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Timeless Trini classic returns in style
Belinda Barnes’ interpretation of Douglas Archibald’s timeless 1962 play The Rose Slip would not have stood a chance against top-billed Jab Molassie across at Little Carib and The Wiz at Queen’s Hall on the weekend of November 8 and 9, had not the UTT Academy for the Performing Arts already had a growing following interested in some of the younger, brighter stars of the local stage.
Nobel laureate Derek Walcott once labelled the Archibald play “minor-key drama,” but it’s clearly more than an everyday backyard farce. The play’s pace and flavour resonated with the Central Bank audience just as easily as it would have more than 50 years ago, and its uncanny reminders of contemporary alienation and despair are pervasive.
The strength of the play has always been its brutal honesty—its unfettered portrayal of the lives of some everyday poor folks back in the late 50s, portraying a reality that has endured through the decades in popular parlance, style and tone. Little wonder The Rose Slip returns to the Caribbean stage again and again.
The young UTT thespians appeared comfortable with their roles and the dialogue flowed effortlessly. In more cases than not, comedic timing was spot on.
“She was so dead,” says one Mr Bucket, “that we had to bury her fast and have the wake after.”
There is no modern-day app for that.
Flossie (Eugenio Lemo) and Susanna (Andrea Codrington) are tenement-yard neighbours confronting the reality of poverty and official neglect.
There is as much tragedy as there are laughs. Susanna is a single parent of two in a suburb of Port-of-Spain. Flossie is her single neighbour who sometimes invites the jittery scamp and neighbour Gus (Tyler Peloi) to her bed but who also wouldn’t mind a child of her own.
In fact, when young neighbour Eva (Charissa Sealey), who is egged on by Gus to do so, decides she has had enough of job-hunting and decides to take up a lucrative position at “the club,” Flossie tries to talk her out of it and invites her to move in if she loses her flat for lack of money. Eva walks away not only from Flossie, but from a future that appears just as perilous and as hopeless as her life in a new role as a prostitute.
Then there’s Mr Bucket, masterfully played by Jovon Browne, who eventually succumbs to an unwilling bath administered by Susanna and Flossie, who use Gus as a decoy before they grab the old, smelly Mr Bucket and cart him off behind the shacks for a bath.
Near the yard, there’s a busy highway to which the neighbourhood rushes each time there is a crash—measured in intensity by the number of casualties and vehicles involved and the quality of bounty left momentarily strewn across the road before a curious, needy crowd emerges. Perhaps there’s political commentary in this. That’s for the audience to work out.
Flossie, the main character, anchors the storyline throughout. It is a difficult task for Lemo, last seen by this writer in Elspeth Duncan’s absurdist play The Perfect Place, and in Christine Menzies’ interpretation of As You Like It —however challenging the latter two roles. Hers is an exceptional talent developing well through difficult roles transcending different theatrical genres.
Celeste Fortune, in her role as Arabella, the cranky, incapacitated old mother of Susanna, also achieves some of the comedic highs of the play: plain old-fashioned slapstick and double-entendre. But that’s fine.
The play opens with a good old-time whipping administered to Abel (Levee Rodriguez) by Susanna. This is minor-key theatre. Santimanitay!
Now that the other more fashionable and grand dramatic fare is out of the way, there’s perhaps scope for an encore.
Hopefully, as well, the UTT programme makes provision for continuous mentoring beyond undergraduate study. Lemo, Fortune, Codrington, Browne, Sealey et al cannot be lost to the Caribbean stage.
People like Barnes, Menzies, Michael Cherrie, Errol Sitahal and others can advise on how extremely difficult and costly but possible it has been.
George Bovell’s column Reflections off the Water will return next week.
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