Friday, 25 October 2019

DOUBLE ACT: Two School of Drama grads stir the pot with One Wo/Man performances

CONCRETE JUNGLE: A boy’s upbringing and socialization can greatly influence his life experiences from adolescence to adulthood. Rajeave Mattis’ gritty and multi-layered one-man offering Phobia hammers this point home. His solo production emerged as the most outstanding work by a final year student at the Edna Manley College’s School of Drama in 2017, and it’s an accolade that’s well-earned. Centred on domestic strife, teenage angst and the menace of gangs and other criminal elements in the inner-city, the show (recently remounted for the Rex Nettleford Arts Conference) is a solid showcase for Mr. Mattis’ gifts as a character actor who can move with relative ease between roles (seven in total) of both genders. At the centre of it all is schoolboy Devin, raised by a struggling single mom in a community plagued by gun violence. Sometimes displaying the kind of effeminate behaviour that draws bullies, Devin’s most frequent chore is purchasing food items (on credit) from the nearby shop, where he often hears the latest gossip. Will he make it back home in one piece? It’s not an environment for the faint of heart – thugs like Craven A are on the prowl and sending threats. Lucky for Devin, he finds a confidante and an older friend in Ras Nyah, even though his mom disapproves. As Phobia emphasizes, it’s a common dilemmas for boys coming-of-age in these rough-and-tumble places: finding hope in a hopeless place, becoming a statistic or a survivor. [B+]

MIRROR, MIRROR: In Beauty & the Plus-Size Beast, Samantha Thompson draws on domestic drama, musical theatre and ample humour to explore issues surrounding female identity, body image and human relationships. The result is a thought-provoking and very entertaining one-woman showpiece (the best final year work for 2016) that solidifies Thompson’s place among the new-generation Jamaican actresses who deserve to be more widely known. Recently seen in the gospel-based drama Behind the Pulpit, she introduces us to Pumpkin, a young girl surrounded by relatives who dote on her and abuse her in equal measure – from her strict, church-going mother to the aunt who takes up prostitution to the touchy-feely uncle to the grandmother who is oblivious to most of what is going on under her own roof. Thompson doesn’t sugarcoat anything – from the frank language to the sometimes raw depictions – and her social commentary even encompasses upper society, where pretty little princesses go to ballet and posh secretaries dish on the fiercest outfits at the office. This sets up a stunning contrast to Pumpkin’s world, where plus-sized girls and women are victims of vicious fat-shaming, struggling to find acceptance because of how they look. But, when all is said and done, as Thompson’s play argues, that elusive happiness has to start from within. [B+]

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