Women, Places, Pieces Arts on Sunday
by Alim A Hosein
Stabroek News
May 12, 2002

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An actress walks into the dressing room. She pours herself a drink and starts to do her face. She loosens up her muscles and her voice, warbling incoherent notes. Then she moves from behind her dressing table and addresses the audience. But who is her audience? Has her play begun - is she on stage - or is she rehearsing her role? Or is she in a private moment, giving vent to her inner life?

For the next hour, the actress exchanges her incoherent warbling for a series of highly-polished, articulate word portraits. She becomes a young girl, gossiping women, a lover, possessed, a disarming young French woman... Through these personas, the actress goes through a journey of womanness and self-discovery. Fifty-nine minutes later when the voice of the stage manager announces the curtain call "One minute to curtains!" and the drama within the drama comes to an end, the actress has been able to reach a point of self-definition.

Women, Places, Pieces, directed by Al Creighton and featuring Sheryn Hylton-Parker (Cara Inn, May 1- 4) is an original performance which pulls together a number of pieces mainly from Caribbean writers into a polished presentation that is pleasing and thoughtful.

The play-within-a-play device draws the audience into an examination of external life and internal life. The larger context - the play which the actress is preparing herself for but which we do not see - suggests the public roles which the woman is expected to fulfil. But these roles seem to be part of a desperate masquerade which the actress has to face up to (symbolized by the actress's making up of her face). In these roles the woman cannot express her real self - she is dumb, inarticulate, as suggested by her incoherent warbling. She is on the threshold of finding her real voice, but cannot at that time articulate her feelings.

Opening a space for herself in her private moment in her dressing room, the woman ceases to be actress and becomes woman, celebrating through her voice and body the different aspects of the female, and travelling through them a journey to her own self discovery. As she does this, she is unstoppable, various, lucid.

The name of the performance calls attention to the various frames into which women are placed. The opening piece, You Ever Notice? excerpted from Lorna Goodison's Heartease, drew attention to people's expectations that women should know and keep their place. The selections which followed - taken from the works of Erna Brodber, Derek Walcott, Jean Rhys, Kamau Brathwaite, Ntozake Shange, Jerry Herman and Hylton-Parker herself - dramatized various aspects of the woman's finding of her own place, and her own self. She goes back to the world of childhood in the next two sequences, presenting pieces which highlight the tensions of innocence and developing awareness. From there she moves to more mature women, but the ambiguities of the female situation remain in all the vignettes: the tensions of religion, history, sexuality, belonging, self-expression and other dilemmas. In all of these, the personas seek an understanding of themselves and their true place, while facing known and unrecognized, un-understood challenges. In the end, the woman is able to find her own voice, and to use it to assert herself. As she proudly proclaims: "I am what I am."

Hylton-Parker proved to be a talented and extremely versatile actress who managed a challenging task with skill and ease. The pieces selected invoked a range of personas from different backgrounds - Southern US young girl, mature Caribbean women, young French immigrant, British couple, among others. The cultural span was large, as was the span in age of the women characters and the different journeys they took. Hylton-Parker moved fluently into and out of the various characters, easily using her voice and body to completely inhabit each persona.

The result was a seamless and totally satisfying experience. She used her voice to create convincing expressions of Caribbean creole English, the cadences of a French speaker of English, the Jilts of the American South. Her acting style is quiet and controlled - for example, when she could have been easily carried away by the character of the young French immigrant in Rhys' Let Them Call It Jazz, she managed to hold the line and create a character who is innocently funny, charming, yet strong.

The director's task - creating atmosphere, stage effects, costumes and sets for a number of different and diverse scenes, and doing so within the restricted time of one hour, moreover on an open stage - was also a challenging technical one which he managed with imagination and intelligence. His hand was light but well-considered, allowing the main emphasis to be placed on the performer and the personas. The stage set was minimal without being bare, and multi-functional without being contrived. Music and lighting were similarly well-judged: minimal, but effective. Stage directions were also seamless, fluid and natural.

Of particular note is how well the potentially problematic matter of costuming and identifying the different personas was handled. The solution of adding simple defining elements - an apron, a wrap, a head-tie - to the performer's basic black leotards worked extremely well. Similarly, a swift twisting of her hair into two tufts instantly transformed Hylton-Parker into a young girl. Such clever, efficient solutions in costuming, stage set and direction helped create such a smooth, well-paced drama that much was achieved within the brief hour.

The dramatic device of a placing the performance within a frame worked well also, and on different levels. Firstly, it fits in with modern feminist theory, which reveals and deconstructs the 'frames' through which society views women. Artistically, it lent a relevant air of personal/public ambiguity to the performance. Technically, it helped to give the performance coherence and a framework. It launched the dramatic monologues, and helped to close the performance. Also, the actress's occasional return to her dressing table to touch up her face served as subtle breaks to separate the different pieces.

Technically and artistically, the director and the actress set themselves a difficult task. Solo theatre of this kind is difficult since it depends very little on props, action, set and plot. The entire burden is carried by good directorship and the talent of the sole player on stage. In this particular case, Creighton and Hylton-Parker upped the ante by selecting a very serious theme to engage and very high level of material from some of the finest contemporary writers to work with. The performance was definitely aimed high, but the aim was achieved in exemplary manner.

Created and performed utilizing the techniques of modern theatre Women, Places, Pieces worked smoothly and effortlessly. It went down easily, taking the audience along all the way. It carried out its self-appointed task with grace.

Art exhibition in Berbice

Local artists Bernadette Persaud, Philbert Gajadhar, Betsy Karim and Desmond Ali will be holding a major exhibition of their work in Berbice later this month.

The exhibition of paintings, sculpture, installations and other work will open on May 20 and continue to May 25 at the University of Guyana Berbice Campus at Tain. It will be held at the time of the major international conference on the Indian Diaspora which is being hosted by the Berbice Campus.

This is the first time in a number of years that a major exhibition is being held in Berbice, and it is the first to be held at the Berbice campus.

The exhibition, like the conference, is a part of the observance of Indian Immigration Month. Two of the artists - Persaud and Gajadhar - have already exhibited major works which explore their East Indian ancestry. Karim has had two exhibitions which both reflected a preoccupation with culture and roots. Ali is best known for his indigenous-American inspired work, but he has also begun to exhibit work reflecting his East Indian heritage.