PRIME TIME: Harris in a commanding turn as Sista P; Hall and Lowe as The Bops.
Dat A Gwaan Jamaica (DMH Productions)
Director: Dahlia Harris
Cast: Orville Hall, Chris McFarlane, Maylynne Lowe, Kadeem Wilson and Dahlia Harris
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, New Kingston
BY the time Gully Bop (Orville Hall) ditches Shauna (Maylynne Lowe) for Amaré at the start of the show’s second half, audience members are rolling in the aisles. You come to expect the unexpected while watching Dat A Gwaan Jamaica, a side-splittingly funny dancehall comedy revue (now in its third weekend at the Phoenix Theatre on Haining Road in New Kingston) that finds showrunner Dahlia Harris donning multiple hats – script writer, lyricist, director, producer – to offer theatregoers an evening well worth their hard-earned dollars.
Dat A Gwaan Jamaica, awash with punchlines, musical oomph and keen observations, solidifies Harris’ reputation as a versatile storyteller who knows Jamaica like the back of her hand. She trains the lens of her inquisitive, investigative eye on our ever-colourful, ever-happening dancehall landscape with slices of politics, sports and current affairs bringing the pot to a boil. The result is high-energy, laugh-out-loud entertainment that, in spite of its minor glitches and intermittent hiccups, captures the good, the bad and the ugly.
The show’s strongest asset is easily its dynamic cast. A chameleonic character actress, Lowe brings her A-game to the mix, convincingly disappearing into a series of personalities, from Japanese deejay Rankin’ Pumpkin (in “Steam Pumpkin”) to a delinquent tenant playing hide-and-seek with her hard-hearted landlord (Wilson) in “De Owna.”
Hall (the show’s choreographer) is a solid presence, whether he’s morphing into an irate Rastafarian vendor or talent show judge Scatta Burrell. McFarlane also gets to show some range, when he portrays On Stage host Winford Williams in “Love and Dancehall” and “Love and Dancehall 2” (interviewing Gully Bop and his ladies) and later draws on his commanding baritone to deliver the gritty, Curtis Myrie-penned monologue “Yu A Shotta.”
Wilson, who is woefully underutilized in the show’s second half, brings the laughs as a vendor peddling delicate women’s undergarments.
Harris, meanwhile, could find herself in the Best Actress race come January, thanks to her razor-sharp portrayals of everyone from a no-nonsense Portia Simpson-Miller (“Talk De Tings Sista P”) to a livewire talk-show caller (“Hotline”) to “Rent A Fren’s” belligerent businesswoman who comes to your aid when “backative is lackative.’
Obviously, there is never a dull moment in this celebration of dancehall culture as part of our heritage that is impossible to ignore. The musical revue slant is standard theatrical formula, but you’ll love Dat A Gwaan for its authenticity and brashness, as it delves into Minister Shaw’s sky-high phone bill, the state of West Indies cricket, a post-Ishawna Bandana’s cry for justice and the latest round of drama dominating the dancehall spotlight. To borrow a line from Miss Amaré, Dat A Gwaan Jamaica is truly “something else.” Tyrone’s Verdict: B+