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Man Talk: Good Intentions but Problematic Execution

Earl Warner's Man Talk directed by Joan Belfon

Earl Warner’s Man Talk, as the name suggests, is a gathering of men talking - in bars, on cricket pitches, around domino tables, at funerals, in electronics stores and other stereotypical sites of male bonding. It is men talking to men and about men. Alas this discussion, so sometimes funny, and sometimes enlightening, dragged on for far too long and so tended toward tedium despite containing some good nuggets.

Man Talk is in many ways more a cohesive collection of monologues/vignettes than it is a traditional play. However the marriage of issues and their treatment in this worthwhile discussion of Caribbean masculinity make this an important experimental work.

Carl Davis in Man TalkThe range of issue includes rape, homosexuality, sex, fidelity, the rise of women in the work place, absent and near absent fathers and paedophilia. The production opens with fatherhood, played out to the overture of cricket, and the rules of the game and manhood are passed from one generation to the next. Although in most of the scenarios the two generations are separated, they are mixed in the the final scene, which again is a game of cricket. So, with its opening and closing vignettes Man Talk highlights how one generation of men work to shape the next.

This rendition of Man Talk was produced and directed by Joan Belfon. Man Talk’s ensemble cast comprised established actors Bob Kerr, Bobby Clarke, and Carl Davis as well as a cadre of young actors: Mario-Lei Forbes, Sheldon Barnett, Andrew Jones, Desmond Dennis, Marlon Walker and Andre Bennett.Man Talk is a series of cohesive vignettes

Both the direction and the performances were uneven, working in some places, falling flat in others, and sometimes being rather confusing. Asked to take on multiple roles with the range of scenarios, often members of the cast were stretched beyond their skills. So sometimes they worked well and at others they did not. In that vein Bob Kerr, who was often so wooden he could have been replaced by a block of wood and no one would have noticed, but in a few vignettes his absence of expressiveness worked marvelously.

Carl Davis was generally solid and Bobby Clarke occasionally lit up the stage. One of his most striking performances came in Bois Man, even though some of its direction and delivery could have benefitted from greater subtlety. ‘Bois Man’ draws the relationship between violence in sport and the violent act of rape.

Interestingly, the younger members of the cast were far more dynamic than the experienced hands with Desmond Dennis, Marlon Walker, and Mario-Lei Forbes being particularly noteworthy.

Man Talk suffered from poor technical infrastructure. Lighting design was completely absent, and the experimental nature of the piece, could have greatly benefited from the lights to enhance theme and emotion.

Warner's Man Talk explores various issues in Caribbean masculinityThe set design was equally problematic. While cricket was a recurring trope throughout the piece, outlining the sport as a bonding site for Caribbean men, the use of a cricket stadium as the set was limiting, and sometimes detracted from the pieces.  

So, Man Talk is commendable for its good intentions, it however stalls on the execution.

Man Talk was produced under the auspices of the Earl Warner Trust, and ran at the Theatre Place, New Kingston, October 31 - November 3, 2013. The Trust was set up in 2000 to raise funds for talented and deserving student to attend Edna Manley College.Some of the issues explored in Man Talk cut across generations