Wednesday, 31 July 2019

STAYING ON TRACK: Sprinter delivers a memorable mix of strong performances, Jamaican life and youthful zeal

STRONG FINISH: Elliott stays ahead of the pack in this scene from the movie.

YOU’RE young, talented and destined for greatness, but your path is littered with obstacles and distractions – both human and non-human – that threaten to derail you and extinguish your light. Akeem Sharp (newcomer Dale Elliott in a star-making performance) can certainly relate.

The rising high-school runner at the centre of Storm Saulter’s well-made and hugely entertaining new feature Sprinter, Akeem is the kind of likeable chap who just needs some guidance to help him fulfil his enormous potential and become the next Usain Bolt.

That’s where Coach Miller (David Alan Grier), the tough but nurturing Lazarus High School mentor, comes in, pushing Akeem to stay focussed and dig deep to deliver consistently outstanding performances on the track. Star girl and supportive teammate Kerry Hall (Shantol Jackson) also cautions him about staying on the straight and narrow and keeping his eyes on the prize.

But that’s easier said than done. Akeem comes from a broken home, raised by a struggling single dad (Dennis Titus) after his mom (Lorraine Toussaint) relocated to the States to make a better life and send money back home. He misses his mother.

After a falling out with his dad, Akeem’s older brother Germaine (Kadeem Wilson), a former track star-turned gangster, takes him under his wing but, as he soon realizes, that kind of environment is not for a young man who wants something out of life, who really wants to represent Jamaica in international competition. It’s a tough lesson Akeem ends up learning the hard way.

The film, which reportedly drew backing from Hollywood heavyweights Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is a visually crisp, emotionally involving slice of Jamaican cinema, with strong supporting work from an impressive cadre of home-grown talents, including Glen Campbell, Dahlia Harris, Shak-quera South, David Crossgill, Sakina Deer and Danar Royal.

The theme of sport’s unifying power is juxtaposed against the ugly underbelly of crime and gun violence and its devastating impact on national and family life – an interweaving of complex subject matter that Saulter handles with directorial finesse. Still, the real joy of Sprinter is the combination of youthful zeal, talent and the lessons of one young man’s fascinating learning curve. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

SOCIETY, SOCIETY: All eyes on Usain Bolt’s 76 Tower / Business Access TV gone ‘Global’ / Bruce James gets the big job

>> Skyscraper alert! Usain Bolt’s ‘towering’ new building, the 76 Tower, prominently located on Half Way Tree Road in St. Andrew, has everyone talking – and speculating about its impending grand opening. When is the big day? The high-rise (constructed by Virtuoso Architect Limited), about six stories tall, looks almost ready to start adding offices and boardrooms and shops. And from what I see so far, the lights are on every night, the Marksman security guards are alert on duty, and basically it’s almost show time. By the way, you can spot Bolt’s To Di Worl’ logo (cast in vivid lights at the top of the building) from about a mile away. Butch and Adam Stewart had better watch out! 

>> The guys are Business Access TV are also making major moves. According to recent reports, the five-year-old company (formed by Garth Walker and Leighton Davis) has been sold to Dawgen Global, following a multi-million-dollar settlement. Walker is happy with the deal. This transaction will see BATV becoming a part of the Dawgen Global service firm,” he says, “expanding the brand even further beyond our shores.” According to Dawgen’s Dawkins Brown, they have a $200-million expansion plan in the works that will see them introducing their services to more Caribbean islands.

>> Movements: As the indomitable Christine Legarde waves goodbye to colleagues at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Jamaica is saying hello and welcome to Donald Ray Tapia (an Arizona businessman who has served in the US Air Force) as the new US Ambassador.

>> Shake-up at Sagicor again! President & CEO Chris Zacca has also been given the chairmanship of Sagicor Investments Limited; Bruce James (noted banker and MVP Track Club president) is now Chairman of Sagicor Bank, while Peter Melhado sits at the head of the table as Chairman of the board of the Sagicor Group.

>> Spotted: Richard Byles heading to his car in the parking lot across from the finance ministry (at Heroes Circle) on Tuesday. A source tells us he was attending a meeting as he gets set to take over as Governor of the Bank of Jamaica in mid-August.

