i fi i is a statement of human character and proof that our choices, whether good or bad, will ultimately define our destiny.
On Friday night I saw my class production “i fi i“. Smoker (what we affectionately call such productions) is an annual tradition of the third year medical class. It was at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on the UWI campus in Mona and today, Sunday, will be the final two performances. But don’t bother trying to get tickets, because they’ve been sold out for at least a week.
It seems impossible to give a thorough review without having spoilers abound, but I shall try anyway.
This original work is about a deported Jamaican, Julian, who returns home to find his community in the tight fist of a ruthless MP, Mrs. Anderson who controls her constituents indirectly through bad man, Tony. Julian, filled with righteous fury, sets out to rid the community of the evil forces – a task which is made more difficult when Julian gets a little too close to the seat of corruption. Ultimately, i fi i chronicles the moral decline of man. It shows us, through timeless and cleverly written examples, just how bad things can get when it is every man for himself.
During the show, I very much enjoyed the supporting cast whose performances shone throughout the play. I was struck, time and time again, at how much characters with minor roles and little to no dialogue can flesh out a scene. The performances of Jazz and Blues, Stacy, Ms. Gibbs, and Bandulu were subtle, like good seasoning, their mere presence adding depth and breadth and believability that made the play come alive.
Admittedly, I was not as enthralled with the Beggar Man as the rest of the audience. I felt that his character was a bit too much, at times overshadowing the rest of the cast, but I can’t deny that he was ably played by Director Rani Sittol. Kind of like Jim Carrey, his over-the-top acting is tolerable rather than irritating, and leaves you wondering, what’s so important about this Beggar Man?
I though the main cast left much to be desired – Theopholus Nelson, Gizelle Jackson and Alecia Hamilton didn’t quite thrill me in their roles as Julian, Mrs. Anderson and Zoe respectively. Julian’s second-hand British accent quickly became annoying, though the rest of the audience continued to find it amusing. His alleged fury with the state of his community was reduced to a farce – all bluster and very little action. Nelson’s Julian was rather less than the man he was trying to be.
Conversely, Doneilo Thomas played a very believable Tony and Gavin Austin delivered an admirable performance as the almost-too-good-to-be-real Steven. The difference between the acting styles of Nelson, Thomas and Austin is, once again, subtlety. Thomas keeps a steady undercurrent of the anger and hatred that embody Tony’s character while Austin keeps Steven just this side of being ridiculously morally upstanding with a charming naivete.
However, Mrs. Anderson falls short of Lady Macbethian villainy. She reminded me too strongly of a woman trying to fit in with a man’s world. The constant presence of her cigar is a manifestation of this. A female villain must be feminine, otherwise the audience will automatically expect her downfall precisely because she does not fit into their expectations of a woman. Stacey embodies this quality – using her femininity to control and conspire. Treena Bailey does an impressive job of getting the audience to hate her character, even while she entertains them. Alecia Hamilton as Zoe, on the other hand, doesn’t do justice to the character of the ghetto girl trying to get out with education. I felt like her character, on a whole, was ineffective, but this may be a problem of the script as well as the acting.
For the most part I liked the dialogue. There were enough hidden messages to delight the medical students in the audience, and the writer, Kadeem Knight, made good use of the current slang to make his characters sound snappy and clever. This is a particularly commendable effort in a country where what is “cool” changes as often as the weather. The play also features an original score, and while the chorus delivered with every performance, Bailey’s solo in the second act was a bit of a disappointment (despite the ambitious lyrics of “love you like a surgeon”).
I was also impressed with the technical aspects of the show – the set design, and smoothness of scene changes.
I have saved the best for last in my critique of the dances. The most unfortunate thing about the dances in this play is that there were only two of them. Choreographers Deandra Thomas and Kristen Facey outdid themselves with the modern and dancehall pieces, playing to the strengths of their dancers but sacrificing none of the creativity. For the dances alone, I would watch this play again and again. But then I am biased to that particular branch of the performing arts.
Delivered by an amateur cast and crew, my expectations of Smoker 2012 were not very high. But what i fi i lacks in expertise, it makes up for in heart. The presentation may not be flawless, but it is certainly spirited, and if you don’t go into the theatre expecting a world-class production then I can guarantee you will have an enjoyable experience.