Tuesday, 31 January 2017

OPENING NIGHT: Debra Ehrhardt returns with Cock Tales, her frank and frisky new one-woman show

PARTY OF FIVE: Dawson, Carolyn Cooper, Zwick, Ehrhardt and Harding sharing lens time at Tuesday's launch.

“People ask me why I left my great Hollywood career to come and work with Debra. It’s because she’s that good,” Joel Zwick told the sizeable crowd that flocked to the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre in Kingston last Tuesday night for the launch of Cock Tales: Shame On Me, the new one-woman show from writer-actress and bonafide free spirit Debra Ehrhardt, who previously brought us the laugh-out-loud funny international sensation Jamaica Farewell, which established her as a powerhouse performer who can command the stage and carry an entire show all by her lonesome. 

Zwick is the well-renowned director of the box-office-topping comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding (with Nia Vardalos and John Corbett), a story the coincidentally also started out as a one-woman show by Vardalos. Between Zwick and Ehrhardt, who got introduced by Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson (both big fans of Ehrhardt’s work), the goal was to follow the same trajectory as Greek Wedding with the film version of Jamaica Farewell, which is still in the works. For now, the focus is on Cock Tales, which comes to Jamaica after a successful stint in the United States. 

On the heels of Jamaica Farewell, it continues Ehrhardt’s exploration of deeply personal issues and experiences that she’s plucked from her reality and spun into thought-provoking theatrical fodder. But where Jamaica Farewell gave weighty issues an amusing spin, Cock Tales turns up the heat, mixing erotica and a sense of sexual liberation with broader universal themes. 

By Ehrhardt’s own admission, the content (for adults only) is brutally frank and gets really visceral. In her own defence, she’s simply truth-telling. “We should never be afraid of or be uncomfortable with the truth. I’m a proud, very strong Jamaican woman, who’s been through some things that I’m sharing in this show,” she asserts. “I don’t regret anything I’ve been through. My goal when I’m up on that stage is to entertain people.” 

While Jampro’s Zachary Harding predicts that Cock Tales will “ruffle a lot of feathers”, producer Michael Dawson of Whirlwind Entertainment feels the local theatre market is all the better for regularly introducing theatergoers to products that originated overseas. “We’re hoping that by bringing productions like [Cock Tales] down to Jamaica,” Dawson notes, “we can bring more diverse audiences out to the theatre.” 

> Cock Tales plays at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, 6 Cargill Avenue, Wednesdays to Sundays. Tickets: 322-5766.

CREAM OF THE CROP: Woman Tongue, Four Can’t Play earn lion’s share of Thespy nominations

TRIPLE THREAT: Ruth HoShing, Maylynne Lowe and Dennis Titus in a scene from Four Can't Play.

Basil Dawkins’ searing marital drama Four Can’t Play and the acclaimed, ultrafemme revue Woman Tongue lead all contenders for this year’s Thespian Spirit Awards (the Thespies), with five nominations apiece. The nominees were unveiled Monday morning in Kingston by TALLAWAH Magazine, which puts on the annual awards, recognizing excellence in Jamaican theatre. 

Both Four Can’t Play and Woman Tongue are up for Outstanding Ensemble, alongside David Tulloch’s Across the Bridge (three nominations), Not My Child (four nods) and Catherine Mulgrave: An African Odyssey, which also picked up four nominations, for the Mona-based University Players. 

The musicals were not to be outshone, as Jambiz’s well-received fairytale romp Frank the Freak and Father HoLung’s Old Testament spectacle Moses each scored three nominations. 

Now in its sixth year, the Thespies have been dubbed the Golden Globes of the local theatre scene, serving as a precursor to the avidly anticipated Actor Boy Awards. 

The winners of this year’s Thespies will be announced February 28.

> THE NOMINEES: Check out the full list of categories and contenders

… AND THE NOMINEES ARE: The 2017 Thespian Spirit Award (Thespy) Nominations

Across the Bridge
Catherine Mulgrave
Four Can’t Play
Not My Child
Woman Tongue

Donald Anderson, Not My Child
Glen Campbell, Blind Spot
Akeem Mignott, Frank the Freak
Alwyn Scott, The Mountain Top
Wynton Williams, Moses

Leonie Forbes, Not My Child
Jacqueline Higgins, Women Who Roar
Shantol Jackson, The Mountain Top
Bertina McCaulay, Woman Tongue
Nadean Rawlins, Catherine Mulgrave

Jerry Benzwick, Across the Bridge
Hugh Douse, Moses
Clive Duncan, Boiling Point
Dennis Titus, Four Can’t Play
Courtney Wilson, Blind Spot

Shawna-Kae Burns, Seven Shades of Woman
Karen Harriott, Woman Tongue
Maylynne Lowe, Four Can’t Play
Rosie Murray, Not My Child
Makeda Solomon, Catherine Mulgrave