Friday, 26 July 2019

THE ENEMY WITHIN: Behind the Pulpit brings church and gender politics into sharp focus

FINDING RELIGION: Actors performing scenes from the play.

Behind the Pulpit (Lighthouse Productions)
Director: Akeem Mignott and Brian Johnson
Cast: Petrina Williams, Brian Johnson, Miguel ‘DJ Rebirth’ Williams and Samantha Thompson
Venue: The Blue Room (Phoenix Theatre), New Kingston

FOR as long as there have been jobs – from the political sphere to the scientific world – the idea of a woman filling a role considered traditionally male has been frowned upon. Even in the church. 

As action heats up in the electrically charged gospel drama Behind the Pulpit, Pastor Patricia Nobles (a splendid Petrina Williams) is elevated to the rank of bishop, in the wake of the passing of Bishop Grant.

Not everyone is happy for Patricia and her appointment, and that includes her own husband, Troy, played by Brian Johnson, who wrote the script and co-directs with Akeem Mignott.

The bubbling cauldron of resentments and jealousies, demands and ultimatums, and religious hypocrisy swells to volcanic proportions, making this one of the most explosive productions you’ll see at the theatre this year. 

The Nobles, both young working professionals, seem to share a close-knit relationship that only needs a child or two to make the union complete. But Patricia’s new job reveals the gaping cracks in the marriage, and secrets threaten to come tumbling out of the closet.

Troy’s friendship with Brother Mark (played with roguish charm by Miguel ‘DJ Rebirth’ Williams) adds another complex layer to the whole thing. And let’s not even get started on Sister Imogene Grant (Samantha Thompson, terrific), the late bishop’s widow, who is as devoted and matronly as she is overbearing and manipulative.

Will the new bishop get the support she needs to take the church forward in the face of financial mismanagement and other weighty matters? Will her marriage survive the stress and strain?

Mignott and Johnson make a dream team of collaborators, and though their play could do with a ten-minute editing job, it’s a fantastic effort. They certainly know how to captivate their viewers and pull strong performances from actors. Johnson, meanwhile, is having a wonderful run as theatre’s man of the summer.

Unsurprisingly, Behind the Pulpit gets a tad too preachy, but you can’t deny its genuine emotional heft and riveting power as it explores everything from marital dynamics to church and gender politics. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

SHOP TALK: J for Life Apparel taps into the Christian market with sporty casualwear

TEEING UP: The line specializes in t-shirts in a range of eye-catching colours.

IT’s been more than five years since Jewel Osbourne-Landells left her well-paying job as a graphic designer to devote herself fully to entrepreneurial pursuits. “I needed time to focus on my passion,” she tells TALLAWAH. Out of that desire came the launch of J for Life Apparel, a line of sporty casualwear for young Christians.

“The line is for Christian-minded young people – men, women and children. The pieces carry messages of hope and empowerment because I believe it is always important to represent your faith when you’re out in the world.”

From tee-shirts (in a range of neon-bright hues) to caps and bags, J for Life Apparel, officially started in 2013, has perfect summer-time gear. “The feedback has been amazing, and from minimal marketing,” the 36-year-old Portmore native explains. “We’ve been reaching a wide cross-section of youth.”

And the young-at-heart. J for Life Apparel’s Instagram account rakes in tonnes of traffic monthly, as orders pour in from local and overseas buyers. 

“We haven’t put up a website as yet, so we’ve mainly been using our social media platforms. That’s where most of the orders are made, and we fill those orders right away. Everybody is on social media, so it’s much easier.”

Graduating from the Edna Manley College in 2004, with a BA in Visual Arts and Education, Osbourne-Landells always knew she wanted to channel her gifts into something meaningful. To that end, she started J for Life Productions, and it’s become the umbrella entity for her business ideas encompassing music ministry (she’s quite the songbird), graphic design, fashion and her latest exploits as a playwright and theatre practitioner. 

At the moment, Things Jamaica stores carry the apparel line, and looking ahead Osbourne-Landells (who describes herself as a one-woman engine with a small support team) wants to widen the reach and the customer base. “We also do branding and logo designs for corporate companies,” she notes. “Hopefully, that aspect of the business will also grow.”

