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He Said She Said: A Comedic Battle of the Sexes

The sexes face off in Ellis International's Jamaican play He Said She Said

Men and women faceoff in Ellis International’s newest production, He Said She Said, a comedy revue now on show at the Courtleigh Auditorium in Kingston, exploring touchy relationship issues for a good laugh.

The 21-piece revue, spanning the mundane to the taboo, maps the inner workings of intimate and sometimes platonic relationships, dealing frequently with sex, but also toggling gender and sexuality. It does this through the expected sketches and song and dance numbers, opening in this way, with the song ‘Too Much Sex’, a piece that immediately sets the tone for the 2-hour production. It shows the 6-member cast of equal men and women, split and argumentative as they toss verbal blows back and forth.  Such is the ritual of the production, diving into satire with the occasional swipe of pungent wit and wisdom, ever aware of divisions.

The production dives head-first into sex and sexualityThe production comes to life on a minimalist set, accentuated with male and female gender symbols, which proves functional. It compliments the sketches and is effective and practical; transforming from bedroom to living room and eventually even corner shop in quick turns.  Further interest is gained from a screen projecting images onto part of the façade, changing to suit the theme and scene being executed. The play also does well with the inclusion of theme-relevant, mostly dancehall music, which effectively serves to amplify, wrap or transition scenes, but very rarely uses it otherwise. With regard to lighting, the production errs on the side of the fairly basic, used where and when necessary, but with no dramatic effect.  The same is true for costuming, which save for the women on set, who were often in various forms of skimp, all else appeared normal and appropriate, with some obvious effort put in place where age-transforming makeup was concerned.

The language of the script varies, showing a multiplicity of perspectives, possibly due to the production’s community of writers. This variation was probably most evident in the style and quality of humour and writing in general, which, in some respects was interesting and complimentary, but in others, seemed to try too hard, and left the audience with pauses where laughter was desired. Though donning its ‘adult’ hat, the production also stays clear of explicit profanity but earns full dividends of laughter from being suggestive physically and in language use, without seeming to force it.

How men relate to men, what is taboo and what is pretense are explored in He Said She Said

He Said

Early on, masculinity would be explored with ‘A Me A Di Man,’ delivered by a chest-beating Matthew Boyd, proclaiming to friends, his skill in the attraction and ‘defeat’ of women. It would end on comedy, but not before punctuating the reality of both the common expression and perception of masculinity and male intimacy, being aggressive undertakings, often especially when dealing with women. This was further punctuated by an illustration of male pursuit, and how what is often portrayed as favour is turned on its head if unmatched, often morphing into attacks. These illustrations do nothing particularly new, but certainly seem to serve as clear mirrors into realities prevailing male-female relations, a mirror, it is hoped, with enough glare to spark moves into new directions. The production explicitly tries its hand at this in a monologue presented by Gemmar McFarlane, that appeared after intermission, and attempts to dismantle the violent façade representative of manhood. He declares here, having begun with the assumed aggression himself, that there are other ways, other approaches to his expression of himself. The message is delivered but the performance does come across heavily inorganic or overplayed.

The play goes lightly on male homosexuality, touching it with a long enough pole for comedy but not deciding whether to allot it credence or mockery. He Said She Said does however seem to use the idea as a yardstick for measuring men’s perception of intimacy. It makes the case by showing the degree of closeness between male friends, and in the very same sketch depicting a gap between them and their wives. The production does not seem to do this to make trouble, or perhaps it does. What is clear, is its statement that platonic closeness can and does exist between men, that it is not alien and should not be shunned or denied. Further, it illustrates that there is farther for male-female relations to go, in terms of banishing the idea of each as ‘the other’ and therefore external and unfathomable.

 Men are not always the sexual aggressors

She Said 

The production also accentuated the script with poetry, infusing the lyrics as monologues. This served as a moving inclusion that, while creating interest, might’ve done with deeper internalization on the actors’ parts and in turn richer, less mechanical presentations. ‘I Take Myself,’ an ode to female self pleasure was one such, presented by Karen Harriott, to the delight of the mostly-female audience. The sketch, though it over-reaches, both in language and delivery, served to make a grand statement for women’s freedoms.

While the production touched on many other issues, the ticklish topic of the female sexual appetite would return in a piece again featuring Harriott, this time making sexual demands on a tired and reluctant partner (Tesfa Edwards). In perhaps her most expressive performance of the night, Harriott was resolute, if a tad frightening in her demands, sending home perhaps the reality that women house  as much fervor and aggressive potential as their male counterparts.

In other explorations, the production’s contradictory portrayals of infidelity would leave questions unanswered, golden agers in fervent conversation around their sexual exploits would cause bouts of cringing laughter, and gender-based violence would come under full attack as Harriott rallied to defeat a potential threat in full-on karate tactics.

Sex among golden-agers is also fair play in He Said She SaidStill, while the cast in general performs fairly, it is clearly early days yet for the production, which will benefit from further cohesion.  Lakeisha Ellison does standout however, with a naturally magnetic energy. Her interpretations and physical sensibility together make her naturally comedic. Edwards also gives an impassioned, believable performance and new comers Boyd and McFarlane exhibit high levels of enthusiasm and potential.

It’s final lap is perhaps the production’s funniest and most defining, bringing home the idea of vast perceptive gaps between men and women. The hilarious display, featuring all 6 cast members illustrates simultaneous accounts of a sexual encounter from male and female parties, as told to their respective friends. The accounts make for riotous, disparate, sometimes bizarre tellings, that left many laughing breathlessly to keep up, ahead of the play closing as it began, with ‘Too Much Sex’.

Sunday’s showing wrapped with a brief talk-back session post-production, that saw questions asked of the enthusiastic, seemingly immoveable audience as well as fielded by the cast and crew.

He Said She Said disrobes some taboos before the conservatives, shocking in points, while offering some sober insight and attention to touchy issues, all amid the frolic of laughter. Still, the play does leave us wondering, are men and women bound in perpetual friction or is there possibility for true community?