Nicholas Amore, Saving Grace
Brittany Bailey, Teck Yuh Han Off Ah Me
Derrick Clarke, Women Who Roar
Ackeem Poyser, 3some
Sabrina Thomas, 3some

Tanya Batson-Savage, Woman Tongue
Patrick Brown, Frank the Freak
Basil Dawkins, Four Can’t Play
Michael Holgate, Garvey: The Musical
David Tulloch, Across the Bridge

Patrick Brown & Trevor Nairne, Frank the Freak
Brian Heap, Catherine Mulgrave
Douglas Prout & Toni-Kaye Dawkins, Four Can’t Play
Greg Thames, Moses
Eugene Williams, Woman Tongue

The Louise M. Dunk Lifetime Achievement Award – The LTM National Pantomime

Thursday, 26 January 2017

RUN FOR LIFE: High Hopes for Storm Saulter’s Sprinter

CALLING THE SHOTS: Sprinter marks Saulter's first feature since the award-winning Better Mus' Come; pictured below, Zac Harding. 

If everything goes according to plan, Sprinter, the avidly anticipated and much-buzzed-about new feature film from Storm Saulter (Better Mus’ Come) could have its world premiere at one of the upcoming film festivals this year. That’s the word from Zachary Harding, one of the executive producers of the film, which was shot on location in Jamaica and Los Angeles, by a Jamaica crew using a mainly Jamaican cast. 

“In terms of readiness, it’s about 85 to 90 percent there. It looks really good,” says the renowned businessman, who has seen a director’s cut of the film. In addition to Harding, Sprinter’s executive producers are Joe Bogdanovich and Richard Jeffries (Cleveland Cavaliers). 

Exploring family dynamics, hardship and ambition, Sprinter is about a talented young Jamaican man, separated from his mother who has relocated to the States in search of a better life. But, as she discovers, life in the USA is no bed of roses. To reunite with his mom, the son, now a “barrel pickney”, vows to make the national track team so he can compete in the States. 

“It’s a really good story. And it will be a true test for a Jamaican movie done in patois. It’s not watered down at all,” reveals Harding, who also appreciates the film’s non-violent content and strong acting performances. “I think some breakout actors and actresses are going to come from it,” he predicts. “It’s an all-Jamaican cast except for four or so roles.”

FRESH TRACKS: Must-hear new music from Gyptian, Mr. Vegas, Da’Ville, Jo Mersa and Queen Ifrica

Queen Ifrica feat. Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley 
The lead-off single from Climb, Queen Ifrica’s well-anticipated new album, this introspective, radio-ready track finds two of reggae’s most respected modern-day ambassadors riffing on “intellectual attraction” and the kind of “holistic seduction” that awakens the senses. In other words, it’s the thinking man’s love song. [A-]    *Take a listen

From the man who brought us bedroom knockers like “Hol’ You” and “I Can Feel Your Pain” comes this slow, sultry groove, produced by the Oxygen Media Plus Music Group, that both seduces and satisfies. [B]   *Take a listen

Jo Mersa 
“Private Beach Party” 
Stephen Marley’s eldest son is all grown up, and he’s putting the ladies on notice. He sets the mood for a secret lovers’ rendezvous on this temptation-island track that’s all about positive energy and vibing with the right someone. And who can’t relate to that? [B]   *Take a listen

“Treat You Better” 
He may be sporting a new alias these days (Turii Mason), but this veteran crooner is still in the business of delivering flavourful reggae-soul that gets repeat listens. He scores a jaunty, heartfelt interpretation of the Shawn Mendes smash hit, with a solid vocal performance that proves that he’s still got it. [B]    *Take a listen

Mr. Vegas 
“I’m All That and More” 
With his debut gospel album in the works, Mr. Vegas harks back to his “I Am Blessed” era with this sprightly, spirit-lifting tune that’s ideal for both church and the concert stage. Hopefully he plans to do a duet with Minister Marion Hall. [B+]   *Take a listen*

CULTURE VULTURE: Jamaica Biennial opens Feb. 24 + AFJ invites grant applications + Grounation 2017 salutes mento

SOUNDING GOOD: Last year, the life and work of legendary trombonist Don Drummond took centrestage, and this year that vintage slant continues. The 2017 Grounation series will observe the theme “Mento: Is Ow De Music Sweet So.” Put on by the Jamaica Music Museum (JMM) and hosted by the Institute of Jamaica, this year’s iteration of the annual series kicks off on February 5, with an accomplished roster of presenters and performers confirmed to participate. Heading the list are old-school melody-makers The Jolly Boys (above) and David Brown of the African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica. Also set to make appearances are scholars, thinkers and creative artists, including Dr. Daniel Neely, Dr. Matthew Smith, Roberto Moore, Roy Black and filmmaker Rick Elgood. For JMM head and chief organizer of the Grounation series, Herbie Miller, musical genres like mento deserve greater respect from the masses. “I think it is time we take a look at the original progenitor of popular Jamaican music that has not, as far as I know, been given much attention as it ought to have been,” Miller argues. “We talk about rocksteady, we talk about reggae, but mento gets passing mention, even in the books.”