MAKING MOVES: O’Neil Lawrence takes over as the National Gallery’s chief curator + What’s next for Molly Rhone?

THE CHOSEN ONE: Earning the coveted task of overseeing the gallery’s active exhibition programme in Kingston and Montego Bay, as well as the stewardship and development of Jamaica’s national art collection, O’Neil Lawrence has been appointed chief curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica. Lawrence, a noted photographer, began his sojourn at the gallery in 2008 as an outreach officer. A year later he took up the full-time post of curatorial assistant, before being promoted to assistant curator and, since 2013, senior curator. “I have worked alongside a team that has developed an exhibition and events programme at the gallery which engages an increasingly wide audience,” says Lawrence, “and with the support of the board and stakeholders I look forward to leading them in even more ambitious, creative collaborations.” He gets a glowing recommendation from board chairman, Tom Tavares-Finson, who notes, “His wide depth of knowledge of Jamaican and Caribbean art will serve him well as he begins this stage of his career.”

DISTINGUISHED SERVICE: Sports administration will never be the same without Molly Rhone, who has stepped down as President of the International Netball Federation (INF) after a long and fruitful tenure – spanning some 15 years. It’s a “bittersweet” moment for the renowned and respected Jamaican stalwart who has handed over the reins to former Netball England CEO Liz Nicoll. But by no means is Rhone walking away from the sport she so cherishes. “I am not sure what I will do, but I would want to continue using sport, and in particular netball, to empower young girls and women,” she said in an Observer interview. Rhone says she is immensely proud of the strides netball has made over the years and her own achievements as a key administrator. “I think I am leaving a legacy, something that can be built on, which is very important,” she says. “And you want people to understand that there is a foundation there upon which they can build.”

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Q-&-A: Actor Stephen-Rhae Johnson talks about compromise in relationships, his faith and his biggest regret

REAL TALK: "I want to test out as many roles as I can and exercise my acting chops," says Johnson, 31.

HAVING just wrapped the Suzanne Beadle dramedy Yours, Truly and now in rehearsals for Father HoLung’s mega-musical Isaiah (opening in September), actor Stephen-Rhae Johnson is busy expanding his body of work and building more ‘muscle.’ TALLAWAH catches up with the superfit leading man.

TALLAWAH: In Yours, Truly, your character Dylan runs a home-based company with his cousin. How does one makes such a business partnership work? What’s the key? 
SRJ: You must have mutual trust and be a man or woman of your word. And having a shared goal ensures that you are on the same wavelength. 

TALLAWAH: What about in a marriage? 

SRJ: You definitely have to be on the same page and have one overall goal so that it doesn’t become a case of you’re going North and she’s going South. I think it’s also important that you learn how to speak, how to communicate with each other, so that nothing gets misconstrued. You want to speak in love. 

TALLAWAH: Why does it seem that you have more playing a roguish character like Dylan? 
SRJ: I wouldn’t say it’s more fun, but as an actor I want to be exercising my muscles. You don’t want to end up with a big chest and small legs (Laughs). I want to test out as many roles as I can and exercise my acting chops. This role was definitely fun.

TALLAWAH: What would you say has been the single greatest achievement of your life so far? 
SRJ: That would be giving my life to Christ. I was just 12 when it happened. But that decision opened a lot of doors for me, because it led me to theatre, for one thing. But it’s also been a confusing slash rewarding decision because there are certain roles I’ve had to turn down. 

TALLAWAH: Wow. So if you could change one thing about your past, what would that be? 

SRJ: Not learning a foreign language, because I’d love to do theatre in other cultures, like French and Spanish. I stopped doing Spanish in third form, and that’s been my biggest regret. It wasn’t mandatory after third form at Wolmer’s, which is something I think they should change. 

>> Review: Yours, Truly tackles trust issues

GIRL, INTERRUPTED: Ananda Alert delivers a sobering cautionary tale with wit and humour

HOME SWEET HOME: Jackson, Fletcher and Davis in a scene from the play.

