Horizon Arts Production is a theatre company that was recently founded and has cemented its place on the Guyanese stage in the past four years. While there have been many attempts at starting companies and several groups and individuals have produced plays under names that they have given themselves, for the most part they have existed in name only. A small handful became permanent fixtures, some were never heard of again, a few disappeared with the migration of their leaders and some will occasionally reappear whenever they manage to produce a play.
To have and sustain a company of players is extremely difficult in Guyana for many reasons. Those that have survived and remained viable are quite rare. Horizon Arts Production may now be accepted as one of them. There is still a test of time for it to pass, since it is still very young, but it has so far made a convincing case; it behaves like a true company in a number of ways. It has stable leadership, its founding members (except for one deceased) are still there, and it has gathered others. There is artistic viability, since its directorship includes writers, artistic directors, designers, production technicians and performers. These have worked as a group within the company which has sustained annual productions since its establishment.
Horizon Arts was founded by two actresses – Jennifer Thomas (Artistic Director) and Sheron Cadogan-Taylor (Producer-Director) along with two actors Lionel Whyte (Director) and George Brathwaite (Director). It lists Clement Stanford and Allison Simmons as members, and Sandy Thompson and Leon Cummings as associate members. While it is true that some of these have worked with other groups and other productions, and Horizon Arts itself has hired outsiders to perform for it, it has functioned as a true company in some very important ways. It has capable resident artists within it and it has written its own plays, directed and produced them.
Thomas is best known as an actress who started at the Theatre Guild and rose to the very top echelons of the field as a prize-winning best actress. But she has also developed as a performance poet. What is most relevant in this context, however, is her role within the company as Artistic Director. She has functioned as playwright, having written the major play Front Yard in 2013. This year she has directed another major play Shattered Dreamz, written by company director Cadogan-Taylor, whose career developed also from Theatre Guild beginnings to the winning of prizes as an actress. To that she has since added a Best Director award (jointly with Ronald Hollingsworth).
They have therefore produced plays every year in addition to other productions. The best example of these is ‘To Dad With Love’. This variety show at the Theatre Guild Playhouse is annual, and is scheduled to be presented there again this year on Fathers’ Day 2014.
Horizon Arts Production most definitely announced its status on the Guyanese stage two weeks ago with Shattered Dreamz by Cadogan-Taylor. This new play joins the corpus of Guyanese drama in the prevailing category of social realism which now dominates Guyanese theatre. It is set in contemporary Georgetown at a time when crime, drugs, murder and an unfavourable public attitude to the police shatter the social equilibrium. The context of the drama also takes in middle class attitudes and class snobbery while the same middle class is riddled with involvement in cocaine and direct contact with the criminal underworld.
Dr Fraser, a physician (Renne Chester), is murdered in the middle of a bungled cocaine deal in which his own son Will (Nikose Layne) is involved. This blows apart the already fragile internal family unit in which the doctor’s wife (Nuriyyih Gerrard) has high hopes for her son while neglecting his sister Stacy (Kimberly Fernandes) who is the true, stable future of the family. This false foundation crumbles around Will’s chosen career in cocaine. But what comes over is not the real dreaded criminal network of drug lords, bandits and murderers, but a small rag-tag band of struggling, inept small-time ghetto men. In fact, it is this amateur bungling that causes Will’s friend Eddie (Johan David) to fatally shoot Dr Fraser in a botched robbery.
These gangsters met in a hide-out very well established in a quite effective stage set that looked the part. They all acted appropriately – Max Massiah as Jagged, Mark Luke-Edwards as Swagga and Nelan Benjamin as Bruno. They convinced in those roles with fitting verbal and body language, fully communicating the environment and characteristics of their type. The play set up the juxtaposition of their world with the opposing abode of the Frasers.
But this play really came alive and exhibited drama in Act Two. It properly became a play in the second act when it all came together with dramatic intensity and integrity of performance. The fire that exploded after intermission invigorated a tame play and brought out a worthwhile, robust exhibition of theatre.
The production demonstrated teamwork and taut direction on the part of Thomas. The impact of the exhibition was led by the performance of Gerrard who truly developed a character in Act Two. She showed all the important dimensions of Mrs Fraser – her complacency and typical middle class false comfort. She then very precisely communicated how the doctor’s wife became an unlikeable character in her treatment of her friend Shirley competently played by Jennifer Langevine; of the policemen – strong portrayals by Gregory Eastman and Cummings; and of her own daughter Stacy.
This treatment, complicated by class snobbery, came over vividly in her sequences with Will’s girlfriend, the ghetto girl Petal (Abigail Brower) in the company of Stacy where Fernandes showed intelligent support acting in the delicate position between her mother and the visiting working class girl. Brower studied Petal in precise fashion, completing a character with speech and body language which was very eloquent. This might have been slightly blemished by a bit of over-acting which was not surprising in a role which was originally written as caricature and so interpreted by Brower.
Fernandes was consistent in her role, showing great sensitivity and very effective acting off-camera. She had to go through many sequences of reaction to what was the main action, and pulled these off without up-staging. This supporting role will establish her as an actress of some substance.
But the crown was still yet to be placed on Gerrard’s performance. This came with her handling of Mrs Fraser’s denial syndrome in the face of blatant evidence, and finally with the way she brought off deep emotion at the end of the play. Successful playing of pathos is not the easiest feat on the Guyanese stage, particularly before an audience given to laughter in moments of deep grief. In this case pathos was achieved.
However, the play ought to have ended there at the suicide of Will Fraser. To his considerable credit, Layne helped to bring the action to this point of effectiveness, as did the two police detectives, Cummings and Eastman. Layne did quite a job in showing the progress of Will to this conclusion. But this emphatic punto final to the drama was somewhat taken-away-from by the addition of the epilogue which in rather superfluous, prosaic fashion told us what we had already seen performed before us in proper drama.
So a company is born with its own resident playwrights. Cadogan-Taylor is its newest with Shattered Dreamz, while Thomas already showed her work with Front Yard. There is still a minor distraction, really of little consequence – this ambivalence about her name. Having made her fame as Jennifer Thomas, she changed it to Mariatha Causway (rumour has it that this is her real name). But she realises that some of the glitter will blow away if she jettisons the name that is publicly known, so she still hangs on to it. The question of little consequence remains – how long will we have to keep saying Mariatha Causway aka Jennifer Thomas?