A ‘company song’ of transcendence | entertainment

“I think the intended effect was one of transcendence.” That was theater director and designer Eugene Williams’ response when asked about the concept behind his latest production.

The show, company song, based on four plays and 22 poems by Dennis Scott, opened Friday at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts School of Drama. It closes its two-weekend run on Sunday.

Williams’ tentative “I think” is appropriate. The source of artistic creativity is the subconscious, and no one knows exactly what is going on in its depths.

Fortunately, William’s intent is achieved: the production is transcendent in that it powerfully lifts the viewer’s imagination from present-day Jamaica to another time and place. Not that we are taken back to “the good old days”. Unfortunately, as the darker pieces in the production suggest, there never was such a time in Jamaica as a whole.

So in Scott’s popular poem uncle timewhich is dramatized in the staging, the time is presented as “cruel” and “black as sorrow”; “‘and when’ I am touch you cry.” And one of the plays from which excerpts are taken, Echo in the receipte, set partly in the days of slavery, showing enslaved Africans in a slave ship en route to Jamaica and later on the auction block.

The parts of the selected pieces – The Crime of Annabel Campbell, dog and The passionate cabbage are the other three – are all tragic. The first is about a woman who murders two people, her son and his wife; dog is about the abused “sufferers” in society; and in cabbagethe male protagonist is both henpecked and conned.

The pieces from the play are melodramatic, but while many of the poems also deal with pain and suffering – for example epitaphabout the hanging of an enslaved person, with the first line, “They Hung Him Up on a Mild Morning” – They are generally subtle. And some are about love and compassion.

They are also difficult overall. So it was helpful that Williams both directed and designed the sets. The central image of the background is an image of Scott’s face superimposed over large shards of glass, with a bird flying overhead. The walls around the stage are also broken up.

Here’s Williams’ rationale for the design:

“The set is designed to represent the fact that what you are being presented with are excerpts from the plays, interwoven with the poetry in a sophisticated and almost surreal way.

“And at the center is the artist (Scott) and his literary and theatrical legacy, omnipresent with its overarching symbolic motif of creative imagination. I think the intended effect was one of transcendence. He flies off like a flock of birds.”

Since most of the actors embody their characters and slip into their skin, so to speak, the acting is at least good. Some of it is excellent. Clear, expressive language helps with character building and is the best I’ve heard in a School of Drama production in decades.

Williams explains, “I’ve been very fortunate to have a talented and technically proficient group of second through fourth year students. They loved what they were doing and trusted my madness as I continued to create (cut and add) footage throughout the process. [it] Getting them to speak the language clearly and intelligently, which required detailed and focused work for some of them. I’m very proud of their development.”

Their love is communicated to the audience and we enjoy what we see on stage because of their love. We reward them with applause and laughter, as well as moans of condolence. Paradoxically, one of the characters is capable of evoking both laughter and sympathy – the betrayed man (Alvin Wilson). The passionate cabbage.

Other actors deserving of praise include Jasmine Collins for her role as the fugitive Angela in Annabel Campbell, her wife in cabbage, and her powerful dramatization of guard ring; Jordann Waugh for her low-key, smoldering characterization of Annabel Campbell; Sajay Deacon as her son/husband John; Jesse McClure as Stone in An echo in the bone and his rendition, with others, of the poems uncle time and letter to my son; and Abija Warren as Mummy in dog. Other viewers might see other actors in these roles as there is a double cast.

Sensitive lighting by John DaCosta and stylistic, energetic choreography by Marlon Simms enhanced the show’s visual appeal. Stacy-Ann Banton, longtime costume designer for School of Drama productions, made both colorful and drab attire interesting.

The production will be staged at the school’s Dennis Scott Studio Theater and in his notes to the director, Williams reminds today’s generation of theatergoers that Scott, who died in 1991, was a former principal of the School of Drama. He adds that Scott “has been a mentor to many of us who have worked with him as a student and as a faculty member. His particular vision of Caribbean theater and pedagogy is a legacy that continues to influence our own work as teachers and directors.

“More than anything, I wanted to acquaint students with his legacy and celebrate with theater audiences a collage of well-known and perhaps unfamiliar plays and poetry that they might find inspiring and refreshing on stage.”

Williams ended up emailing me after the show. He wishes the audience “an entertaining evening”. Sure, on the second night of production when I saw it, he succeeded.

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