Ananda Alert (Barracks Entertainment Productions) 
Director: Fabian Barracks 
Cast: Crystal Fletcher, Aisha Davis, Shantol Jackson, AndrĂ© Bennett and Gracia Thompson 
Venue: Barracks Theatre, Kingston 

IT’S almost midnight. Do you know where your daughter is? A child suddenly gone missing is every parent’s worst nightmare. But quite often, according to experts, these disappearances are the result of parental negligence and a dysfunctional home environment. The plot thickens, however, when your headstrong kid has lost herself in the world of cyberspace and social media and has started offering TMI. That’s simply a recipe for catastrophe. 

Fabian Barracks, never one to shy away from exploring uncomfortable, sometimes disturbing, issues affecting contemporary Jamaican youth, takes an unflinching, brutally honest look at these matters in Ananda Alert, his latest theatrical offering that delivers his signature blend of a strong cast, a solid script and no shortage of high-wire domestic drama and comedy. It’s great entertainment and life lessons in a humorous package. 

Crystal Fletcher stars as Shaday, a teenage high achiever whose posh single mom Dianne (Aisha Davis) is too caught up in her career-woman-on-the-go antics to notice that her daughter, though very mature and accomplished, needs her mother’s attention. Wise Grandma Pearl (Gracia Thompson) takes an interest in the girl and regularly chides Dianne about her negligence, but it’s to no avail. 
Dianne seems way more interested in her hunky new neighbour Calvin (AndrĂ© Bennett), a bachelor and man of few words who is very good with his hands. Lucky for Shaday, she has her BFF Fendi (Shantol Jackson, hilarious) to come over and keep her company and keep her laughing. Fendi brings along Suzie, a mannequin head that she alone can communicate with. Smartphone and social media savvy, the girls are very active online, meeting boys and being young, happy and free. Maybe a bit too free. 

When Shaday fails to return home one evening, her disappearance sends a wave of panic through the household. But what does Fendi know about her friend’s vanishing without a trace? And is there more to Calvin’s sweet-and-friendly-neighbour act? 

Credit to Barracks’ knack for storytelling, the onstage action and its twists and turns keep you intrigued, as the plot heads towards its explosive climax. The loose ends wrap up a bit too neatly in the end, but viewers are left satisfied and the play’s message hits home. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+ 

>> Interview: Fabian Barracks talks about his mission, his struggles and opening the Barracks Theatre

SOCIETY, SOCIETY: Chris Blackwell honoured with JHTA Lifetime Achievement Award; Saluting the formidable Molly Rhone

>> After nearly a decade-and-a-half at the helm, Jamaica’s Molly Rhone will step down as President of the International Netball Federation (INF). Rhone, who took up the presidency in 2003, demits office on Sunday, July 21, the final day of the ongoing Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England. “She has been an inspiration for me and many others in netball. We still have a lot that Molly can do in the sport, and as long as she is willing to do so, we will welcome her,” Netball Jamaica boss, Dr. Paula Daley-Morris tells the Observer’s Sanjay Myers. Rhone’s successor is Welshwoman Liz Nicoll. “It’s a massive privilege to pick up this responsibility after Molly has served for such a long time as such an amazing president who has taken the sport forward,” says Nicoll, a former CEO of Netball England and UK Sport. The consummate trailblazer, Rhone ranks among the formidable women who has been conferred with the National Order of Jamaica (OJ). 

>> The Spanish are coming (again)! The owners of Princess Hotels & Resorts are reportedly looking to fulfil a years-long dream of establishing a property in Jamaica – and have already earmarked 186 acres at Green Island in Hanover, closing a deal with “a private owner,” according to the Financial Gleaner. The Spanish hotel chain, founded in 1967, already has properties in the Canary Islands, Mexico and the Dom-Rep. Costa Rica and Jamaica are next. “Jamaica is extremely interesting for the type of products we manage,” says the company’s Caribbean rep, Rafael Millan.