VIEWING PLEASURE: Some 176 qualifying entries from nearly 100 fine artists have been submitted for the 2017 Jamaica Biennial exhibition, which opens to the public at the National Gallery on February 24. To help select the crème-de-la-crème for the blockbuster display, a four-member judging panel has been set up, comprised of two international judges (Amanda Coulson and Christopher Cozier) and two local judges (Suzanne Fredericks and Omari Ra). The artists whose works will be showcased will be notified in due course. Meanwhile, this year’s exhibition will pay tribute to two recently departed stalwarts of the local arts community: painter Alexander Cooper and photographer/multimedia artist Peter-Dean Rickards. As in 2015, the biennial’s bounty will be spread across three viewing spaces – the Downtown Kingston-based National Gallery, Hope Road’s Devon House and the National Gallery West in Montego Bay. There are now two major prizes up for grabs: the Aaron Matalon Award and the Dawn Scott Memorial Award.

GIVING WITH LOVE: Calling all Jamaican non-profits! The American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ) is now accepting applications for grants from qualified not-for-profit organizations that provide charitable services in Jamaica, in the areas of education, health care and economic development. The grant applications should be applied to specific goals or projects in the given areas, while outlining clear and compelling objectives, sound financial capability and measurable targets for implementation. Applications should be submitted on or before February 6. For more information, including guidelines, email info@theafj.org or log on to their website theafj.org.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

ON THE RECORD: NLPB Chairman, Dr. Stevenson Samuels, on reconciliation, intervention and that infamous ‘Moravian’ case

FINE COMPANY: Dr. Samuels speaking with VMBS' Georgia Beckford at Thursday's prayer breakfast.

For more than three decades, the National Leadership Breakfast Committee has stuck to its core objective of bringing together Jamaica’s leaders of church, state and civic life, on the third Thursday in January, to address the church’s concerns for national peace, justice, reconciliation and unity. In his capacity as Chairman of that committee, since 2013, Rev. Dr. Stevenson Samuels (New Testament Church of God) firmly believes that an unflinching commitment to the quest for national transformation is the way forward. At the recent well-attended event at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, he spoke with TALLAWAH. 

TALLAWAH: Today marks the 37th staging of the annual prayer breakfast. How do you feel about such a milestone observance? 
Dr. Stevenson Samuels (SS): I am very delighted to see how this 37th breakfast has gone. The messages were very relevant and well-delivered. 

TALLAWAH: The mission statement of the NLPB revolves around fostering greater unity in the nation, particularly among the leaders at all levels. How successful has this mission been to date? 
SS: One of the fundamental objectives of the breakfast is reconciliation. That’s what our message is to the nation, and I think, breakfast after breakfast, we have heralded that call. And we have seen in the nation, slowly but surely, that transformation towards reconciliation. Tribalism and political rivalry are of the past. Insulated society and communities, of the past. We’re moving now towards integration and reconciliation. Absolutely no murders in August Town for one entire year [2016]. That was the first time in over 20 years. We are moving towards reconciliation. The nation is changing. 

TALLAWAH: As Chairman, what is your role? 
SS: I am supposed to provide leadership to the council, the general committee, to ensure that this breakfast is executed in an efficient and excellent way, and also to champion the cause of reconciliation at the leadership level especially, and by extension, the rest of the nation. 
TALLAWAH: And it’s been almost five years since you’ve been in the post. Are you interested in serving for another half-a-decade or will someone soon succeed you? 
SS: I think we will find other persons, and there are other competent persons who are ready and willing to take over the driver’s seat. 

TALLAWAH: As a church leader, you must have been disappointed by that well-publicized news story involving the Moravian minister. 
SS: Well, I am disappointed in many ways. Sometimes I am a little saddened by the way in which the case has already been tried in the public, and the alleged perpetrator found guilty. I am saddened also that this kind of allegation could have come against a senior minister of the church. I am concerned about the state of our society and our relationship to children. 

TALLAWAH: That’s why this year’s NLPB theme – “God-empowered intervention for transformation” – is so crucial. 
SS: I believe that if there is going to be true transformation, there has to be some intervention in the society. A society cannot experience change unless there is intervention of new initiative. And we’re looking forward to this kind of supernatural new initiative in the nation for it to experience that real transformation that we’re looking for.

GOSPEL SPOTLIGHT: National Gospel Song Competition turns 30; auditions kick off Jan. 24

WINNER'S CIRCLE: 2016 champ, Marsha Jarrett, accepting one of her trophies at last year's finale.

It’s become one of the most avidly anticipated events on the local music calendar, but this year it marks a significant milestone. The National Gospel Song Competition, organized each year by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, making it the longest-running gospel-based competition in Jamaica’s history.

