Theatre Director Alwin Bully Stages ‘A Tempest’ in Roseau Dominica

The Dominican production of Aime Cesaire's 'A Tempest' was directed by Alwin Bully and starred J. Grimner and Prospero and Haxey Emmanuel Salamant as Caliban.

The Dominican production of Aime Cesaire’s ‘A Tempest’ was directed by Alwin Bully and starred J. Grimner (l) as Prospero and  Emanuel Haxey Salamat as Caliban.

As DOMFESTA  2013 arts activities concluded on the Nature Island, I attended its final theatrical  production, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It consisted  of  the late Martinican  playwright Aimé Césaire‘s ‘A Tempest‘ (1969), which was held at the Alliance Française de la Dominique   from June 14 -16. Renowned Caribbean cultural icon and son-of-the-soil Dr. Alwin Bully directed this ambitious representation with a seasoned cast of actors from locally based theatre troupe La Cour Des Arts de la Dominique.  This play’s familiar title, characters’ names and plot-line do intentionally resemble Shakespeare’s well-known work called ‘The Tempest, with some unique twists.

As I had not previously studied or taught this Shakespearian play, I was glad that I had a chance to read the synopsis before going to the production. I also  looked up Césaire’s adaptation to get a feel for  his dramatic style and what could possibly happen on the stage. In March, I did have the privilege of seeing famous French actor Jacques Martial portray the sentiments of  Césaire’s  poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939) at the Arawak house of Culture in Roseau.   Also,  Gildas Lefèvre, my French conversation instructor at Alliance Franςaise gave me a bit of background about Césaire’s  exceptional life (1913-2008) and recurrent themes in his artistic and political endeavors.

Césaire was a contemporary poet, playwright and a political and social activist.  He  cleverly adapted Shakespeare’s timeless dramatic work so that it incorporated themes such as colonialism, slavery, loss of identity and racism. According to the performance’s playbill, “He was the first activist to claim the rights of Black People in the French colonies, calling on them to recognize and be proud of their history, culture and values.”  He even created a concept called “Negritude“, which refers to  taking pride in one’s African origins and rejecting assimilation into European or colonial culture.

Even before the play formally began, the actors mulled about on or near the simple stage, chatted among themselves and even talked to

Before the play began, the actors came onto or around the stage, which created an intimate  andinformal rapport with the audience.

Before the play began, the actors came onto or around the stage, which created an intimate and casual rapport with the audience.

members of the audience.  At first, I was surprised by this activity, but then I realised that it enhanced the intimacy of this intense presentation.  The almost “theatre-in-the-round’ arrangement of the seats on either side and in front of the stage also enabled the onlookers to feel as if they were a part of the action.  I could sense the energy emanating from all the

Caliban portrayed his role as the rebellious slave very convincingly. Stephano is in the background..  Stephano is

Caliban portrayed his powerful role as the rebellious slave very convincingly. Stephano is in the background.

characters in the Prologue, when they were  ‘given their masks’ (parts) by Ashworth Simon, who acted as the Master of Ceremonies.

From the first scene,  where a fierce storm shipwrecks a group of people on an island, the audience was spellbound.  The little boy sitting behind me  was so drawn in that he grabbed the back of my chair (and sometimes me!) in suspense.  From that point, the lines between the characters with the colonial ‘attitude’ and the resistant slaves were well articulated through powerful dialogue and precise movements from on the stage, in front or near it and occasionally in the aisles directly beside  members of the audience!

Caliban (l) faces Prospero his oppressor  with courage, if not results!

Caliban (l) faces Prospero, his oppressor with courage and conviction.

The two protagonists were absolutely outstanding in the portrayal of their roles: Prospero, the typical colonial stereotype played by J. Grimner and Caliban, the angry and  rebellious slave played by  Emanuel Haxey Salamat were completely believable in  words and actions.  They certainly created considerable dramatic tension as they railed at each other with their divergent opinions on slavery and human rights. At the same time, Grimner’s part permitted comic relief through his deployment of ‘magic’ and acerbic wit.  With superb diction and powerful voices, these  two well-known Dominican performers

\J. Grimner as Prospero was completely in character as a conniving colonial in this demanding role.

J. Grimner as Prospero was always in character as an European colonialist in this demanding lead role.

The engagement and  marriage of Prospero's daughter Miranda, played by Justina Worrell to Prince Ferdinand, played by Cornell Linton was a delightful sub-plot.

The engagement  of Prospero’s daughter Miranda, played by Justina Worrell to Prince Ferdinand, played by Cornell Linton was a delightful sub-plot.

presented the issues that concerned playwright Césaire  through the point-of-view of Caliban.

The subservient slave Ariel (r) always did as Prospero commanded.  His character, played by Lester Guye, was in complete contrat to the rebellious Caliban.

The subservient slave Ariel (r) always did as Prospero commanded. His character, played by Lester Guye, was in complete contrast to the rebellious Caliban.

Additionally,  I understand that Director Bully also ensured that the actors had a  firm grasp of the above-mentioned complex themes that arise in A Tempest.  Throughout the play, this sombre subject was  often seasoned with humor.  While the title alone was suggestive of the mood that permeated the play, there were a number of comic scenes that kept the audience laughing while “reading between the lines’.

It was obvious that many hours of rehearsal and preparation time were devoted to bringing this play to life.  All 21 actors appeared to be DLP (dead-letter-perfect) in the execution of their lines.  They seemed to assume their roles very naturally, which I know only comes with extensive preparation and practise. I also appreciated the extra artistic touches:  dramatic and colourful stage make-up; graceful dances and other  smoothly choreographed movements; wonderful musical accompaniment from guitarist Tyson Johnson and African drummer Ras Algie; lighting which accentuated the action on stage; and songs that reinforced the themes  with repeated melodies.

Sonia Riviere (l)played a trouser-role as the sensible Gonzalo. The drunken French colonialist Stephano played by Steve Williams delighted the audience with his comical character.

Sonia Riviere (l)played a trouser-role as the sensible Gonzalo. The drunken French colonialist Stephano played by Curtis Clarendon delighted the audience with his comical character.

The final scene of 'A Tempest' had the complete cast on stage.

The complete cast was on stage  to take their bows at the play’s conclusion.

When the show ended about three hours after it began, it was obvious that the audience was well entertained and instructed by this high-calibre production.  Congratulations to Director Alwin Bully, as well as the entire cast and crew of  A Tempest for a superb performance of this challenging play.  Aimé Césaire (RIP) would be proud.

Master of Ceremonies Ashworth Simon also played the role of Esha, who made some fearful pronouncements.

Master of Ceremonies Ashworth Simon (front) also played the role of Esha, who made some notable pronouncements.

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2 comments on “Theatre Director Alwin Bully Stages ‘A Tempest’ in Roseau Dominica

  1. Emanuel Haxey Salamat says:

    Merci beaucoup, even if my name is spelt wrong. lol. no fault of yours.

    Like

    • gwendominica says:

      De rien Haxey! I would apologize for misspelling your name, but that is how I found it in the program notes. No worries – I’ll change it on the blog post. Thanks for a great performance as Caliban. Cheers!

      Like

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