>> The legendary Chris Blackwell has been presented with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA). Blackwell, known for his pioneering exploits in music production (Island Music) and the hotel industry (the luxurious Strawberry Hill, Goldeneye), accepted the honour during the association’s 58th AGM an awards luncheon, held recently at Hilton Rose Hall. Among the other awardees: Chukka Good Hope (Attraction of the Year), the Reggae Girlz (Abe Issa Award) and Caribbean Airlines (Int’l Airline of the Year).

>> Welcome aboard: Jam Air Link Express began local cross-country flights last Monday, with its two-engine Otto aircraft. According to CEO Howard Levy, they will be adding a second plane in the coming weeks. “We are using economical aircraft where the operating costs are less,” Levy says. “We expect to break even in three months.” That’s the spirit!

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

TALLAWAH BOOK CLUB: Ken Boothe on the record / Michael Manley’s ‘Truth’ / PEP guidebooks for students

>> His name is synonymous with hits like “Train is Coming,” “Artibella” and “Everything I Own,” and after 30 albums and over 50 years in the music industry, reggae/lover’s rock legend Kenneth (‘Ken’) George Boothe is still going strong at age 71. In My Iconic Musical Journey, a candid new memoir from Pageturner Publishing (penned with biographer Karl Larmond), the celebrated vocalist traces his journey from his humble Denham Town roots to becoming a globally famous recording artiste.

>> Ian Randle Publishers struck gold when Michael Manley’s widow, Glynne, approached them with a series of tapes featuring her late husband speaking candidly in an interview she conducted with him back in 1997. This month brings Truth Be Told: Michael Manley in Conversation, a compendium of “the uncensored thoughts and opinions” of the former Jamaican prime minister. Says Glynne Manley, “This was his one chance to set the record straight. He needed to challenge some of the misconceptions and downright lies that had been told about him.” 

>> Spotlight on PEP books! 
As school officials, parents and their children continue to analyse the results of the inaugural sitting of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) exams – and prepare for next year, local publishing houses are poised to start churning out more guidebooks for teachers and students. Among those already available: PEP for Winners – Mathematics (Volumes 1 and 2), a practice question workbook assembled by Dr. Dwight Berry (Webster’s Writing Lab) and Just Think: Grades 5 and 6 Ability Tests, compiled by a team of experienced Jamaican educators.

COMMUNITY BEAT: News + Notes from Negril to Morant Point

ST. ELIZABETH: Addressing high-school grads in the bread basket parish recently, state minister Floyd Green spoke of a new agri/eco project, dubbed the Greening of Jamaica. It’s the government’s fruit-tree planting programme, which is aimed at planting five million trees over the next five years, “to yield fresh, locally grown food that can provide nutritious food source and food security.” Green wants the youth, in particular, to get involved. “We have to guide our children in becoming leaders of tomorrow, and show them how to best care for our environment. That’s where we have to start,” he said. “We are experiencing significantly high temperatures and planting these fruit trees is a simple and effective method of reducing this unbearable heat.” 

ST. JAMES: CEO of the St. James Municipal Corporation, Gerald Lee, say for this fiscal year at least 400 persons in the parish will each be provided with grants of up to $50,000 to develop a small business, and these individuals will be monitored to ensure that the business ventures are sustained. The initiative falls under the Local Economic Development (LED) programme, which has budgeted $10 million for the exercise. “If they are going into chicken-rearing, we ensure that they provide the infrastructure and then we provide them with the working capital to start the business,” Lee explains. Montego Bay mayor Homer Davis (pictured above) likes the idea. “If we can empower our people,” he says, “then you will realize your dreams of taking care of yourself and taking care of your children.” 

ST. ANN: Northern Caribbean University (NCU) has opened a new campus in the garden parish. The North Jamaica Regional Campus (located at the Evansville Business Complex in St. Ann’s Bay) brings to three the number of regional campuses now operated by the university. It’s a strategic business move to better serve the parish’s business community, says Sherrice Lyons (Director of Regional Campuses). “It will also ensure accessibility for students from St. Ann, as well as those who may choose to travel from as far as St. Mary and Trelawney,” she says. According to Lyons, the St. Ann campus will eventually join the Kingston and Montego Bay regional campuses in offering full-time degree courses. The university’s headquarters and main campus is located in Manchester.