Though the New Year has just begun, the JCDC is determined to get the ball rolling early. The auditions round kicks off on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and the competition is expected to gain momentum leading up to the grand finale in August, where the winner and runners-up will walk away with a wide range of attractive prizes.

The Central Region is where the auditions begin on Jan. 24, at the St. Mark’s Anglican Church Hall in Mandeville. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, judges and hopefuls will meet for the Western Region auditions at the Hollis Peter Lynch Hall in Westgate, St. James. The action then moves up north on Jan. 26 for auditions at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Port Maria. Kingston’s Eastwood Park New Testament Church of God is expected to draw a large turnout for the Eastern Region auditions on Friday, Jan. 27. Auditions begin at 10am daily, with registration at 9am. 

“The Jamaica Gospel Song Competition continues to provide opportunities to unearth and showcase the talents of new artistes, writers and performers,” notes the JCDC’s Marketing and Promotions Director, Stephen Davidson. “This is one of the most successful gospel competitions in Jamaica, and it opens doors for a lot of new artistes both locally and internationally every year. A lot of our entrants have gone onto build a solid music career, including Kerron Ennis, Kevin Downswell, Lubert Levy and Glacia Robinson, to name a few.” 

To learn more about the 30th anniversary plans for the National Gospel Song Competition and to get an entry form, visit www.jcdc.gov.jm or call 926-5726.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

GOLD STANDARD: La La Land scores record-tying 14 Oscar nominations

SHALL WE DANCE? Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both earned nominations for their roles in La La Land.

On the heels of its clean sweep at the recent Golden Globes awards ceremony (winning seven trophies), the old-fashioned movie musical La La Land has solidified its place as the darling of the 2016/17 awards season by racking up a whopping 14 Academy Award nominations. The Oscar nominees were announced in Hollywood this morning.

It’s a record-tying feat that places the Damien Chazelle-directed film in the rarefied company of Titanic and All About Eve. In addition to bids for best picture, director, screenplay, actor (Ryan Gosling) and actress (Emma Stone), La La Land is also up for original score and original song, among other awards.

Meanwhile, it’s safe to conclude that there won’t be any #OscarsSoWhite backlash this year. As it turns out, Black Hollywood had much to celebrate this morning, as Black actors earned nominations in each of the acting categories. In the supporting-actress field for instance, three strong Black women are vying for the golden statuette, namely Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and front-runner Viola Davis (Fences). It’s an impressive, history-making accomplishment that must be savoured.

Another history-maker: the incomparable Meryl Streep, who copped her 20th career nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins. Here are the nominees in the five major categories:

BEST PICTURE: Arrival; Fences; Hell or High Water; La La Land; Manchester by The Sea; Lion; Hacksaw Ridge; Hidden Figures; and Moonlight

BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea); Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge); Ryan Gosling (La La Land); Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) and Denzel Washington (Fences)

BEST ACTRESS: Emma Stone (La La Land); Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins); Natalie Portman (Jackie); Isabelle Huppert (Elle) and Ruth Negga (Loving)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight); Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water); Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea); Dev Patel (Lion); and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis (Fences); Naomi Harris (Moonlight); Nicole Kidman (Lion); Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea)

Winners will be announced on Oscar Sunday, February 26, during a live telecast on ABC. To see the complete list of nominees, go to Oscar.go.com.

GOLD STAR: The 10 Best Theatre Productions of 2016

SIDE BY SIDE: Maylynne Lowe and Dennis Titus in Four Can't Play.

IF there’s one thing Jamaican theatre didn’t lack in 2016, it’s diversity. We encountered the icons (Garvey, MLK, Moses), got up-close with lovers grappling with challenges and embracing change, empathized with relatives laid bare by tragedy, and even found ourselves being won over by an unsightly hunchback with a heart of pure gold. In the end, we had to select the ten best of the lot. No easy feat, but we rose to the occasion. Here, in no particular order, are our picks.

The Mountain Top
Adapting Katori Hall’s masterpiece, centred on Martin Luther King Jr’s final night, director Patrick Brown and a dynamite cast (Alwyn Scott/Shantol Jackson; Shayne Powell/Julene Robinson) treated theatergoers to a sizzling theatrical experience laden with splashes of humour and incredible emotional heft.

Catherine Mulgrave: An African Odyssey
The University Players, once again under the expert guidance of Brian Heap, took us across the seas to the Motherland, during this sublime stage work, which explores a young girl’s journey to womanhood (Nadean Rawlins on her A game) and tackles themes ranging from history and memory to identity and self-discovery.

Woman Tongue
Bertina Macaulay, Hilary Nicholson, Carol Lawes, Barbara McCalla and Karen Harriott delivered some of the best work of their careers in this well-made revue (from late producer Scarlett Beharie) that wove a memorable tapestry of monologues, music and feline magic.

