‘Women; Places; Pieces’ promises rare treat by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
April 28, 2002

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LOCAL patrons of the performing arts are in for a rare treat this weekend when acclaimed Jamaican actress, Sheryn Hylton-Parker takes to the stage at the Cara Inn for a three-night performance of ‘Women; Places; Pieces’, essentially a journey into self-consciousness by women through time immemorial as told by a number of prominent Black writers, the majority of whom are from the Caribbean.

It will be the first, and quite possibly the last, time they will ever have of seeing this superb actress in action. Hylton-Parker and her husband are diplomats and their two-year tour of duty at the US local mission is about to come to an end.

She currently serves as Community Liaison Officer, while he is Charge d’Affaires.

Excerpts used in bringing this hilarious but equally serious one-hour drama to life are taken from the works of Derek Walcott, Jean Rhys, Erna Brodber, Lorna Goodison, Ntozake Shange, Ted ‘Kamau’ Braithwaithe and the actress’s own ‘Bring Me Tomorrow’ which she always refers to, whenever she has occasion to, as her renaissance piece.

A production of the fledgling Gems Theatre Productions (GTP), the show is to be presented ‘dessert theatre’ style, meaning that patrons will be served dessert as the drama unfolds on stage, with Hylton-Parker single-handedly assuming the roles of the many women being portrayed throughout the drama.

At times all it takes to switch characters is a mere shift in position or Caribbean dialect, both of which she does with characteristic aplomb. At others, it may require a simple change of head-wear, or, as is the case when moving from story to story, breaking into song, thus giving patrons a taste of her sweet mellifluous voice, which is another of her many talents.

On opening night, however, which is on Thursday May 2, guests will be treated to cocktails before the show actually gets off the ground.

As GTP’s Gem Madhoo-Nascimento said a few nights ago during rehearsals, this is not your usual run-of-the mill show, but one that is more suited to the literary-minded, hence the use of a small theatre.

She said that while veteran local actress and educator, Jean Small, did “to a certain extent” attempt this kind of theatre many years ago, it was a rare occurrence here.

“You don’t find this kind of stuff happening in Guyana,” Nascimento said, adding that the only person she knew of who could ably direct it is Al Creighton, who, besides being an academic is also an acclaimed literary critic.

Knowing of her ability and the wealth of talent she possesses, Nascimento said she has been behind Hylton-Parker, whom she has known almost 18 years now, to do something of the sort since she came to Guyana back in 2000.

The two met, she said, while attending an international playwright’s conference in Connecticut, USA in 1984.

Hylton-Parker, for her part, says it takes “a lot of hard work” to do what she is doing with ‘Women Places Pieces’, which title was of her doing.

“These are dramatic pieces, which is to say, they go through various moods. And, wanting to stay true to it; wanting to not lie, but to be and to say and mean it, means going deep-inside and finding those places where these moments happen,” she said.

So profound is this inner search, she said, that while going through her lines recently of Jean Rhys’ ‘Let them call it Jazz’, which is one of the pieces she selected for this purpose, she came to realise that there was more depth to the author than met the eye.

“… I just discovered that there’s just more to this woman than I thought.” This, in turn, set her to thinking whether she had made the right decision.

It’s not the first one-woman show she’s ever done, she said, that privilege having belonged to her debut into Dutch theatre in 1988 with ‘Bring me Tomorrow’, which, for her, was like a catharsis; something she felt she had to do at the time she did it.

“I had just taken on something new. Not only was I married cross-culturally, but I was also going to live in a different environment. I had to…I was just fresh out of theatre school,” she said.

“You see,” she continued, assuming an air of mock hauteur, “I was supposed to be going to Hollywood and be famous, and instead, I end up some place else. So I had to create vehicles for myself, especially given that the country I went to live in, which was Holland, they didn’t speak English. I had all that energy going.”

She said, however, that she had begun writing the piece “even before theatre school, because I thought there were things that I had to put to rest; demons that I had to exorcise.”

What with being “20-something; anxiety; studying and everything else,” she said she looked upon it as basically being “my rites of passage.”

She said though she had made an oath never to revisit the story again, Nascimento had somehow managed to talk her out of it.

It is not the first time she has ever had to play so many characters either, she says, since ‘Bring me Tomorrow’ is fraught with various characters, which in turn, helped shape the main character’s life, which she played as the performance evolved.

The challenge here, she said, is that it is the first time she is putting different people, in terms of writers, together.

For director, Al Creighton, however, the one-woman-show challenge was slightly different. Another is that the actress in question “is a really good actress; a really accomplished and trained actress.”

“You don’t always get to work with an actress like Sheryn,” he said, “therefore I found all that a challenge, and making this one woman show into something and putting the texts together in a fairly imaginative way.”

Such was the interest it stirred in him, he said: “I was really sold to the idea as soon as I heard it.”