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Light Shines from Departure in the Dark

Nadean Rawlins (Lilian) and Audley Green (Andrew) in Departure in the Dark

“Life is a dream and a promise.” This line, heavily coated in bitterness and loss and delivered by Lilian Martin toward the end of Departure in the Dark, captures the essence of the play. Written by Samuel Hillary, the play grapples with race and class and centres on people clutching to dreams that have withered before them and all they are left with is disillusionment. It is intense and dark and often hilarious and shines much needed light on Jamaican society.

The Yard Play (and the equivalent Yard and Street novels such as Brother Man, Minty Alley and Miguel Street) evolved as Caribbean writers looked inward and tapped into the the drama unfolding in tenements where the shared living circumstances meant the meeting of divergent personalities. Hillary’s Departure in the Dark, a 1960s Jamaican play, is an iconic example of the form and Brian Heap’s revival is a worthy rendition.

Julene Robinson (Etta) and Melward Morris (Ivan)Departure in the Dark, as with many of the stories of this type, is driven by its characters. The play presents the archetypes that one generally finds in the Yard Play but they are sufficiently complex so that they are not mere stereotypes.

Departure in the Dark therefore requires a strong cast, which the University Players staging is largely able to provide, even though the energy and pace sagged during the early part of the performance. Nadean Rawlins wonderfully captures the play’s lead character Lilian Martin. She is authentic and engaging in her delivery, capturing much of the nuance that makes the reasonably young Rawlins believable as a near decrepit old woman. Make-up and costuming for Martin was also commendable.

Lilian Martin is a woman who has fallen on hard times. Once a great beauty, she spent much of her life among the rich and powerful, but now, as death looms, she is surrounded by poverty and is filled with hatred and bitterness. Lilian is dying and embittered. She is plagued and haunted by death, the thing she fears the most.

Melward Morris is perfectly cast as Ivan, Lilian’s nephew who takes care of her in the hopes that she will die and leave him the tenement. Ivan is blatant with his intentions and constantly reminds Lilian, often with graphicEtta watches on as her husband flirts with Lilian references, to her impending death. The Ivanisms, some of which are actual proverbs and quotes from the Bible are hilarious, and responsible for much of the humour in the play. His lines include wonderful gems such as “if a man is not a lunatic, him have no reason to be dreaming” or “If you spend too much time on religion, you cyaa come off good.”

Julene Robinson continues to have a good run this year, making a strong appearance as the downtrodden Etta, who becomes increasingly disappointed in her husband, Andrew, who offers her neither love nor support, and is responsible for most of the “treading” across her back.

Alas, Andrew is where the play stumbles, almost fatally. The character is played by Audley Green who gives a woeful performance. Not only is green generally uninteresting, he had a disturbing tendency to lick his lips and look at Lilian lasciviously, when she is not looking which completely goes against the character, and possibly against nature. Yet Andrew is a critical character as through him, Hilary suggests that although it is Peggy (Sanique Brown) who is a whore by profession, Andrew is a whore at heart, and is far more morally questionable.

Shanique Brown and Jean Paul MenouWith the exception of a bit of overacting from Elizabeth Brown-James who went too often over the top with her portrayal of the zealously Christian Sister Ann, the other member of the supporting cast (Jean Paul Menou, Brown, and Jacquie Higgins) did well.

The production is also enhanced by sound technical skills, benefiting from good lighting, a set design which adequately frames the drama, as well as good lights.

In his Director’s Notes, Heap points out that the Philip Sherlock Centre received the manuscript of Departure In the Dark from Rex Nettleford shortly before he died. It is a good thing that this Jamaican play has been allowed to once more see the light.

Departure in the Dark plays at the Philip Sherlock Centre, University of the West Indies, Mona. It opened Saturday May 4, and closes Sunday, May 12, 2013.