the first time I’m playing a character in a show that was designed for a particular audience – the Christian community,” she says of taking on devout Christian mother Mama Joyce in the intense domestic drama Mama Please Take Me Back to Church, which has been playing at Hope Road’s YMCA Auditorium in Kingston. “But she reminds me of some very strong Christian women I’ve known over the years who can be very nurturing but, at the same time, very strict when it comes to keeping their children on track.”
While Mama Joyce and Dorothy Cunningham may share striking similarities in their approaches to parenting and the taxing job of keeping their families together – the play is highly recommended – Cunningham prides herself on having mastered the art of keeping the stress that comes with the territory at a supreme minimum. That perhaps explains her semi-permanent youthful glow.
“It’s not a secret, but I deal with issues differently. First of all, I try not to overstress myself worrying about things over which I have no control. I try to stay worry-free,” the veteran actress tells TALLAWAH. “I try to live a simple life. I’m not into keeping up with the Joneses. It’s just how I was brought up. So I don’t drink and I don’t believe in burning the candle at both ends.” Spoken like a consummate artist.
Someone once said, ‘We each have a book in us.’ And while Cunningham is living proof of that, she isn’t quite sure if her effort should take the literary or theatrical form. “I have written something, but I don’t know what I want to do with it. They could be short stories or I could perform them as a one-woman show,” the sixty-something maven explains. “I could publish it or I could stage it. I haven’t yet decided, but it’s something I’m working on as a future project.”