At OSF, Ashland's New Theatre, Mustapha Matura's "Playboy
of the West Indies" is an adaptation of "Playboy of the Western World,"
set in a rum shop in Mayaro, Trinidad in 1950. Original music with a calypso
beat by Dwight Andrews sets the mood, as the actors filter in one or two at
a time, to interact with the audience and each other. The Rum Shop is a place
to drink, socialize, and have fun. The fighting needs to be taken outside. Mikey's
the owner, but he refuses to let the business run his life, so he samples the
wares, while daughter Peggy runs the business. She wants a man who will stand
up for her, but her father wants her to marry Stanley, a confirmed coward, but
someone who will one day amount to someone. He already has a fleet of three
fishing boats. Peggy shudders at the idea.
One evening, Kenneth stumbles in. He's disheveled and scared.
He says he killed his father with a cutlass, raised it up and split his skull
like a ripe mango. Everybody's impressed, especially Peggy. She's never heard
a name as high sounding as Kenneth before. She offers him a job and a bed, sleeping
on the rice sacks. Word spreads quickly, and Mama Benin pounds on the door,
offering, pleading to save Peggy from herself, and have Ken sleep at her house,
before Peggy sends her away. Alice and Ivy show up in the morning with oysters
and fish for Ken.
"Playboy of the West Indies" is a lot of fun, but there's an undercurrent of the social strife of the history of blacks in the area. Alice and Ivy drink a toast to the slaves of Hispanola who rose up against the French. They mention the time, which Mikey and his buddies remember, before blacks were allowed to marry. By inference, Ken didn't have much to worry about from the police for killing his father, another black man.
After all the girls leave Ken is left alone with Mama Benin.
He bribes her to get Peggy for him. Stanley has already bribed her to get rid
of Ken. Like the rest of the girls and women of the village, she wants him,
but business comes first. Ken starts to leave, but runs back in and hides behind
the door as Mac stumbles in. He's Ken's father, and shows Mama Benin the gash
from the cutlass in the top of his head. She says Ken has gone to another village,
and to take the bus to go there.
At the Discovery Day competition, they're all cheering Ken
when Mac returns. He recognizes his son and can't understand why anyone would
want him. He was lazy, wouldn't work in the cane fields, and ran from the girls.
After he wins, they confront each other in the Rum Shop. Peggy's aghast when
she learns that Ken hasn't really killed his father..what else has he lied about.
Nobody's more amazed than Ken, though. Mac wants to fight, but Ken doesn't.
Finally everyone goads them, and Ken picks up the cutlass and they go outside
and he finishes the job.
Ken sits brooding in the Rum Shop. He's lost everything. The guys and Peggy come in to take him out and lynch him. Stanley's scared to put the rope around him, so he gives it to Peggy. They capture Ken and drag him out to hang him, when Mac stumbles back in. Father and son are united in mutual respect for each other and their vilification for all the cowards and hypocrites of the village of Mayaro.
Kevin Kenerly and Maya Thomas sizzle as Ken and Peggy. This is passionate love from the first time they set eyes on each other, and it builds in intensity until it's shattered by Mac. Peggy is broken at the end as she realizes she had everything she wanted in life and let it go. Josiah Phillips' Mikey is a big, lovable buffoon who never appears sober. Andrea Frye's Mama Benin plays one against the other, all for her own advantage. G. Valmont Thomas' Mac lends an air of farce to the whole thing, as he just will not die, no matter how many times you split his head open, but he certainly does show the effects. Kenny Leon directs this wildly entertaining, but thought provoking production of "Playboy of the West Indies" playing at OSF, Ashland's New Theatre through November 3.