Despite misguided belief, there are no over-night successes and far fewer triumphs emerge on Broadway, theater’s main highway to stardom.
Jamaica-born Andrew Clarke understands this concept when he founded the BRAATA Theatre Workshop – dedicated to presenting quality Caribbean productions.
After years of staging musically enchanting productions throughout the outer boroughs, Clarke recently took a giant step into Manhattan’s theater district where fierce competition proliferates on nearly every corner.
It is rare that a Caribbean artistic director, playwright and actors manage to collaborate on Caribbean-focused productions thisclose to Broadway. However, their leap of faith fostered by the brilliant writing from Karl O’Brian Williams a stellar engagement manifested just blocks away from Times Square.
In some circles Williams is regarded as one of Jamaica’s best exports to the United States.
The actor and playwright, already acclaimed in his homeland for winning the equivalent of a Tony Award — Actor Boy, the nation’s highest accolades in theater — for Best Jamaican plays in 2005 and 2006 Williams teamed with Clarke to take his consecutive winner “Not About Eve” to New York’s proving ground.
With less than a month to showcase their prowess at the Roy Arias Stage, the winning duo invited three, dynamic thespians to illuminate the intricacies of the Caribbean, comedic drama.
While that may seem a daunting task, the acceptance of Actors Equity associated thespian Sharon Tsahai King to execute the matriarchal role proved a major enhancement to the challenging prospect.
King made no mistake in accepting the role.
She invested in the intergenerational storyline to place herself at the center of a controversial domestic dilemma where she is Mama and eldest in the Shields household.
With daughter Katherine (portrayed by Ilana Warner from St. Kitts) and granddaughter Kimberley (Stacy Ann Brissett from Jamaica) the three live in constant disharmony.
Their address is somewhere in the capital city of Kingston where uptown businesswoman Katherine maintains a townhouse.
Needless to say, the upstairs garden terrace provides refuge to Mama Agatha who toils to recreate the Garden of Eden she created while living in the rural countryside.
There with her husband Tom Rochester, she raised three children, Tony, Greg and Katherine. But her spouse died 15 years ago and the boys migrated to foreign North American countries to find their fortune.
At age 18, Katherine looked to Kingston to sow her seeds.
She left the parish with Glen, married, gave birth to Kimberley and on the seventh anniversary of Glen’s death is hosting a media event that could change her profile in the public relations market. Although, inheritance from his construction business cements a concrete status in the uptown community, Katherine would rather be accomplished for being an event coordinator and public relations expert. She juggles both professions to live the uptown lifestyle but find conflict at home with mother and child.
Mama does not approve of the lavish, showy façade.
She prays that her only daughter would refrain from constantly texting on her cell phone. She disdains her obsessive occupation with a laptop, night life, yoga and exhibition of the most fashion-forward outfits. What also irk the dominating elder is that she desperately wants her daughter, Katherine to devote more attention to her granddaughter, Kimberly.
Kimberly does not see eye-to-eye to her pretentious mother.
She sees her mother as a yoga-practicing, hypocrite who is “smoking and puffing her life to euphoria.”
Artistic and creative, Kimberley enjoys making organic treasures.
Her mother perceives them as “jewelry out of rock-stones.”
But Kimberley’s ambition is to own a boutique where her creations of wind-chimes, jewelry and other crafts could be sold.
Neither her mother nor grandmother fully grasps the aspirations of the youngest of the household.
Her mother wants her to take a job, any type, even one in the second city of Montego Bay where she would work in a friend’s store selling the work of other artisans and craftspeople.
Mama Agatha would also rather pray that the 22-year-old “ask God to send you a good man.”
Since moving from St. Elizabeth, Mama finds comfort in reading The Bible, singing hymns, nurturing blooms of Morning Glory, croton, cocoa and other greenery.
While her love for her granddaughter is unquestionable she worries that she might never settle down to marriage and child-rearing.
She is also frustrated with life in the city, her playgirl daughter, the departure of her two sons and the secrets harbored by her granddaughter.
Therefore, the matriarch relies on Biblical verses to carry her through each day.
Often cantankerous, nosey and interfering she means well but uses old-fashioned teachings to teach modern day lessons. One of her tactics is to drown out negative talk by singing “Blessed Assurance,” “Amazing Grace” or hymns that dig at convictions.
The story is poignant. There is an abundance of humor.
The playwright sows seeds that could sprout a blooming landscape for Caribbean productions.
Daphne Sicre is the director to set a stage that beckons Caribbean warmth.
From the upstairs terrace with adornments of peacocks, petunias and wind-chimes, Caribbean décor flaunt tropical allure.
Mama Agatha’s standard house dress, two gold bangles, head-tie, abundance of dusting powder, Bible-clutching and vernacular provide surreal authenticity to the character.
With topical, generational, references, the play dangles on a gender cliff to register the ignorance and pervasive clueless attitudes towards sexuality.
Although, the playwright seems willing to frame those attitudes with adjectives of being “unaware,” he also gingerly provides hope that attitudes may be changing and hopes might be evident.
References to past, present and future provide enlightening spotlight…And lessons on letting go of grudges are also boldly addressed.
The bright light is going forward…
“I will never be your garden,” Kimberley told her defiant mother.
“I have to create my little Garden of Eden.”
Here she added “I only decorate.”
This NYC debut should be a viable contender for the 41st VIV awards.
Only if Black theater’s Audience Development Committee (AUDELCO) deliberately ignores this presentation will it fail to shine at next year’s uptown, awards which honor the legacy of Vivian Robinson.
According to Clarke, the purpose of BRAATA is to present quality Caribbean dramatic productions.
With “Not About Eve” it has and he is closer to realizing the goal of mounting a production along the Great White Way that all Caribbean nationals will be proud to claim.