Women Who Roar
The Pantomime Company took a fresh approach to their annual heritage series with this oestrogen-spiked song-and-dance-and-drama celebration of iconic Jamaican who moved mountains and paved the way for future generations. Brava!

Frank the Freak
Fairytales with Jamaican flavour don’t get any better than this melodic, richly entertaining musical comedy from Jambiz Productions, with stellar performances from a cast led by Glen Campbell and Akeem Mignott.

I Lawah
Full of daring and defiance, this electrically charged School of Drama adaptation of Rawle Gibbons’ folk play crackled with a gritty exploration of harsh socio-economic realities of Caribbean society then and now, reeling us into a time and place both familiar and frightening.

Garvey: The Musical
Writer-director Michael Holgate brought his signature mix of storytelling mojo and lyrical fervour to this laudable re-telling of the Garvey narrative, affording us another dimension to the enigmatic icon about whom there’s always something new to learn.

Four Can’t Play
An ensemble dramedy with fireworks and razor-sharp bite is the most fitting way to describe this latest theatrical offering from Basil Dawkins and Douglas Prout, who elicit high-calibre work from the show’s quartet of actors.

Not My Child
Reuniting with Leonie Forbes (for the first time since 2014’s For My Daughter), writer-director-producer David Tulloch crafts a compelling portrait of domestic dysfunction, desperate measures and the ties that bind via this award-worthy work, co-starring Donald Anderson, Belinda Reid and Rosie Murray.

Across the Bridge
Boasting bravura turns and an ending that can move even the toughest cynic to tears, Tulloch’s Across the Bridge was 2016’s most deeply affecting show and a timely reminder that there’s no substitute for courage and a firm belief in the power of prayer.

OUT OF SIGHT: Frank the Freak wins you over with amusing, melodic musical comedy

LOOK THE PART: Campbell (as Ken) and Mignott (as Frank) have a heart-to-heart as action heats up.

Frank the Freak (Jambiz Productions) 
Director: Trevor Nairne and Patrick Brown 
Cast: Glen Campbell, Akeem Mignott, Sakina Deer, Keisha Patterson and Courtney Wilson 
Venue: Centrestage Theatre, New Kingston 

Is Frank the Freak a fresh, original spin on the classic Beauty & the Beast fairytale? That’s debatable. But it’s certainly a very funny, very well-lit and very Jamaican version. Taking on multiple roles, as he so often does, Glen Campbell will have you rolling in the aisles with his spot-on portrayals of everyone from a mischievous imaginary friend named Ken to a cool-and-conscious West African named Killa to Christian divo Brother Ezekiel, who has a tendency to ‘baptize’ his conversation companions with his saliva. 

But in the end, the show truly belongs to the pair of Akeem Mignott, donning a grotesque face and a Quasimodo hunchback to convincingly portray the title character, and Keisha Patterson, who sings and dances her way into our hearts as Cutie, the good-natured 17-year-old daddy’s princess, who wins his heart. 

No stranger to Jamaicanizing storybook-derived fantasies, Patrick Brown uses Frank the Freak to not only offer the loyal Jambiz fans a hugely enjoyable musical comedy but to rigorously explore ideas and themes surrounding inner and outer beauty, cruelty and compassion. The end result is a sometimes touching, frequently humorous, but always entertaining theatrical experience. 

When blood-thirsty residents, hurling all sorts of invectives and accusations, chase Frank from his place of residence, he takes refuge behind the sprawling mansion that belongs to uptight patriarch Tiny (Courtney Wilson with a wiggle), the overprotective father of precocious Cutie, who accidently stumbles across Frank’s hideout. They strike up a friendship but, as expected, things soon get complicated. 

But not in an entirely bad way. Could Cutie have genuinely tender feelings for this unsightly man-creature who many would say has a face only a mother could love? That’s precisely how peppery housekeeper Munchie (Sakina Deer, firing on all cylinders) feels, not to mention Cutie’s father, who flatly believes no boy in the world is good enough for his baby girl. Throughout it all, the meanness and the heartache, Frank’s imaginary friend Ken (Campbell) is there by his side, rooting for the big guy and riddling him with insults. But all in good fun. 

There are tense moments and some heartfelt ones that give you pause, but there’s also a playful energy to the whole thing that bolsters the show’s appeal. As for the intermittent musical numbers, they are catchy and lively, particularly tunes like “Make Him Fret” and the empowering anthem “Love Will Never Die.” 

So even though the narrative is familiar and the ending a tad predictable, Frank the Freak is a melodic musical comedy that has a lot going for it. Best of all, it’s loudly beating heart is in the right place. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

PEOPLE POWER: ‘The Upses’ weave a tuneful and visually appealing Jamaican story

THIS IS HOME: Downzie residents are not giving up without a fight in the LTM's new song-and-dance show.

