REVIEW: Till Death Do us Part- A Mystery of Marriage and Murder

Theatre. It seems to be on the up and up these days, and  Carmino Productions, a subsidiary of Carmino Holdings have joined the list of new production companies. They have eyebrow raising hopes of keeping their brand alive through the arts and possibly redefining the theatre scene. Carmino Productions held their official Launch on July 9th, 2015 at the Little Carib Theatre by showcasing “till Death do us Part” an original tragicomedy by budding playwright and director Rhesa Samuel, a play which won the Arima Drama Festival in 2014 and received awards for best ensemble, original play and directing.

Carded for 7 pm on a rainy Thursday evening, I coax myself out of the house to attend a play not knowing what to expect. On entering the playhouse I spot kite paper petals on the floor, a wedding cake with a knife stuck into it and…a chalk outline of a dead body. (Insert question marks here) They went all out on the ‘marriage-murder’ alliteration. If you type that in the Google search engine, you get “Marriage Can Be Murder”, a dinner theatre in Las Vegas… I’m straying. The point is, we seem to like to associate the two words. So I’m enthused, seems like we’ll be solving a murder mystery tonight. I skim through the program, but it doesn’t give anything away and I remark on some familiar faces. Then it hits me. “Wait nah… I thought I was late!” My face takes the shape of a tight corkscrew.

Front of House Display/Props etc.

Front of House Display/Props etc.

I arrived around seven and hurried in, crossing my fingers that it hadn’t started yet. I hate missing the beginning but then everyone was still milling about outside so I thought perhaps they were being kind to wait on a few more guests, it is opening night after all. Until it’s half seven and we haven’t been seated yet. Guests are grumbling, it’s hot, the Carib is small so the body heat isn’t helping and there isn’t much of a seating area. I can empathize with a new company and a new show having difficulties, but the point is, every show, new or old has difficulties, each night throws a curve ball at you but the audience is paying and frankly they don’t care about your problems. We are finally ushered inside, I down some red wine and rush to find a front seat.

Unfortunately the Carib can be uncomfortable at times, and this time, I was front row craning my head to look up at the stage but…not their fault… back to what I was saying, I’m sitting, waiting, watching the pre-set, noticing hands magically appearing out of the wings fixing props and then dun…dun…dun… speeches. “While we were waiting outside for half an hour, this could’ve been taking place!” That was my first thought. On the bright side, they honoured Mr. Albert Laveau for being a long standing theatre practitioner in the community. To which he said something along the likes of It is now our challenge to meet the challenge that they have prepared. Best thing said all night, mind you. But then half seven turned into 8 pm and the show was now about to start…

Carmino Awards- First Recipient: Albert Laveau

Carmino Awards- First Recipient: Albert Laveau

So before I go further, let’s stick a pin here for a moment on the term “theatre etiquette”. It was my biggest problem with the show and what could’ve been a more fulfilling experience was tainted by the lack of it. The front of house was amazing. D.E.P.T.H, the contracted front of house attendants were courteous, attentive and you felt appreciated as an audience member. However, the atrociously late start, the lack of discipline to handling props before a show…before the audience enters… when it’s already a late start… peeved me. It’s simply a matter of disrespect to the audience’s time and to your own time and professionalism as a company and it’s definitely not the foot you want to put first. I apologize for making a mountain out of what may seem to be a molehill but it’s all in the spirit of being better. And now without further ado, my review.


SYNOPSIS:

After Pauline is literally stabbed in the back in her bathroom while getting dressed for her birthday party, the murder scene is contained and the detective tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, questioning her husband, son, sister etc. The story is told from each suspect’s eyes through a sequence of flashbacks and flash-forwards, particularly shining light on Pauline’s dysfunctional relationship with her husband, making him the prime suspect in the process. However, further investigation reveals that he did not murder her…


THE SET AND LIGHTS:

Although it was functional, and conveyed  the interior of a living room/kitchen, it left a lot to be desired aesthetically. The flat pale blue colour of the walls didn’t delineate the space and took away from the pictures the director tried to create. Even the family pictures hung on the centre back wall were somewhat lost when it should be focal. The only thing that stood out was the fondly familiar brown couch (from the time of granny and grandpa) and the old-I believe Consol- stove. The reason it struck me was because it brought some sense of time and taste to the set as the couple lived in the wife’s parents’ house. Lighting. What happened? The lighting cues weren’t on time and this play was heavily reliant on the lighting cues due to its nature. Actors were moving off stage during the flashback  while the lights were still up, sometimes they weren’t lit so you weren’t sure if they were in the scene or not etc. And last but not least, the curtain call. Each actor walked into a spotlight to bow and it felt forced. The curtain call is the final moment of the play and should be done together with pride.


