A farce, pure and simple
Arts On Sunday
By Al Creighton
September 5, 2004
The various popular formulae have been paying fair dividends for those who have persevered on the local stage, and the National Cultural Centre is as busy as ever. What appears to be a trend needs to be tested over a longer period of time, but for 2004 so far the rate of production in dramatic plays seems to have gone back to normal, climbing to almost one a week between July and September.
Godfrey Naughton was responsible for two of these in quick succession: Smile Orange at the end of June and Two's a Crowd Too (Face de Music) at the end of August. Both productions were responses to the market forces, making use of the popular formulae. Smile Orange was a re-run of an evergreen favourite, while Face de Music was a sequel which took advantage of the previous popularity of sequels as well as the long-standing popularity of the original Two's A Crowd itself.
Normally in the theatre, sequels and originals are written by the same author (other things happen in the cinema), but in this recent revival on the Guyanese stage, there have been two in which different writers have produced the sequels. Fitzroy Tyrell, who led the popular revival, wrote ├¦Part Two├ć of Jianna Tyrrell's Find Another Man and Godfrey Naughton wrote his version of a second part to Ian Valz's Two's a Crowd. Last week's review stated that Naughton had taken the cue from Tyrrell in doing this, but I have been informed that that is not correct. According to the new information, Naughton started work on his play several months ago, long before Tyrrell's work appeared on stage. He initiated his own idea and did not follow anyone.
Having settled that, Naughton, as a producer, must have been aware that Valz's play, never mind its weaknesses, had a very good record as a favourite of the popular audience; after all, he brought it back for two re-runs with Jennifer Thomas excelling in the role of Agnes Alberts. The play belongs to an elite group of popular favourites that have been brought back many times for repeated runs. It is one of three that come most readily to mind, the other two being Hollingsworth's Till Ah Find A Place and Mohamed's Anybody See Brenda? It might just have occurred to Naughton that he could court the box office again with a sequel to Valz's comedy.
However, that is not the reason proffered by the playwright, director and lead actor. His Director's Notes protest that he was moved by "the subject matter of infidelity," which is "no laughing matter," and this had replaced his initial urge to amuse the audience. Naughton claims: "When I began writing this play my intention was to create an unbridled farce," and goes on to give the impression that his intentions changed as he began to appreciate how serious his subject was. These intentions, however, have to be judged by the finished product, and the play that he eventually put on stage is best described by his own words - an unbridled farce. Nothing more.
The dramatic situation inherited by Naughton involves Albert Alberts (played by Naughton), a reformed male chauvinist who has patched up a brief but serious rift with his wife, Agnes (Beverley Hinds), now pregnant and happy. They continue bitter-sweet relations with their neighbours, a gay couple, Henry (Michael Ignatius) and his partner Billy (Sheldon Brathwaite). Meanwhile, unknown to all, Albert has gone out and acquired a girlfriend Donna (Miranda Austin), now pregnant and schizophrenic. After the manner of Fatal Attraction and its various versions, she turns up, with Henry's help, to haunt them all. The play ends with two or three murders and, in the style of Elizabethan/Senecan tragedy, corpses strewn all over the stage.
Despite the mention of a serious topic, the work is a farce with a generous serving of slapstick added to many other ingredients for melodrama, and laughs to entertain the eager audience. The best thing to be said for the production is the way it thoroughly entertained, through its artery of funny lines, its occasional surprises, the comic acting and the antics of the gay couple, which accounted for most of the slapstick. There was no pathos, even at times when the plot might have demanded it. The emphasis was laughter. There was little allowance in presentation or reception for the vagaries in the emotional state of Agnes or any hint of horror at the end when the deadly dagger was being driven into its victims. It was all one gay party that had the audience rolling in the aisles. That is all right, but the director cannot, after playing everything for laughs, claim that he was earnestly examining a subject that "is no laughing matter."
The style was farce and all the actors played to suit. Beverly Hinds, in particular, understood the type, and was in command of timing and tone. In effective comic performance there is usually a lead who has to play it straight in order to complement the antics of another, and she played that role as necessary, but also understood the style of farce when necessary.
Ignatius and Brathwaite did a reasonable study of mannerisms and character types, portraying the comic homosexuals to the great delight of a complicitous audience. To be sure, however, something might have passed along the way because few statements were made and the audience would have missed whatever serious point was intended, such as in the dance performed by Brathwaite during which the audience only expected something funny from every move.
The performance of Miranda Austin was noteworthy. She seemed a reasonably good actress who had full command of characterization and subtleties. Her playing of schizophrenia was very convincing and she did not turn insanity into caricature. So believable was her portrayal of a fairly simple, unsophisticated girl without much intelligence and little education that it was perplexing why she was presented as a university student. Miss Austin, like others in the production, was guilty of too much unnecessary shouting.
While the play had its share of truly funny lines, a number of them were too often repeated and some sequences overstretched. There was absolutely no reason for a play like this, built for light entertainment, to have a playing time of over three hours. That is excessive for a rollicking farce, a type that profits from economy.