Actors performed well but not challenged by Til Ah Find a Place 2

Till Ah Find A Place 2 by Ronald Hollingsworth, directed by Sheron Cadogan-Taylor and recently performed at the National Cultural Centre was the latest in a long series of successful productions by the Hollingsworth-Taylor team.

Both the play and the production fell down somewhat in certain areas, although it was a play with popular appeal that effectively reached its audience with comedy.  But it was, in the end, a tragi-comedy, more of a dark romance and a fairly strong social realism with important statements to warn the audience against certain social behaviours. Along with those were a public alert to a few unpleasant realities about the law – in particular family law and the fact that the law and morality are not equal. The law is about correct legal process, not emotions, moral or immoral living.

While it marked a satisfying run of productions which established Cadogan-Taylor as a major director and celebrated the prolific Hollingsworth-Taylor partnership, it also speaks to the background of the play itself and reflects on the career of the playwright. Till Ah Find A Place 2 emerged out of a profitable period on the Guyanese stage for popular plays and comedy, that allowed Hollingsworth to rise definitively as a leading dramatist for these kinds of plays in Guyana.

It was a profitable period for the popular play in social realism and comedy, and some playwrights exploited the high contemporary currency of topical issues. Hollingsworth, in particular, became prominent in this theatre – particularly in topical issue drama and was a master of carpe diem.  He seized the moment with certain social issues, situations and developments, and wrote plays coming out of them very much like his tutor in sociology Ken Danns. 

Hollingsworth’s Watch De Ride arose out of this wave to dramatise the tragic consequences of the development of the phenomenon of ‘bus riding’ in the popular culture. Then he created Till Ah Find A Place, a comedy thriller inspired by the housing crisis in Georgetown which drove many working-class elements to seek any available means of securing residence. This led to the rise of squatter settlements and many persons in search of places to live. Both of these plays were resounding box-office hits when first produced and their continued demand saw them being brought back to the stage in new productions, putting them high on the list of ‘most popular’ in the history of recent contemporary theatre in Guyana.

A significant off-shoot of this was the rise of sequels; these became another profitable practice to capitalize on the popularity of some plays. The playwrights found the audience appeal substantial enough to be exploited to the full, and many plays with encouraging box-office success were followed by parts two and three. These continuations of the stories in the original dramas were fashioned to further appeal to the audience who were thrilled by certain popular or hilarious characters and welcomed a chance to follow their fortunes and see them again.

Both Watch De Ride and Till Ah Find A Place had multiple sequels, sometimes with the addition of new sub-titles. Eventually some of those continuations developed into plays with a life of their own and departed into independent plots, even entirely new characters. However, Till Ah Find A Place 2 that was recently brought back was not one of those.

Sometimes, because of the commercial motivation, sequels can be disappointing. They are often found to be not as good as the original, sometimes a pale echo of it, often less interesting and often hasty attempts to seize the moment. Such are not necessarily the ingredients of good drama.

Part two of Till Ah Find A Place remained alive in Guyanese theatre and kept its place in popular audience interest, although the great multitudes did not come out as before.

The performance was not as thorough as previous Taylor productions. The attention to detail and the all-round completeness that one has become accustomed to were not where one would have expected. The play had inconsistent levels of achievement which were sometimes because of the performance, just as much as they were shortfalls in the script.

There was high entertainment for what was a very involved audience. Clearly, the performance communicated to them and they could identify with the play. Their interest and involvement translated into the now usual element of talk back which signalled that the play evoked a good deal of audience interaction.

There was a high level of competence among the performers, although in many cases the play itself did not challenge them – they did not have quite colourful character portrayals as was the case with other parts. Mark Luke-Edwards was a consistent and very effective actor as Linden in the lead role, but it was one with little real challenge. The same went for LeTisha Da Silva in the role of Roxanne; it did not demand too much from her but was executed as it would be by a very good actress. 

Michael Ignatius was Eddie, a character who provided a great deal of laughter and delight as a typically played ghetto-type, but less was demanded of him in this Part two. This also was effectively played but did not stretch Ignatius. Clemencio Goddette had a character with a little more shape in Petal, the devious sister of Donna. Again, it was a hilarious but not very difficult role and Goddette was equal to it as the schemer and instigator – another ghetto stereotype that she played well for comedy. Paul Budnah was not called upon to extend himself in his minor role.

The lawyers were Nicola Moonsammy and Sean Thompson.  Moonsammy’s role was minor and played to suit as a typical dramatic advocate of the stage courtroom. Thompson had something more demanding and produced a convincing portrayal of a double-crossing friend, an aggressive courtroom advocate and the clandestine role as Donna’s secret lover.  He was given a bit more to do and achieved it very convincingly.

Truly impressive was the part of the daughter played by Latiefa Agard – the 11-year-old at the centre of the conflict and the victim of Donna’s duality and spitefulness and of her sister’s scheming and malicious mischief. Here was an excellent achievement in the play with what was not a large role, but one in which Agard pulled off a part that was demanding for an actress of that age; she understood the role and the situation very well and was very credible.

Till Ah Find A Place’s character of greatest focus and audience interest was Donna played by Sonia Yarde. It was a part that tended to dominate the play and Yarde made it believable. It challenged the actress considerably. She skillfully negotiated emotional changes in spite of the overall comic façade which was a bit deceiving. That was so because Yarde played humour where necessary but was really portraying what could seriously be a tragic character.

A success of the play was its possession of moments of moving social commentary. Mainly, there was some inconsistency, but these parts came in moments and when they did, were effective and very strong. The court scene was an attempt at the usual melodramatic TV courtroom drama. But it was clear that there had not been much research of the law, so the scene was all emotional with very little legal argumentation – not strong on law, but extensive on melodrama. 

Then there was a badly-written sequence at the end that was supposed to be pathos but was much too maudlin. This was the lawyer’s soliloquy, which followed the shooting. It was full of overstatement and undramatic with a character telling and explaining to the audience. Ironically, that was preceded by some of the most dramatic and tension-filled moments in the play. 

The final confrontation between Donna and the lawyer, her secret lover, was dynamic, charged with tension, well performed and contained most of the real strong statements of the play, a comic delight which turned into a tragic drama.

There were important statements that contained real meaning for the audience. There were warnings about things taken for granted and not understood about family law – particularly the matter of adoption in which the delicacies and complexities are normally not known. There was much that the play had to say about children caught up in these situations of custody, legal and illegal adoption, and how ignorance of the law can turn into disappointment.

The play had feminist statements and as much about exploitation as about promiscuity and careless parents. A subtle sub-theme was the core of the tragedy – a child caught up in the traumatic centre of tragedy demonstrated by the little girl hiding behind a door and witnessing a killing. This came over as well in the strong exchanges at the end in the conflict between Donna and the lawyer.

A play that brought much sensational delight to an audience drawn by comedy ended up instructing them with the articulation of things not thought about: the family, women’s vulnerable dilemmas and exploitative men versus the schemes of exploitative women who play the damsel in distress turned femme fatale.

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