by Debbie Jacob (Originally published to the T&T Guardian 22/09/ 2008)
Three Women must have been the best kept secret in town. Even though the play had a respectable audience at the Central Bank Auditorium, I can’t help but think patrons would have had been lining up for blocks if they had any inkling about just how powerfully entertaining that play was.
Two weeks later, I’m still haunted by the closing show on September 14. For me, that’s always an indication that I have experienced an extraordinary piece of art.
Their names alone tell a story: Grace, a gracious widow, had once found refuge in her marriage. While her husband was alive, he could protect her from everything—including the painful memories of being raped by a cousin. Now Grace has to face her feelings alone.
Joy, an artist, is a hopeless romantic who still dreams of having the perfect husband. She is a dougla who embraces her Indian roots and scorns her African roots. Growing up, she fantasised about being white and British. Even a glamorous life as a flight attendant can’t hide Joyce’s need for a lasting relationship. She hopes to find happiness in Lars, a Danish man she met online.
The most haunting character in the play is Carol, who doesn’t even reveal her name until deep into her monologue. Her secret is an abusive relationship.
Three Women is a play that depends on strong acting. There are no gimmicks. The power of the play comes from developing the characters and their conflicts. Director Mervyn de Goeas does an admirable job of nurturing finely nuanced performances from three gifted actors capable of creating mesmerising performances on any stage.
Tension mounts as each woman’s story unravels and the audience realises that the need for these friends to express their innermost feelings to each other might be their only salvation. There is something sad and frightening about living alone with all one’s feelings bottled up inside. These three women convey the perils of bottled-up emotions with remarkable insight.
It takes unashamed courage to bank an entire performance on three actresses and a director. Of course it helps to have a well-written script that just happens to be written by the actresses themselves.
Careful attention seems to have been paid to important details so that nothing competed with the actors’ performances. The set was highly effective. Each actor’s space was defined by a small corner of a stark room. For Grace, there was a chair, a phone and a family picture; for Joy, a vanity and an easel. Carol’s space was basically empty. For the most part, she sat curled up on a simple chair.
The women moved from the stark simplicity of their homes to a table in a restaurant that suggested a superficial opulence. The restaurant served as a façade for the women’s empty lives. It loomed large, a haunting image in the shadows, even when the women returned to their own private pain in their homes.
For most of the play, the women wore only white. White costumes created the image of each woman as an empty canvas waiting to be painted. Those costumes suggested an inner purity. Sometimes they created the illusion of apparitions nurturing ghostly reminders of happiness lost.
In the end, the women entered the restaurant with a splash of colour. They dressed in outfits that defined them—especially Joy who wore a colourful savaar camiz that suggested she was still stuck in the past with her Indian identity. Most striking was Carol’s desperately daring outfit—intricate, scarlet lace with a plunging neckline.
Carol’s final monologue in which she begs her husband to look at her is downright chilling. It is an unforgettable scene. I have always admired Belinda Barnes’ directing talents, and it was a real treat to see her act.
Date: Monday 16th May 2016 at 7PM
Location: Trinidad Theatre Workshop
If a successful play can be measured by its ability to peel away layers of emotion to expose raw nerves that connect us all, then Three Women hit the mark. You don’t have to be a middle-aged woman and you don’t have to share these women’s individual stories to identify with the hidden agony these characters share. Three Women is deep, yet there is much humour as well. The play is chockfull of issues to ponder.
What exactly are friends for if not to share our deepest secrets? Is there any hope for happiness if we can’t share our pain with someone? Is it ever possible to escape from hurt so deep that we fear expressing it? Do we really want to let go of pain?
Three Women is about the masks we all wear. It’s about discovering oneself and the deep-seated need we all have to put the past to rest. It’s about taking chances and moving on. It’s about having the courage to be and feel and see what life is all about.
Hopefully, Three Women will be staged again soon. If you get a chance to see this play, don’t miss it. It’s a rare opportunity to gaze into a very revealing mirror.