What is Memorial Weekend in Caribbean NY and NJ without Oliver Samuels and his brand of West Indian theatre and comedy? The legend Oliver Samuels, popular across the Caribbean from Jamaica to Trinidad & Tobago, is part of Memorial Weekend celebrations when New Yorkers look forward to an Oliver new play. This year’s play, “56 East Avenue” is full of laughs. After three months of performances in Jamaica, sold out in Toronto, the play comes to the tristate before it goes to England.
Fans of Caribbean theatre and comedy in New York, New Jersey and Maryland will see Oliver Samuels and Volier “Maffi” Johnson, two famed actors and comedians on the same stage in their new play, “56 East Avenue.” It is the first time in 15 years they are performing together in the NY- tristate.
In addition to Oliver and Maffi, Audrey Reid known worldwide as The Dancehall Queen, Dennis Titus who appeared in a Denzel Washington movie and the talented Lakeisha Ellison are in the thrilling and enjoyable play. Performances in Florida and across Jamaica have been sold out.
On memorial weekend fans will enjoy Oliver and his all-star cast at Milton Bassin Theater at York College, Queens, May 24; East Orange Campus School East Orange, NJ, May 25 and Lovinger Theater, Lehman College, Bronx, on Memorial Sunday, May 26 for two shows, 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm.
“56 East Avenue” reflects the hilarious story of life in a ‘tenament yaad,’ in most Caribbean islands. Sometimes, people sympathize with this loveable landlord as he tries to collect rent from chaotic tenants and as he attempts to calm his peaceful and law-abiding tenants. Sometimes, people say this good for nothing landlord deserves what he is getting.
Throughout 2019, the play will be staged in most Caribbean islands, Canada, the U.S. and U.K. Here is a profile of the brilliant cast.
Dancehall Queen Audrey Reid: “As an actress one has to be versatile,” says Audrey Reid. It is her versatility that has made Ms. Reid one of Jamaica’s prominent stage and screen actresses. Millions of people around the world identify Audrey Reid as a movie star for her role in two classic movies, Dancehall Queen and Third World Cop. “Most don’t realize that I was doing plays long before I did films,” she explains. “My first love is the stage; in any event, theatre in Jamaica is developed. We have various plays all yearlong allowing me to earn a living; whereas, making movies in Jamaica is once in a blue moon.”
Audrey Reid is truthful when she says her first love is the stage. Dancehall Queen was released in October 1997 but Audrey was absent for the opening because she was on tour with Oliver Samuels in the play, “Keys for Two.”
Maffi Johnson: In 1969, Volier ‘Maffi’ Johnson made his debut on stage when he performed in Trevor Rhone’s version of “A Christmas Carol.” That’s exactly 50 years ago. Johnson, lovingly called “Maffi” by fans, teamed up in 2018 with Oliver after more than a decade of not working for the same theater company. Theater and comedy lovers couldn’t wait to see the duo who provided much laughs in the 1980s, 1990s and early 21st century on the same stage again. For New York lovers of Caribbean theater and comedy, they still yearn for the skits of Oliver, Pouncey and Volier. They enjoyed Johnson as King of Breadfruit Kingdom in an Oliver Samuels-Patrick Brown play, “Breadfruit Kingdom.”
Dennis Titus: Titus is a graduate of Edna Manley College, Jamaica. He developed his craft further in theater, film and television in the UK and USA. A friend remarked, “Caribbean theatre critics have applauded Titus for his magnificent roles in Embassy Saga and Dolly House.”
“Once I’m off the stage, I usually just go home and maybe watch a film. I live a quiet, simple life. I like to drive out to the country because I am from Portland, and my family is still there. I don’t party. I don’t drink or smoke. For me to go anywhere it has to be smoke-free,” he says.
Lakeisha Ellison: Lakeisha is a talented, well rounded people person who considers herself a Jack-of-all-trades and master of all. She is an experienced actress shared the stage with some of the greats in Jamaican theater including Volier “Maffi” Johnson, Glen “Titus” Campbell, Dennis Titus, Leonie Forbes, Dorothy Cunningham and Dione Silver. She has toured overseas with various Jamaican theater companies.
Oliver Samuels has been on stage almost all his life. He remains the most accessible and popular actor across the Caribbean. People friendly, he is a true Caribbean integrationist. Recent Oliver plays include “Frenemy,” 2018, “Four Can’t Play,” 2017 “Guilt Trip,” 2016, “Divorce Papers,” 2015, “Dolly House,” 2014, “Embassy Saga,” 2012, “Easy Street,” 2009, “River Bottom,” 2008, “Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing,” 2008 and “Cutie and the Freak,” 2007. He appeared in American and British television sitcoms and in motion pictures.
To honor Samuels for his contributions in the development of the performing arts and theater in Jamaica, the government of Jamaica presented him a national award.