A new play, Front Yard, was performed a week ago at the National Cultural Centre by one of the newest theatre companies in Guyana. The performing group emerged among the flurry of activities on the Guyanese stage that seemed to have been generated by Carifesta X in Guyana in August 2008, quite in keeping with the official script. The intention was that the hosting of the regional festival in Guyana would have left some lasting effect on the arts, and at least there is sign of some gains moving forward from that momentum.
A direct development was the rebirth of the Theatre Guild as a movement following the extensive and timely renovation of the Playhouse which was completed just in time for Carifesta. After that was a regeneration of membership, some training and several productions. It was out of this that a group of actors and actresses amalgamated to form this small corporate enterprise.
They have all trodden the boards on the Guyanese stage for some time, were involved in Carifesta and were in action at the Guild after the new springtide, contributing to the increased number of full-length plays performed in the Playhouse.
The directorate is led by two actresses, Mariatha Causway, formerly known as Jennifer Thomas, and Sheron Cadogan Taylor who joined forces with actors Lionel Whyte and George Braithwaite. Both Causway and Cadogan Taylor started their careers as amateurs in the Theatre Guild Workshops and returned with the flurry of activity after the reconstitution. In their fledgling years as amateurs Causway and Cadogan appeared in Workshop productions including Mustafa Matura’s Play Mas at the Playhouse.
From there Causway, performing as Jennifer Thomas, rose to top on the local stage as a foremost lead actress who won Best Actress Awards.
Her most celebrated award-winning performance was as a night club strip dancer turned middle class housewife in David Heron’s Ecstasy, a major Jamaican drama produced in Guyana by The theatre Company and directed by Ron Robinson. Cadogan has also had successes at the Cultural Centre including her role as the heroine’s mentally perceptive sister in Ronald Hollingsworth’s Till Ah Find A Place.
Lionel Whyte became known as a notable actor who appeared in many plays in the 1990s, while George Braithwaite is a veteran actor who brings to the collective a contribution informed by the experience of an established career. But the actresses have so far directed all the plays produced. Cadogan Taylor is quite new to directing, but Causway at least made a start in the Guild workshops where she directed the Lenten play The Vigil.
Since their emergence in 2009 this company has revisited a number of already existing Guyanese plays which have been previously produced. They performed Ronald Hollingsworth’s melodrama about the scourge of the minibus culture, Watch De Ride, and Fitzroy Tyrrell’s Somebody Gon Horn Yu. This is a comedy in which Causway also played opposite Kijana Lewis as a woman who found happiness with a man played by Lynyus Adams who could appreciate her and who rescued her from an abusive relationship. It took its title and theme from the popular soca song by Shadow, no doubt used as a popular drawing card.
They also redid a previously little known play Shoes Blues by Michael Duff. This is a comedy with a touch of Absurdism for which Duff has shown some talent. It focuses on an insurance salesman who, interestingly, has never sold a policy, but who stubbornly sustains a prolonged protest against his low salary by wearing shoes with gaping holes as a symbol of his poverty and to embarrass the company. It turns out he was also fighting corrupt practices in the office and in the end triumphs over his antagonists.
However, what generated more interest in the play were the wife and daughter played by Nathaya Whaul and Abigail Brower who are both dancers. They carry on a sub-plot of resistance of their own since the salesman has banned them both from dancing and rules that none of it is to take place in his home.
Both Whaul and Brower, who won a Theatre Guild Best Supporting Actress award for her role, brought much life and delight to the play with their integration of acting and dancing. The handling of this aspect of the play by the directors was also a main highlight.
Mariatha Causway has now followed up on all of that by venturing into her first attempt as a
playwright, and has produced Front Yard. Not very far removed from Somebody Gon Horn Yu, it treats the subject of domestic violence and spousal abuse. A battered wife leaves her marriage after being thrown out by her abusive husband and ends up renting a run-down apartment in a tenement yard in a depraved corner somewhere in Lodge, Georgetown. That was all she could afford partly because of her paltry teacher’s salary and partly because her husband has starved her of funds.
However, despite what she describes as “the unsavoury appearance” of the neighbourhood she finds that she is dwelling among kind, thoughtful, helpful and industrious people who are her neighbours in the yard.
Added to this she also finds love since one of the young men there is instantly “smitten” with her, suffering hopeless love at first sight.
The best parts of the play may be found in this. The title Front Yard may well be a play on the well known “back yard,” a term used to describe such ghetto environments. Yet it is ironic because instead of depravity and scandal she finds decency and goodwill. The plot also reveals that she was soon to find residence in a house at the front of the yard. To deepen the irony, it is her violent husband who brings violence, depravity and scandal into the yard.
Additionally, the play sets about confronting a social issue that has rapidly become a major problem in Guyana. It is an upfront treatment of the problem with a picture of yet another woman who endures savagery because of fear, ‘love‘ and dependency, but who finally decides to leave.
However, the work shows the writer’s inexperience, and its laudable qualities notwithstanding, it has flaws. Good editing could have usefully reduced it, and the whole drama would have been complete in much less than the almost three hours it lasted.
Many lines and much of the dialogue were repetititious and they often over-stated the obvious. At other times characters told each other things that according to the plot they already knew, but it seemed to be the only way the playwright knew of informing the audience.
In between the high dramatic moments were many very slow sequences played out on a sparse set that was not slick enough to pass as improvisational. It did have a well-intentioned touch, though, in the stark bareness of the woman’s ‘new‘ apartment which acquired additions one by one until it was full, blooming and sparkling at the end. Here it was effectively symbolic because of the love and new life that the play presents.
There was no programme to provide information about the cast and the dramatis personae, or even about the company. This puts me at a loss in making informed comments. Producers are not always aware of the value of printed programmes.