Satisfying the demand for alternative theatre
Arts on Sunday
June 6, 2004
Echoes of Inner Voices is a show for sophisticated as well as general audiences. It has range because it is good popular entertainment for the larger group which likes laughter, while being a theatrical treat for those who require more and who look for an intellectual challenge from the stage. It is written, produced and directed by Grace Chapman and was performed last week to good houses in Linden. It comes to Guyana at a time when there is an absence of an alternative theatre with a marked difference and is in many ways reminiscent of Women, Pieces, Places recently performed by Jamaica-American actress Sheryn Hilton-Parker at Cara Inn.
This kind of performance, while being an actress' dream because of its infinite acting possibilities, is downright difficult and frighteningly demanding. It insists upon a competent performer, variety, an interesting script or text, lively and effective stagecraft to occupy an audience with something to see, to listen to and to think about. Chapman's Echoes of Inner Voices has most of those ingredients. There is humour, commentary, at times thought-provoking variation in theme and place carried by a very good actress accompanied by Joseph Chapman as Dr Echoes and Paul Crawford as drummer.
Grace Chapman as a playwright was among those responsible for the impactful rise of local theatre and popular commercial drama about local situations in Guyana. Like Harold Bascom, who also began at Lichas Hall in Linden, she helped to set a trend with The Green Bottle when it moved to Georgetown. The Cultural Centre saw change with other plays taking up the devices of the cinema, spirit possession, melodrama and thrills. She departed shortly after, but last week returned to the cradle at Lichas Hall with a different type, quite away from those popular trends yet still attracted the audiences.
Echoes of Inner Voices paid very careful attention to production, aided by an effective team including management of the stage by Janice Gibson, meticulous costuming and puppetry by Ava Chapman, with helpful technical effects including a commendable semblance of artistic lighting and sound (Norman Chapman, Andrew Lewis, Gene Pepe Chapman, Troy Roberts).
It consisted of many acts and characters, each different and unconnected, but loosely held together by an enabling 'plot'. A woman talks to a psychiatrist because she is possessed by voices, which become different characters and echoes of different situations including Freudian return to events of childhood and Jungian pre-natal echoes.
Despite that potentially intriguing design, the production is not without fault. One of its great strengths was the detailed, effective, sometimes realistic costuming and this was obviously the cause of the greatest flaw. Lengthy costume and make-up changes led to resulting gaps between scenes filled by music. The obvious need for links was responsible for another weakness. Joseph Chapman as Dr Echoes spoke his part well. He provided that necessary theatrical framework to bridge the gaps and fabricate a plot. But this frame was frail. After a very good start it subsided into brief introductions explaining what the acts were about. This became clearly redundant since the acts spoke eloquently for themselves in dramatization that made explanations unnecessary irritants.
Besides that, a normal expectation in such a production is that some pieces are less successful than others. But the better ones saw to it that the production was marked by a number of very powerful sequences, the work of an intelligent writer, a strong, versatile, sensitive actress and a more than competent dancer.
Her all-round performance was enhanced by techniques such as the use of masks that were very appropriate for the concept of schizophrenia in the feigned psychological framework. The different voices that possessed the protagonist were dramatized through the various characters - her changing personalities which began with a dance entitled "Who", that fittingly questioned the audience.
The techniques reached a peak in another outstanding feature which helped to make the production refreshingly different while demonstrating another of Miss Chapman's talents. Part of the childhood sequence took the form of a puppet show with two of the best pieces of the night. They were consistent with the idea of fantasy and a child's learning process. The puppetry was excellent theatre, provoking the question why there was not more of it.
Other questions concerned the style of narration: why did such a multi-talented actress deliver many of her lines in a sometimes discordant, halting, disjointed quality? It was a distracting habit surprising in such a good, dramatic storyteller. Those stories told scenes from her Linden background, including the "Mining Horn" which controlled and marked a life of routines. Yet the pieces continued to raise questions of identity as the protagonist lives through her many masks. These included the sensitivity of a school-girl's struggle with poetry in a transformation from boredom to fascination, moving to other more uninhibited colourful character portrayals. They traded on good, comic characterization from the ironic laughter emanating from an abusive female in "Two Timing Scoundrel"; an inquiring neighbour exposing a cheating butcher in "Bad Meat"; the pork-knocker's wife visited by the ghost of Sir Walter Ralegh, to the story of an "Ol Higue".
In all, Echoes of Inner Voices is a fulfilling excursion into imaginative, creative theatre. Audiences in Linden were lucky enough to have seen it since the dramatist is on a visit to her hometown.
But it satisfies the ongoing demand for an alternative theatre in Guyana and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.