Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book 28, Jamaica: “Two Can Play” and “School’s Out” by Trevor Rhone

I’m just back from Kuala Lumpur, and man, I should tell you about the harvest of books I got from Silverfish Bookstore. Plays, essays, and fiction, translated and untranslated from our neighbour/separated sibling up north: A. Samad Said, Amir Muhammad, Zakaria Ariffin, Ouyang Wenfeng, Charlene Rajendran, Farish Noor…

But instead, I’m going to babble a bit about the old book of Jamaican drama I managed to get out of the National Library Repostiory when I got back. No worries: it’s good stuff too.

These two plays are early pieces by Rhone, who was educated in drama in the UK but came back and started his own theatre company, playing with the vernacular, commenting on politics while capturing the real human side of Jamaican life at the same time.

School’s Out (first perf 1976) is ostensibly about a dysfunctional church school where the teachers bicker all the time about the disorder of things, their mutual incompetence and the absence of the headmaster and the impossibility of getting the stinking staff toilet fixed – only to rise against the new teacher, Russ Dacre, who has the moral willpower and chutzpah to try and fix things. It’s terribly specific and believable (triggering mental echoes of Haresh Sharma’s Those Who Can’t Teach, but it also functions as an allegory for the failed state, where the oligarchs rebel against the real reformers. (Weirdly enough, Russ’s pushy, Messianic character has a few things in common with Singapore’s own reformist autocrat, Lee Kuan Yew.)

Two Can Play, (first perf 1982) is less heavy-handed - in fact, it's quite amazing how Rhone manages to blend the stories of the personal and the political here, all within the framework of a realist, mobile production of only two actors. A middle-aged couple, Jim and Gloria, have sent their kids away to the US as illegal immigrants, convinced that Jamaica is no place for them to earn a living. When Jim's father dies, there's nothing to keep them from going after their kids anymore - and this is when chauvinist, cowardly Jim ends up pushing Gloria to get papers to fly to the States, becoming a citizen through a fake marriage, only to discover that this process has pushed her into selfhood, so she now refuses to put up with his crap any longer. Just like Ibsen's A Doll's House, only with a happy ending: they reconcile, Jim's ready to change, and they're ready to believe in Jamaica again.

I have a lot to learn from this guy. If only it was a little easier to find Caribbean drama in this country. And it's a little tricky even to find a known writer from Jamaica who actually stayed in Jamaica: Claude McKay was an émigré, and Marlon James didn't even live in the country...

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Representative Quote:
ROSCO: Discipline! [Hiss.] You see all the boy mi run out of the class, is only one way to deal with that sort of discipline problem. I wish they would make me Headmaster. I know exactly what I would do do. I would construct a Gun Court in the middle of the play field; and come Monday morning, right after Chapel, I would make the whole school gather right round the wire fence, then I would catch the boy and let the parson administer the last rites. Then I would tie up the boy and call the cadets with the long guns and - bang, bang, bang! Then you would see a little discipline in the school. Boy, I wish they would make me the Headmaster!

Next Book: Dany Laferrière’s Heading South, from Haiti.

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