The Upses & De Downzies Dem (LTM National Pantomime) 
Director: Robert ‘Bobby’ Clarke 
Cast: Kevin Halstead, Faith Bucknor, Nicole Taylor-Thompson, Ray Jarrett and Antoinette Perkins 
Venue: Little Theatre, Kingston 

Irrepressible community spirit gets a lively musical beat in The Upses & De Downzies Dem, the 2016/17 LTM National Pantomime, which brims with colourful exuberance and high energy from the young and young-at-heart performers who make up the big cast. 

With book and lyrics by Barbara Gloudon, direction by Bobby Clarke and contributions from a creative team that also includes Anya Gloudon-Nelson (vibrant costumes), Michael Lorde (elaborate set design), Jermaine Gordon and Calvin Cameron (ear-pleasing music), with Patrick Earle and George Howard (rhythmic choreography), the production drives home the point that the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’, will forever be a source of conflict. 

And that’s exactly what plays out in this commendably scripted show that paints a vivid portrait of a typically Jamaican class-conflict scenario, without losing the humour or the family-friendly slant.

Ribba-To-De-Bank is home to a set of poor but close-knit and upstanding citizens who call themselves ‘Downzies.’ Not far from their community is the Upsie Mansion, the palatial residence of Ginneral Upsie (Halstead) and Lady Upsie (Taylor-Thompson) who, along with their teenage boys Diego (Donovan Stewart) and Miguel (Ricardo Campbell) enjoy a lifestyle steeped in luxury. They gained much of their wealth by acquiring and developing property. Now they’ve set their sights on taking over Ribba-To-De-Bank, which would mean forcing the people off their land. 

But the Downzies, led by their Mayor (Jason Williams), matriarch Miss Mack (Faith Bucknor) and wise woman Gran-Gran (Maxann Stewart-Legg) will have none of it. Both sides agree to meet to come up with a mutually beneficial solution. But, of course, that’s easier said than done. Meanwhile, romantic sparks flicker between the bookish Miguel and young Downzie activist Maya (strongly played by Antoinette Perkins), adding a sweet sub-plot to the story. 

As for the musical numbers – accompanied by a competent eight-piece mini orchestra – such selections as “Downzie Life”, “J-U-S-T-I-C-E” and the fierce protest tune “Ribba-To-De-Bank” are most memorable. 

When it comes to the annual pantomime, there are usually a few lapses here and there in the overall flow of the action but, by and large, the purpose of such a production is to provide entertainment for everyone, from primary schoolers to parents to older folks, which makes the process a bit more challenging for the creative team. 

Thankfully, The Upses & De Downzies Dem is consistently a delight – tuneful, humorous and great to look at. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

Friday, 20 January 2017

RUN ALL NIGHT: Paternal instincts, police corruption collide in new Jamie Foxx thriller, Sleepless

MAN UP: Foxx plays Vincent Downs, a Vegas cop and less-than-stellar father trying to do right by his young son.

Knowing your one and only child is in mortal danger is enough to quicken the steps and bolster the resolve of even the most delinquent father. We get a classic example in Sleepless, the fast-paced and adrenaline-inducing new cinematic thrill ride from filmmaker Baran Bo Odar, in which Jamie Foxx’s paternal instincts, not to mention his mettle, are put to the test. 

Harking back to his Miami Vice era, Foxx stars as Vincent Downs, a Las Vegas cop who’s been working undercover in Internal Affairs for the past two years. Alongside his partner Sean Cass (an underutilized Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris), Downs makes one of the biggest cocaine busts of his career but things go haywire. When he confiscates a large stash of prime coke that belongs to casino tycoon Stan Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), Rubino raises the stakes by kidnapping Downs’ teenage son Thomas (Octavius Johnson). 

To make matters worse, Rubino was supposed to hand over the drugs to the menacing Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy), a ruthless dealer following in his father’s footsteps. Infuriated by the turn of events, he literally grabs Rubino by the balls. 

Michelle Monaghan plays Jennifer, an embittered officer whose frustrating latest case becomes linked with the drug operations. Hence she crosses paths with Downs, who has a hard time convincing her he’s not a dirty cop but a desperate father who will do whatever it takes to rescue his son. Character actor David Harbour appears as Dennison, Monaghan’s frequently MIA partner. Meanwhile, Gabrielle Union rounds out the main cast as Dena, a hardworking nurse and Thomas’ concerned mother who can read Vincent Downs, her former lover, like a book. 

