By Balford Henry Observer writer
Sunday, December 23, 2007
River Bottom - funny but true
There are all sorts of interesting and intriguing stories about river bottoms in Jamaica, so it's no wonder Patrick Brown chose it as the title for his latest play, which opens at the Centerstage, New Kingston, on Boxing Day.
You must have heard the caution that "if fish come from river bottom and sey shark down deh. believe him"; or stories about river maids emerging from river bottoms in the dead of night; or wonder why the hotel site at Pear Tree River Bottom in St Ann is so problem-plagued; not to mention the fact that there is actually a village called River Bottom in South Manchester.Well, the play River Bottom has nothing to do with any of these. Not even River Bottom in Manchester would relish the association. Why? Because this time Brown's stereotypes may well enrage some rural folks, although it is reassuring that he's actually being honest.Oliver Samuels' return to Centerstage for this latest Jambiz production reasserts his position as the country's leading comic actor, although he admits that it has been a real challenge."It is about how one man is able to have total control over the minds of the people of an entire village because of technology," Samuels pointed out.He plays Capo, (no disrespect to Mallica Reynolds), who is the only man in River Bottom with electricity and, by extension, a radio. This gives him a link to the outside world which baffles the ignorant, illierate people of the village.
"He is the obeah man, the village lawyer, the don, the MP: every source of power rolled into one, and he controls the minds of the people by some very clever means," Samuels noted.But, genius that he is, Brown also captures the resilient spirit of the ignorant: the fact that despite being illiterate and "dark", they are still certain basic principles which guide their lives and below which they will not bow.So Capo, despite his enormous wealth and power cannot get the teenaged beauty, Pearl (Camille Davis), who he has been hunting for years; and Quatty(Courtney Wilson/Chris Hutchinson), for whom he had paid air passage to the United States, years earlier has returned, educated and progressive, and determined to break his crude authority.What is most intriguing about the play is how Brown manages to load it with laughter, despite its political message.There is music, dancing and, cleverly woven into the dialogue political references like "changing course" and "standing firm" after the fictional Hurricane Dawn.
To put it mildly, says Samuels, he is having a great deal of fun with the society."It is one of his strengths. How he deals with serious issues and softens the blow with humour," remarked Glen Campbell who plays Quatty's alcoholic father and Capo's chief disciple, Half Q.Both Samuels and Campbell admit that theirs are among the most challenging roles Brown has ever given them."It is a challenge, because it starts at the end and goes backwards in flashes, instead of having a narrator," Samuels explained."And you can imagine me playing two characters(he is also the shopkeeper). But, I always expect challenges from Patrick Brown. This time, I simply draw on my experiences performing in revues," Campbell added.
Trevor Nairne, who co-directs the production with Brown, admits that they needed two actors of the calibre of Samuels and Campbell to negotiate the challenges.
They are supported by a young, but experienced cast of Davis, Wilson and Hutchinson who, according to Samuels, "all keep me energised and on my toes, and even remind me of when I was young."The play also features Belinda Reid as Pearl's mother, Cherry. It is choreographed by Barbara McDaniel.