REBEL SPIRIT: A strong cast of student actors bring Gibbons' powerful folk play to the stage.
Energetic, fast-paced and brimming with Afrocentric sensibilities, I Lawah easily ranks among the most compelling theatrical productions to grace the Jamaican stage this year. The latest offering from the Edna Manley College’s School of Drama, the show’s appeal rests not only in the captivating performances offered by the student actors (particularly the leads) but in its outside-the-box approach to stage work and the robust spirit of defiance and Creole heritage that it exudes.
Splendidly directed by Camille Quamina and based on Rawle Gibbons’ Trinidad-set folk play of the same name, the work eschews the traditional storytelling arc, opting instead to fuse revelry, minstrelsy, singing and dance in weaving an engrossing tale about the denizens of a struggling Caribbean community – chief among them the vexed batonye/warrior-king Lawah Bois (Romaine Pottinger), the peppery house maid Sophie Bella (a superb Teca Donaldson) and an underclass of stick-bearing folks (who go by the Jamettes) navigating multiple conflicts and socio-economic strife.
There’s poverty all around, but there’s resilience, too, in almost equal measure. And just as well, that inescapable feeling of oppression. So you can hardly fault the people for rising up and adopting a rebellious streak that echoes the Nanny of the Maroons-type warrior spirit. Trouble is, their actions soon border on glorifying disorder and embracing anarchy. So when the unsuspecting policeman Captain Baker (Shemar Ricketts) shows up, talking tough, they practically beat him to a pulp.
Given the harsh realities and slavery-infested history that have always defined the Caribbean space, it comes as no surprise that there is a lot of rage in the piece, and Quamina gets her young actors to make it extremely palpable. As the put-upon Sophie, Donaldson is a revelation, using her very dramatic facial features to sterling effect. Among the other standouts in the cast: Pottinger as the emphatically furious Lawah, and Rajeave Mattis as the chameleonic ring-leader Shantwelle Popo, who moves easily between the speaking and singing modes of expression.
Though it’s originally set in Trinidad at the dawn of the 1908s, the play bears striking parallels to today’s Jamaican society, where the cost of living, the scourge of crime and the gigantic disparity between the haves and the have-nots sometimes make you want to scream. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+