THE ACTING:

 Arnold Goindhan stole the show with his role of Philbert Peters aka “Grandpa” who suffers from dementia; Renaldo Frederick surprises in his role as Marcus Phillips, best friend of the husband. His character develops interest closer to the end of the play during his one on one cliched, but memorable scene with Pauline George aka “The Wife”, played by Syntyche Bishop. His chemistry with Kemlon Nero who plays Lisa King, Pauline’s best friend, if explored more in terms of the script might’ve been a sight to see. Nero’s permanent fixture of annoyance on her face brings a certain life to her pregnant character although she could work the pregnancy a tad more for us to establish that fact from the beginning.

The main characters, Pauline George and Kevin George aka “The Husband” played by Nikolai Salcedo, needed to work on their chemistry. We definitely got that the wife was annoyed and unhappy in her marriage-but we never found out why- and that he was overprotective and jealous because he felt emasculated, however there was still a disconnect between them that left you wanting more. Pauline’s relationship with her son was non existent as she treated him more like a brother than a son. The age difference between them wasn’t clear either until she said her age. Her attraction to Marcus needed to develop from before even though it worked to be caught off guard by them, there was something missing. That said, I didn’t believe Pauline’s character and her motivation, making some of the actions unjustified hence the disparity in character relationships.

Roslyn Peters aka Grandma played by Lavonne Isaac-Bhola, had inconsistencies in her characterization as an older woman and her tone sounded forced. On hearing the news of her daughter’s death however, she manages to capture my attention as she shares a heartfelt moment with her grandson. Joshua Sargent fails to convince as the son of Pauline and Kevin.  Karina Solomon who plays Pauline’s sister worked as comedic relief but her reaction to Pauline’s death comes across as overly dramatic while Yasser S. Ali falls flats as Mr. Charles, “The Detective” because he refuses to exercise his power and rather treats his character as a vehicle for a flashback.

The moments of catharsis were short lived as sometimes overacting got in the way of telling the story from a real place. Also, the pace between lines needed to pick up as some actors’ cues were late. If the flow was faster, they could’ve had the audience on their toes.


THE PLOT and DIRECTION:

The plot had promise. I won’t give away the story because the thrill was in the suspense. The play was quite witty at times and accomplished the comedic requirement. I’m not sure if the tragedy was believable but it provided a vehicle for the action.  Although, I think it can be fine tuned in some spots, the effort is commendable and perhaps with a better technical team, it would’ve pulled the show together. From where I sat, basic things needed tweaking in the direction. The actors masked each other at times and so did some of the props. Although that is the actors’ responsibility it reflects on the director as well. The staging of some scenes didn’t work because the use of space was poor especially in dealing with character relationships. The depth of the space could’ve been used more  to create better stage pictures. In a flash-forward she has the actors mime and move faster, which needed to be tighter else it comes across as funny. Perhaps the only thing I was in complete disagreement with was the dream sequence singing and use of tableau. It felt like it came from nowhere and it definitely didn’t fit into the style of performance. Even though the musicians were good and captured the emotion well, it didn’t add to the performance as a whole, it was just jarring.


In conclusion, we’ve reflected on the good and the bad. Apart from all the nitpicking, Carmino Productions in collaboration with Rhesa Samuel have surprisingly managed to outweigh the bad with good. All in all, Carmino Productions has a future ahead of them. The first production managed to overcome its short sights well to give the audience their money worth in laughs and tasty hor d’oeuvres. Let’s see what they come back with next as they try to set a standard in Trinidadian theatre.

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