Working with a highly commendable script from screenwriter Andrea Berloff, Odar deeply immerses us in the night life of The City That Never Sleeps, a hotbed of gambling, drugs and anything-goes abandon. But at its core – driven by Foxx’s committed performance and the strong support he gets from his castmates – Sleepless is a stark and frighteningly realistic depiction of police corruption, the dangerous and deadly drugs business and the plight of a father who resorts to desperate and determined actions to get his kid out of harm’s way. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

NEWS FEED: Game-changing business leaders for JSE conference + MoBay to host inaugural Jamaica Int’l Exhibition

BIGGER & BETTER: Come June 1-4, Jamaica will play host to “the biggest trade show to be held in this country or anywhere in the region.” So says Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) President Metry Seaga, who was addressing the recent launch of the Jamaica International Exhibition (JIE), at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, Rose Hall, St. James, which will also host the big event in June. “The JIE is a new and exciting venture which will offer business people an opportunity to interact with some of the largest and most important traders worldwide, in an up-close and personal atmosphere, aimed at discovering new markets and exploring untapped potential,” Seaga says. “The JIE, we feel will fill a void that currently exists to bring business people from all around the world into Jamaica to sell their wares and see what opportunities exist in Jamaica.”

LOCAL SPAN, GLOBAL REACH: Three days chock-full of activities – starting with a grand Opening Ceremony and Cocktails – will unfold at the 2017 Investments and Capital Markets Conference, being hosted by the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, from January 24-26. Under the theme “Global Investment Horizon: Our Options and Future,” the conference will bring together corporate professionals, technocrats, business owners and influential investors (et al) to meet and engage global business leaders, industry innovators and visionary independent thinkers. In addition to expert panel discussions, game-changing keynote addresses will come from, among others, Michael Lee Chin, Brian Wynter, Fernando Alvarado (Sustainable Energy Central America), Ungad Chadda (TMX Group Limited), Professor Wayne Dunn (Canada’s CSR Training Institute), Hon. Audley Shaw and PM Andrew Holness. Go to jamstockex.com for online registration and more information.

THE GOOD FIGHT: Jamaicans must defend and promote justice, morality – Dr. Burchell Taylor

ON MESSAGE: The veteran preacher urged Jamaica to reclaim its power as a nation "walking humbly with God."

According to Rev. Dr. Burchell Taylor, for there to be transformation and significant positive change across Jamaica, justice and compassion, morality and dignity, must go hand in hand. Rev. Taylor, who was delivering the keynote address at Thursday’s National Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, also called on leaders in all sectors and Jamaicans from all walks to hold fast to humility and forge a strong moral vision for the way forward. “We must make an enduring commitment to uphold and promote in all that we do the immeasurable sanctity of human dignity. In all that we do, we must remember that human dignity is at stake,” Dr. Taylor told the rap audience.

During his nearly hour-long address, the iconic preacher-man, head of Kingston’s landmark Bethel Baptist Church since 1970, emphasized that justice cannot be reserved for only those in the upper echelons of society. For too long, he stressed, the cries of the downtrodden and dispossessed have been woefully ignored. “The common [declaration] ‘We want justice!’ is an intuitive, native cry. And we mustn’t let our stereotypical perspectives distract us from that,” he noted, adding that we all have a role to play – collective action – in fostering a flourishing justice system. “We who seek justice need to come together. We must ensure that every member of the society has access to the goods that will lead to a life of dignity. This is our task.”

Citing troubling crime statistics and alarming news reports involving members of the clergy, Dr. Taylor warned that Jamaica is experiencing “a quaking” of its moral foundation. “We also sense that we are a people at odds with ourselves which is [being manifested] in the vilest and cruelest criminal acts of violence,” noted the reverend, who delivered the address at the very first prayer breakfast back in 1981. The solution, he firmly believes, rests in our collective responsibility to do the right thing and fight vigorously for justice, while reclaiming the sizeable power that comes with being a people walking humbly with God.

This is a point that Sir Patrick Allen also underscored, as he brought greetings from King’s House. “We all have to be agents of change for the better,” the Governor General noted. “We who lead must be the examples of all that we wish for our beloved nation. May we never lose our belief in the power of prayer and be mindful of our responsibility to love and serve one another.”

Now in its 37th year, the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast brought together a host of Government and Opposition members, corporate, consular and diplomatic corps personnel, dozens of clergymen and folks from the wider society to reflect on issues of national importance – not least among them, peace, justice, reconciliation and unity. This year’s breakfast observed the theme “God-empowered intervention for transformation.”

Thursday, 19 January 2017

THEATRE’S MAN OF THE YEAR: David Tulloch’s creative genius, triumphant 2016 and brilliant future

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Tulloch sharing a scene with costars Sabrina Thomas and Leonie Forbes in Across the Bridge.

“What was your favourite David Tulloch production this year?” Years from now that’s a question you’ll hear frequently in and out of the theatre fraternity. The golden boy of the Jamaican stage is all grown up, commanding the scene with productions that dually provoke and entertain his loyal supporters (and woo new fans), while holding up a crystal-clear mirror to the Jamaican society.

Without a doubt, Tulloch likes to explore big, important themes that resonate across the board (family, prejudice, pride, injustice), but as his ever-growing body of work indicates, he also has a taste for stories that disturb and ruffle the feathers of his viewers. (Risqué, anyone?). 

