Magnetism virtually oozes from Ingrid Griffith the minute she sets foot on stage and begins her monologue; you just can’t take your eyes off her. At the start of Demerara Gold, the one-woman play she wrote and acts in, Ingrid is a young child. She is totally believable as a slightly capricious youngster living with her parents and demure older sister in a small apartment with an outhouse.
The stage was set with a single prop; a chair. During the various scenes it was occupied by Ingrid, her sister, father, mother, two grandmothers, various relatives, best friend, school friends, boyfriend and others. It became a bunk bed, veranda, chair, bed, car seat and a few other things besides, while taking audiences from Guyana to the US; the riveting Ingrid making it all possible.
When a young Ingrid skips in joy at the notion of going to America, you find yourself smiling fondly and wanting to reach out and pat her head. When she stretches out her arms and tries to block her parents with a plaintive “wait” as they head to the airport leaving her behind, tears well up in your eyes and you want to hug her. Such was the power of Ingrid’s performance.
Ingrid and her sister eventually make it to America, but it took years, rather than the ‘soon’ her parents had promised them. And it was Ingrid’s strong will that precipitated their voyage; she was just too spirited for her staid grandmother Ada.
In America, the girls find their parents changed. There is massive culture shock as they begin to attend an almost all-white school and as Ingrid assimilates, you begin to wonder if she’s lost her spunk.
But she has a recurring dream of a woman who approaches her with arms outstretched and as she grows up, you see the old Ingrid again. Finally, she is the catalyst who ends the abuse in her household.
Demerara Gold is billed as a story about immigration and it is. But it is so much more than that. It is also about empowerment and success. It is Ingrid’s story and while it only spans a period of about 10 to 12 years, the fact that she’s there telling it is testimony to her overcoming whatever the odds were.
Ingrid did 5 performances in Guyana between January 16 and January 20 last, at Linden, in Georgetown and in New Amsterdam. She took questions after the play and was asked the meaning of her dream, the woman wrapped in gold seaweed who finally tells her to “take back your gold.” And her response is basically that you should apply it to yourself.
The gold theme runs throughout the play. Ingrid’s parents had given her and her sister gold rings as a promise that they will return for them, but they had stopped wearing them as the years went by and they became despondent. Her granny reminisces about the time her grandfather returned from the interior with a huge gold nugget and how she had kept the faith even after not hearing from him for months. Ingrid dreams of a tall woman draped in gold seaweed. The woman urges her to take back her gold. She doesn’t say, but the evidence is that she took it.
As much as Demerara Gold is a personal journey for Ingrid, it’s also a message to women who might be going through the motions or keeping up appearances to get up and take their lives back. It is not fortuitous that Ingrid was able to bring that message to Guyana and share it and much of herself with appreciative audiences including schoolchildren.
Ingrid Griffith is the real deal. She is 24-karat Demerara Gold. The Scene has recently learned that she hopes to return soon to Guyana to work with students and share her skills and we are grateful to the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama and GEMS Theatre Productions for their respective roles in bringing her home.