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Country Duppy - Mildly Amusing

Sharuna Miller and Shantel Mullings in Aston Cooke's Country Duppy

There are ways in which The Fairfield Theatre’s production of Aston Cooke’s Country Duppy could be construed as a valiant effort. Yet, despite the play’s herculean ambitions, in attempting to grab at an easy laugh, it does itself a disservice, and never lives up to the potential of the script.

Country Duppy easily falls into the mold of the Yard theatre, both in terms of its setting and the characters. The play is set in Bamboo Village and takes place in the yard of the village dressmaker, Beatrice. The events occur in the wake of the death a village matriarchs, Maamee, and the ensuing battle for her ‘dead lef’.  

This rendition of Country Duppy is mildly amusing but suffers from a heavy dose of overacting. 

Anthony Rodney (Zacky) and Daimion Jones (Moses)The play is directed by Nadean Rawlins, who is herself a superb actress, but as yet has some distance to go in mastering direction for theatre, especially with a larger scale production such as Country Duppy. The relationships between the characters and the underlying tensions between them are not well developed which leaves the production flat, and also make some of the evolution of the plot, more than a little awkward. 

Additionally, Rawlins has not managed to allow her actors to settle down and connect emotionally with their characters. The result is that the performances never get below the stereotypes, to the emotional potential residing in the characters. 

Indeed, in the case of Clara (played by Shantel Mullings who alternates with Kyesha Randall), her stereotype seems to be cast from the wrong mold. There is no discernible difference between Mullings’ performance in Country Duppy and in the company’s recent rendition of  Basil Dawkin’s Where Is My Father, although the characters are extremely different. Mullings has a very dynamic energy, that if properly harnessed could bear interesting result. Unfortunately, she has a penchant for over-emphasizing each having clearly not understood that loud is not the equivalent of either interesting or dramatic.Miss Beatrice (Shaurna Miller) attempts to revive Moses (Daimion Jones)

With the exception of Shaurna Miller (who alternates with Suzanne Beadle as Beatrice), the show’s support cast has more to offer than the leads. Miller delivers a believable and reasonably nuanced performance, and was a welcome moment of unaffected delivery. 

Anthony Rodney, who plays the dual roles of Zacky and Goodie, is more than a little painful to watch. He is more dependent on costuming than characterization to sell either role. It’s more than a little disheartening to see that in 2014, we are still more likely to easily dismiss the obeahman rather than mine this potentially enigmatic character. Rodney’s performance is shallow, uninteresting and often quite grating.

On the other hand, both Daimion Jones (as Moses) and Recordo Redwood (as Rocky) deliver fair, believable performances. Although he sometimes veers into overacting, Jones is enigmatic and offers up decent emotional range. Clara (Shantel Mullings) and Moses (Daimion Jones)

At the end, this shallow, yet mildly amusing rendition of Country Duppy says a lot about where Jamaican theatre still resides, and how we continue to fail in the exploration of elements of our folk culture. It isn’t a question of whether or not the production should be a comedy, which it is and should remain so. 

However, this rendition of Country Duppy underscores that we are still unable to provide characters such as the Yard Bwoy and the Obeahman with full access to their humanity. Instead we allow them to remain shallow creatures bereft of feeling, and in doing so, we all lose something.