A State of Affairs – Less than the Sum of Its Parts

Basil Dawkins’ play A State of Affairs, currently playing at the Little Little Theatre, Kingston, is less than the sum of its parts. It benefits from a very talented creative team, both on and off the stage, and yet only produces at best a decent night’s entertainment. A State of Affairs is generally mildly amusing and occasionally funny, alas that is a rarity.

A State of Affairs feels like a comedy of errors from another era. Tony (Jerry Benzwick) attempts to bring greater honesty to his marriage by confessing to his wife about his numerous affairs. However, when things do not go exactly as plan (that is his wife Liz (Sakina Deer) does not see the merits of the disclosure) he decides to seek counselling so that he can curtail his wayward libido. Unfortunately counselling seems to offer more complications than solutions.

Indeed, the play’s absence of punch is a strange state of affairs. Dawkins, who is also the producer, is an experienced and talented playwright who has given Jamaica a slew of memorable hits including Toy Boy, Feminine Justice and A Gift for Mom. the play’s director, Douglas Prout, as has years of experience as an actor and a director.

Robin Baston once again creates a set that manages to make the tiny stage at the Little Little Theatre a much more dynamic space. So, A State of Affairs benefits from good use of stage. In the first scene, the bed dominates the entire space making it clear that the affairs to be explored will be of the sexual kind. And indeed, although it is an extremely unsexy play, much of the action does take place in the bedroom.

A State of Affairs also benefits from a talented ensemble cast. Ruth Ho Shing, who has become a Basil Dawkins production staple, is a competent and experienced actress. A State of Affairs makes the fifth Basil Dawkins production in which Ho Shing has appeared in as many years. Ho Shing also appeared in Uptown Bangarang, Uptown Bangarang II, Which Way is Out and For Better or Worse.

Ho Shing plays Inez Grossett a ruler wielding, bible toting Christian whose iron gray hair is symbolic of her iron maiden personality. Grossett is the church’s lead councillor and she believes that guidance should come from the word of the God, not from university degrees.

Rishelle Bellamy plays the church’s quirky secondary councillor (Miss Fenton), who, armed with a huge sandwich bag of pills, often seems the one in need of counselling. Bellamy again proves herself a very talented character actress and is responsible for the majority of the moments that bring real humour in the play. Her return to the commercial stage is a very welcome advent.

Jerry Benzwick seems unable to fully capture the nature of his character, and he is unable to deliver most of the comedy which should have come from his character. Sakina Deer delivers a competent performance. However, the character, which seems very similar to others she has played, may not have sufficiently challenged her.

A State of Affairs’ comedic thrust is in keeping with Dawkins trend toward comedy, which began with Uptown Bangarang, which having allowed him to cop the Best Comedy Actor Boy Award spawned Uptown Bangarang II. Yet where in that earlier play he found cause to repeat the experience, this time around, it is an affair easily forgotten.

Funny Piece of ‘Judgment’

Andre Morris and Dahlia Harris in Judgment

Antonio (Andre Morris) displays his menacing nature to Sasha (Dahlia Harris) photo by Aston Cooke

Dahlia Harris’ play Judgment, currently playing at the Pantry Playhouse in Kingston, is a hilarious look at friendship and revenge. The entertaining production is three parts comedy and one part drama with a dash of intrigue to taste.
Harris has taken on the role of head cook and bottle-washer for the production as she is the writer, producer, and director of the show, as well as a member of the cast. Harris takes on these multiple roles admirably.

Indeed, Judgment allows Harris to shine brightly. It declares that not only is she a talented actress capable of delivering both comedy and dramatic ethos but she is also a good writer. The play is also well-produced and her direction is more than adequate. However, the latter is also the skill she needs to work most on as there were some shortcomings.

Judgment is a three-hander. Along with Harris (who plays Sasha) the play also features the inimitable seasoned actress Deon Silvera (as Janet) while newcomer Andre Morris (playing Antonio) makes the third prong of this triangle.

The plot is simple yet engaging. Set in New York City, Judgment explores the lives of two Jamaican expatriates, Sasha and Janet as they maneuver work, love and the ever looming possibility of deportation. Sasha and Janet have been friends for years despite their very different approaches to life. Where Janet is generally conservative and hardworking, Sasha is far more gregarious and believes in giving life a good squeeze and taking whatever comes out, whether it is hers or not.

Deon Silvera

Janet (Deon Silvera) begins to see the error of her misplaced trust. photo by Aston Cooke

The bonds of the women’s friendship is however set to be tested when Janet, consumed by the absence of love in the real world decides to invite a man from cyberspace into her brick and mortar life. This new man Antonio, who appears to be around half Janet’s age, is hot as hell and with the kind of sweet talk than can cause diabetes appears far too good to be true. Eventually, Sasha must decide between cautioning her friend or saving her own skin.

Judgment is wonderfully bouyed by its talented cast and the engaging nature of the characters who easily pull you in. Indeed the characters and the performances are possibly the strongest element of the production.

Harris, is by far the gem of this production and in truth her role, Sasha, is a far meatier and better crafted character than Janet who is a lot more gullible and ultimately her unwillingness to give any credence to her friends warnings dampen her likability.

Sasha on the other hand, is the kind of character that audiences love to love. She is morally questionable but not completely without scruples. She is loud, brash, and funny.

Interestingly, Silvera and Harris almost take on role reversals in terms of the character types that they have generally played. Silvera is clearly attempting to stretch her thespian muscles with this kind of role. Yet while her performance is steady, it is not sufficiently nuanced, though it is hard to determine whether this is due to shortcomings in the acting, the direction or the writing. Maybe it is a combination of all three.

Morris could also have benefited from stronger direction as his performance was unbalanced, his dual role seeming to demand more than he was able to deliver. He is however a competent performer is very likely to develop well with time.

Additionally, though the majority of Judgment takes place in Janet’s living room the play never feels static, possibly due to the constant movement of the actors than the general propulsion of the plot.

A trip to take in Judgment is time well spent as it certainly provides sufficient bang for the buck.