These days his creative output is reflecting both sides of the coin – and he delivers the work (occasionally as writer-director-producer; occasionally as co-star) with relish. Consider last year’s one-two punch of Not My Child (an edge-of-your-seat drama) and 3some (a sexed-up romp) – two vastly dissimilar animals that unleashed pure theatrical Viagra. 

At the same time, Tulloch’s star is increasingly on the rise. No longer the fleet-footed playwright-producer on the hunt for spaces to stage his work, these days the 36-year-old is occupying the resident manager’s chair at the new and improved Phoenix Theatre (formerly The Theatre Place) on Haining Road in New Kingston and adding to his business cred with the rollout of JamStage Productions, with partner Orlando Sinclair, to complement his 15-year-old enterprise Probemaster Productions which, in spite of the economic hardships, continues to advance from strength to strength. 

On December 16, JamStage got the ball rolling with the premiere of its maiden production, Bad Breed, a fast-paced laughathon starring Michael Nicholson and Terri Salmon. But nothing could prepare us for the heartfelt, pitch-perfect Across the Bridge (opening a week later by Probemaster), in which Tulloch reteamed with his idol and theatre mother Leonie Forbes to treat theatergoers to something deeply moving – and end the year on a memorable high. Put another way, that’s how you bring the curtains down. 

It remains to be seen what 2017 and beyond has in store for Tulloch – artist, father, husband, trendsetter – and what he has in store for us; how he’ll push himself creatively. What’s become abundantly clear? He’s not one to rest on his laurels.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

KEEPING SCORE: Razor-sharp and snarky, Four Can’t Play hits close to home

LIFE'S A BEACH: HoShing and Samuels laughing it up; (below) HoShing, Lowe and Titus.

Four Can’t Play (Basil Dawkins Productions) 
Director: Douglas Prout and Toni-Kay Dawkins 
Cast: Oliver Samuels, Ruth HoShing, Dennis Titus and Maylynne Lowe 
Venue: Little Little Theatre, Kingston 

YOU’D love to be a fly on the wall at the Jamaican-based north-coast hotel, where the action (heated drama, flat-out-funny humour) unfolds in Four Can’t Play, the well-written and splendidly acted new stage work from Basil Dawkins. 

Having already treated theatregoers to such memorable potboilers as What the Hell is Happening To Us, Dear?, For Better or Worse, Which Way Is Out? (and the list goes on), the veteran playwright makes a solid return to form, exploring relationship dynamics, flawed personalities, pride and dignity, with terrific results. Simply put, the play sizzles. 

In addition to his quartet of strong actors, Dawkins has an excellent repeat collaborator in Douglas Prout (co-directing again with Toni-Kay Dawkins), who elevates the script into a triumph boasting just the right the balance of entertainment, food for thought and life lessons. If nothing else, Four Can’t Play proves that the Dawkins/Prout dream team knows people and they know drama. 

We are introduced to two couples, who are staying at this well-appointed hotel that has a gorgeous poolside, where most of the action takes place. But they’re not here for a romantic getaway. Oh, no. Couples counselling has brought this foursome all the way out here. 

As it turns out, the older couple – Superintendent O'Mally, affectionately called ‘Heartthrob’ (Samuels), and his bride-to-be Gwendolyn (HoShing) are gearing up for that trip down the aisle. The younger pair – a former ‘mixologist’ named Barry (Titus) and his estranged private-dancer spouse Anne (Lowe) are getting a divorce after nine years. 
The couples are in adjoining rooms, so they end up sharing the pool and swapping stories. Heartthrob’s vociferous snoring is a potential deal-breaker for Gwen, who can be a tad overbearing, given her high standards. Anne’s frequent dalliances with the men she “performs” for rub Barry the wrong way. As we come to find out, he has an explosively violent temper. In other words, these are people you know or known by someone you know. Still, what starts out as a relatively peaceful, relaxing and purposeful weekend devolves into a hot mess, where even the police have to get involved. 

They say the course of true love never runs smooth, and Four Can’t Play drives this point home – and then some. It helps, too, that the actors (last seen together in 2014’s Divorce Papers) share a winning chemistry that keeps audience members riveted. Samuels and HoShing are at that certain age and certain stage of their careers, where the performances they offer feel effortless – a lip-smacking lesson in character study that isn’t lost on their younger counterparts. 

Razor-sharp and emotionally precise, Titus and Lowe burn a hole in the stage, bringing that raw passion and electric energy we associate with lovers constantly at loggerheads. Lowe, especially, delivers truly mesmerizing work, as the story nears its climax. 

Watching Four Can’t Play you might recall classics like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and even Tyler Perry’s more recent Why Did I Get Married? But you are never less than impressed by Dawkins’ uncanny ability to marry (pun intended) dramatic and comedic elements in his storytelling to sterling effect. In short, and with next to nothing to complain about, Four Can’t Play scores. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+