Last Saturday, a team from Barbados TODAY had the pleasure of viewing the latest offering by Mustardseed Productions entitled Duelling Voices.
The play, written by Zen Obi Constance, the famous Trinidadian playwright and author, brings to the stage themes of adolescent ignorance about sexuality; self-accountability and dealing with sticky situations between adults and children.
The play opens up with the students in a typical classroom environment. The teacher is late and the students, in an attempt to entertain themselves, decide to engage in a game taught by their tardy teacher. The game was a form improvisation; with one student beginning a sentence and others continuing it as long as the ongoing story made sense. Should your “piece of the puzzle” not correlate to the previous piece, you were out.
It is this game that serves as the catalyst for the story that follows:
Irma (Makalah Harrison) is approached by Mr Crawford (Kymorhi Trotman) about some gossip that he overheard through the grapevine about her daughter Marge (Abayomi Harper) and a certain popular teacher at her school.
Irma, the loving trusting parent, finds it hard to believe that Marge would engage in such salacious activities. Being a single parent who had to raise her daughter on her own after a tragedy involving her father, it was hard for Irma to contemplate the thought of her only daughter throwing away her life and education over misplaced desires.
However, Irma confronts Marge after being convinced enough that something was amiss at school, given the number of times her daughter had arrived home after dark and the fact that it was always this particular faculty member that gave her a ride home.
Initially, Marge was adamant that there was no underhanded activity going on and that the male faculty member was doing her a simple kindness by giving her a ride home after her many extra-curricular activities.
However, it soon dawned on her, that her excuses were not holding weight with her mother when Irma threatened to go to the school to confront the teacher herself.
Backed into a corner, Marge confessed before convincing her mother that she would end the “flirtation” on her own terms the next day.
Before we shed light on the teacher’s actions, let us take a brief moment to comment on the mother/daughter relationship outlined above.
Irma had what one might call a typical West Indian parent reaction to hearing about her child’s “extra curricular activities”. She was confrontational, bombastic and demanding when it came to extracting the truth from Marge. There was no moment of calm, understanding or empathy.
Instead of trying to educate her daughter or taking time to show her why the situation was not befitting of a girl her age, the mother resorted to berating her which did not help with diffusing the situation at hand.
Marge, seeing that there was no reasoning with her mother, who was at this time going to further complicate things by going to the school, decided that her best recourse was to feign compliance and “handle” the issue the way she saw fit.
Now it is time to talk about Mr Eric Johnstone (Ocean Campbell) – the infamous teacher around whom this dramatic experience revolved.
However, underneath the golden boy exterior, he was a liar, a cheater, a contemptuous predator who ironically was beloved by all – faculty members, students and wife alike.
After the rumours of the scandal reached his wife Daphne (Symar Doyle), he quickly assured her that he did not in fact have sexual relations with the teenage girl.
It was by then that the audience fully realized that Mr Johnstone was the owner of smooth silver tongue and had no qualms in using it. He said/she said was a running theme that continued from that point on with Eric, Daphne and Marge giving varying accounts about what their lover was and was not doing.
In Eric’s mind, he was simply having fun, enjoying the best of both worlds and “having one woman for the day and one for the night”.
For him there was no possibility of serious repercussions or of him ever having to be held accountable. From Daphne’s perspective, her best friend Victoria (Melissa Hunte), who always thought Daphne was too good for Eric, was simply jealous of her marriage. After all Victoria had proven time and time again that she could not hold a man for any significant period of time.
In Marge’s eyes, Eric was her future, the man she always dreamed of. She was his number one and he was hers.
These back and forth and ever changing stories eventually culminate in: Surprise, surprise! Teenage pregnancy.
Eric, in true predatory fashion, had no plans for Marge to keep the baby. He also revealed that his feelings towards her were not in fact love, but were carnal and controlling in nature.
It is at that point that the play cuts to a musical rendition by the cast, which conveyed the feelings of shame, guilt and confusion that Marge was experiencing.
The remainder of the cast did, quite frankly, an excellent job in helping to flesh out the background narratives to the main players in the story. Special mention must be made of Moses (Alron Brathwaite) and Keisha (Skyye Lambert). Alron completely embodied the “van man” persona we in the Caribbean have come to form a love/hate relationship with. Skyye was unrelenting in her role of trying to keep her best friend on the straight and narrow even though it was painfully obvious from the onset that Marge had other plans for her life with Eric.
This is one of the best local theatre acts I’ve seen in a long time; and that is said without any hesitation or uncertainty.
The director of the play, Luci Hammans, did a stellar job in molding it to fit the current society our young people are growing up in. It is no longer the case that the village is raising the child, it is now a situation where the child must be wary of the village. More often than not, parents are dropping the ball when it comes to educating their offspring about sexuality and what Duelling Voices does is that it brings to the surface what many of us have known for years: many situations in society, whether it be for attention or love are never truly black and white.