Friday, 2 February 2018

LOST & FOUND: Dawkins’ Pressure Drop captivates with tough love and family drama

COMING HOME: Lowe, Brown and Fagan sharing a scene from the play.

Pressure Drop (Basil Dawkins Productions)
Director: Douglas Prout 
Cast: Earle Brown, Ruth HoShing, Canute Fagan and Maylynne Lowe 
Venue: Little Little Theatre, Kingston

IN this neck of the woods in deep rural Jamaica, Luke (Canute Fagan) is pleading with his father for a place to stay for six months while he and his Chinese wife Deslin (Maylynne Lowe) get back on their feet. Fresh from Kingston, the beleaguered interracial couple have fallen on hard times (gambling debts, bad choices) and have had to return to their home district in the country with their tails between their legs.

Luke’s father, Matthew aka Papa (Earle Brown, superb), a cantankerous farmer and widower, feels he’s too old for this kind of intrusion at this stage of his life. His answer is an emphatic, machete-assisted ‘No’. But Luke wears him down. 

Difficult as it often is, you never turn your back on family, and that’s one of the most telling points in Basil Dawkins’ latest theatrical offering, Pressure Drop. It’s a well-written, impressively directed and sharply acted throwback to vintage Jamaica – enamel basins, bellfoot pants, tinnin’ lamp and the community standpipe. 

It vigorously explores themes of regret, resentment, false pride, grief and guilt and the ubiquitous pairing of family dynamics and human relationships. In true Dawkins’ style, there’s lots of humour, dramatic tension and some very keen observations about our unique way of life as Jamaicans then and now. 

The cast is excellent. Brown gives a commanding turn as the disapproving (sometimes paranoid) father who has to adjust to accommodate the prodigal son and daughter-in-law whose carefree style gets on his nerves. Unsurprisingly, he misses his dearly departed wife (Luke’s mother) with whom he regularly ‘converses.’ 

Young veterans Lowe and Fagan put in convincing work as the desperate husband and wife who learn that bad luck is indeed worse than obeah. But nothing can prepare them for the arrival of Dotsy (Ruth HoShing), Deslin’s half-crazy mother, who is like a tornado mixed with a Category Six hurricane. It’s easily HoShing’s most captivating performance in years. 

But they are all upstaged by the old house (with its cellar full of rum bottles and heaps of fire wood), a compelling character in itself whose stark, weather-beaten visage epitomizes a thousand words. The set design and lighting deserve high marks. 

Dawkins’ four-hander formula runs the risk of becoming clichéd, but his storytelling is never less than engrossing, consistently delivering scenarios and characters that sidestep stereotype and caricature. Like Patrick Brown and Trevor Nairne, he and his go-to director Douglas Prout seem to have established a shorthand that produces real theatrical magic. 

Pressure Drop continues that trend, full of life and energy, harsh truths and tough love. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

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