In the veil of consistent and uproarious humour, playwright Melissa Escovalez shines the light on themes of sex, relationships, gender stereotypes and even domestic abuse. Watching DMAD Company‘s Shadows felt like watching friends I’ve known for years act out their lives on stage. The talk about their sex life, resulting jokes and jibes, the sometimes unwarranted and wholly unhelpful advice, the easy and entertaining back and forth that fired in all directions on stage- it all felt so recognizable and true to life. Despite the heavy thematic substance at the heart of the play, the laughter never stopped flowing thanks to the youthful and talented cast portraying such real and immediately relatable characters.
The woman at the heart of the play, Destini (Candice Scanterbury), served as its emotional center, dealing with domestic abuse, and self-perception. Scanterbury did well in her part as role model and quasi-mother figure for Destini’s workers/friends. Her scenes alone with her partner’s disembodied voice on the phone and the ones with just her and her aunt (Kezia Huggins – another strong and intense performance) were especially powerful. The dynamic between Destini and her aunt, the visible struggle she faced under her aunt’s overbearing presence was painful to watch particularly because of the effectiveness of the portrayals.
The ensemble of characters surrounding Destini that provided the many sub plots that explored modern day relationship dynamics, love, infidelity, also had the audience almost falling off their seats with laughter. Aisha (Latifya Edwards) was a loud and attention commanding presence on the stage, playing the role of cynical, sarcastic diva to perfection. Her squabbles with the male leads, Joel (Kyle Cox) and Pips (Thaddy Boom) was definitely a highlight of the play. Cox’s deadpan delivery was always on point and Boom’s presence was the right size of bombastic to compliment Cox and counterpoint Edwards. Pips and Joel were also utilized to provide some male perspective in the play. It was Pips who educated the women on what a “shadow” is (a term so appropriate and catchy, it has worked its way into my lexicon). Moniece (Amy Gordon), with her overly imaginative off-the-rails sexual daydreams about her “Tiger” and Shari Petti’s portrayal of the “tanty” named Brenda provided some very funny moments in the play as well.
There were some very interesting artistic decisions made in the course of the play. The use of interpretive dance to express Destini’s inner turmoil was surprising and effective. The dancer’s fluid movements, her expressive face and the excellent choreography proved to be a moving experience that silenced the otherwise loud and worked up audience. Another nice touch was having the rest of the cast act as the physical embodiment of Destini’s thoughts. Instead of voice over or monologue, the other actors donned all black and stockings over their face to become her shadows and bring what was in the darkness inside out into the light.
I particularly enjoyed the scene with Mo and Mike (Idrees Saleem), her lover. As she told her and Mike’s story to the rest of characters, they would freeze in tableau and she and mike would act it out. The rhythm of the other characters interrupting her to interject their opinions made the scene dynamic and allowed some comedic relief in an emotionally heavy scene. Gordon’s performance in this scene was especially praise worthy, her pain and turmoil sucking in the audience to her climactic confrontation.
Watching Shadows, I was reminded of one of theatre’s most unique aspects, the audience’s shifting role as observer and sometimes participator. Not long after the play started, I forgot I was at a play and felt like I was in D’s Hair World, waiting with other patrons, listening to the banter and bacchanal of the hairdressers and barbers. The audience got so wrapped up in it, that they responded to things the characters would say. When one character was asking another whether she was the fourth or fifth girlfriend, a lady sitting not far from me shouted out “yuh is the ninth!” and the rest of us erupted in laughter. I can only commend the cast for holding it together and keeping their paces in the face of the unexpected outbursts, but it truly felt like the audience had become another character in the play.
I was a bit worried that this play would have been an unfair declaration of “men are dogs”, but it was refreshing to find that Shadows was a more nuanced and balanced look at how men and women interact, how and why they court, what preconceptions and misconceptions they have developed of each other, and how damaging they can be. It shows the darkness that sometimes hides behind a perfect looking surface, and that such darkness always comes to light. The substance of the play felt relevant and timely. It felt like a play that young people should see and one that I know without a doubt they would enjoy.
DMAD Company’s Shadows- “What is in the darkness, must come to light” ran from 4th-5th June 2016 at UWI LRC