Darren McAlmont’s Woman In Law 2 played at the National Cultural Centre recently. It was written and produced by McAlmont and directed by Jennifer Thomas. This was literally Part 2 of the play, which was written and performed in two episodes.
The audience had great fun. Many of them were, as is usual these days, vocally involved in the action as they were thrilled by the farce designed for unbridled entertainment which it delivered with high energy, hilarious thrills and audience delight. Clearly, they went to see how the very intriguing story unfolded and to be further regaled by the antics and exploits of the popular characters, and these they were given to their considerable entertainment.
When Woman In Law was presented last year, it was an incomplete play. The dramatic situation was developed with no resolution, since the playwright intended that there would be a Part 2. The trouble with that is that the producer advertised, and the audience would have expected, a full play. No less than that was owed to the audience, but only half of this play was delivered. The second half was contained in Part 2.
In this recent production, the plot picked up where the first part stopped. The story continued hilariously, and it did move to a resolution. But whether or not McAlmont repeated what he did last year would be answered by the following questions. Did the audience need to have seen the first part of the play in order to fully understand the second? When persons saw the second play, would they have lost too much if they did not know the plot of the first?
McAlmont must remember that he owes it to the audience to produce a full play each time. That is a contract with the audience, unless it was announced in the first place that this was a serial in two parts. And after having done a complete play, any number of sequels can follow.
A sequel is a play that follows up on an original script. It may pick up and continue the story, using the same characters and advancing the plot. A sequel may have any title – it may be ‘Part 2’ of the first play, or may be given an entirely new title, with the knowledge that it is drawing on the original play. But the important principle is that a complete play is presented each time. The playwright assumes that his audience is familiar with the original play, and particularly if that play was a success, or very popular, he would trade on that. The audience then gets to see what happens to the characters afterwards, or what new turns the plot might take, but a sequel is a complete play in its own right with its own plot.
A play with Part 1 and Part 2, or a series, is a different thing. A playwright will deliberately draw on the original work to advantage, because of its popularity. There are many serials or series that do this and many of them are in very high demand. Quite likely, this is exactly what McAlmont had in mind.
Woman In Law 2 had a story which could be followed and a plot that could be understood. It was not complex, and anyone could have picked up the dramatic situation and followed the developments. Two new characters were introduced, and another was reduced to the point where she was not really needed. There was a complete plot, but it was not sufficiently independent since much background information was missing if you had not seen Part 1.
With that limitation, there was a plot with a shift in the central character. The lead heroine was ‘Angel’ played by Clemencio Goddette, a prostitute turned entrepreneur, the owner of a bar. But she augmented her income by practicing as a con-woman and in the play, that became her main focus. She was a committed mercenary with a loyalty only to money, and the plot revolved around the way she played her two friends, Diamond (Sonia Yarde) and Dianne (Nathaya Whaul) pretending to be working to help them. They were both competing to win the hand of boyfriend Frankie (Michael Ignatius) who had promised that he would marry one of them.
Angel, working in conjunction with her business partner, another prostitute named Precious played by Odessa Primus, set out to exploit her victims for as much money as she could extort. She enlisted the help of a gay friend (Kerwin Mars) to pose as an obeahman in furtherance of the concocted plot with, as was to be expected, hilarious developments. It was the entry of this false obeahman, however, that brought about the play’s surprise twist at the end and its resolution.
The play is straight farce, with visible elements of a type long entrenched in Jamaica and showing signs of development in Guyana – the roots play. It has already been observed that a similar type and style of playing had developed naturally in the drama of an amateur group from Parika. There were similar signs in performances from Linden, specifically a play called Pleasing Mrs Jones. Veteran director Godfrey Naughton also adopted it his most recent production Skin Teeth Na Laff.
McAlmont’s Woman In Law 2 was not quite a roots play, since there are characteristics of the Jamaican variety that were not displayed, but it was certainly a similar kind of farce.
It was mainly carried by Goddette with very willing accomplices in Mars and Primus. Goddette’s Angel showed a full understanding of the character, including her traits and background. Although a straight case of low farce and slapstick, hers was a raucous but specifically intelligent performance, since the mannerisms, the speech and even the pretenses were all informed by specifics of characterisation.
This style of performance plays up to the audience, and its execution results in a prolonging of moments of slapstick that tend to stretch out the action and stage business. It demands an ability to improvise, to seize moments of interaction, to arrest the attention of the audience, and to ad lib where necessary. Although Goddette did not resort to bantering with the audience she intelligently exploited language, complete with hyper-correction in such a total study that integral with all the camp and physical gymnastics, she gave a very convincing character portrayal of Angel. None of her funny antics merely provoked laughter but were believable idiosyncrasies of the character Angel. Like the best of the roots performers, Goddette turned low farce into a studied art.
Primus, and especially Mars, took full advantage of slapstick and camp in providing the requirements of this play. Mars, too, showed signs of the roots style in body language and audience involvement. By now the audience is accustomed to the hallmark, typecast performance style of Mars as a comedian. This was exploited by the production which put him there specifically to thrill the audience with the camp acting of the stereotype gay.
Ignatius was not called upon to do very much in his straightforward and undemanding role. But he delivered with his firm competence in comedy and as an accomplished actor. A bit more was demanded of Yarde and Whaul, whose parts in the play were fairly similar with only a few variations, which they handled expertly and contributed to the laughter. Both Yarde and Whaul are stellar actresses and understood the differences – Diamond, very flamboyant and extroverted; Dianne more polished and subdued. Abigail Brower as Dianne’s teenage daughter did very well in convincing that she was that character, but really had very little to do. One might even say that the plot had little need for the girl.
Credit must be given to the way the play ironically presented the roles of villain and victim. In a way, except for Dianne’s daughter, it was a cast of villains. Neither Diamond, nor Dianne had any real loyalty to the man they were working so hard to get; their primary interest was in the financial rewards and luxurious comfort they expected to gain in having him as a husband. Precious was busy plotting to swindle her partner Angel out of the bar they operated, and she and Angel were two of a kind. It was, in all, a cast of con-artists, each one setting to out-manoeuvre the other.
As director, Thomas must be credited with keeping the play moving at an energetic clip, slowed down as is the custom, by the style of farce, which seems to be gradually making its way into Guyanese comedy.