by Vedesh Nath
The National Theatre Arts Company chose Victor Questal’s “Two Choices” to kick-start their medley of celebrating local playwrights (which is long over-due) in their Spirit of a People series. The thrill of seeing this type of work on a local stage amidst a series of Trini farces and foreign musicals made me crave to be on stage once again.
Questal never disclosed what inspired him to write and produce this piece of work, so we are left to wonder. Perhaps it was to give the homeless and destitute a voice. Perhaps it was to expose the vulgar tricks of politicians as politics remains the underlying theme of the play. Perhaps it was to prove how idiotic it is to allow politics to divide races, thereby dividing us as a country and as a people. Perhaps it was to prove a direct link between the fat-pocketed politicians and the starving citizens who each desire, in their own ways, the essence of being human once again. Speculation aside, we thank him for this germane piece of work even though it was written and first performed in the 1980’s.
The play tells the familiar stories of six underprivileged street dwellers who struggle to survive and face their realities and we are reminded continuously throughout the play that in life, we are faced with choices and there are always consequences to whichever path we choose. Queenie (Syntyche Bishop) is the leader of the SSCC – a politicised group lodged on a pavement near Independence Square. Queenie has a loyal band of followers- mainly Pulba (Aryana Mohammed) and Pinkie (Shivonne Churche-Isaacs). While Queenie boasts of her aristocracy bestowed on her through her family name – Macdougal, it is clear that she still hasn’t fully accepted her circumstance as a street-dweller and hopes to one day get a better life for herself. She is faced with opposition from Van (Adam Pascall) who threatens to overthrow her and take control of the block wherein she already holds strong contention from Ramraj (Lalonde Ochoa) who portends to do the same. That being said, each cautiously finds ways to put their differences aside and finds ways to live with each other in the confined space. Their love for steelpan joins them together and is perhaps the only thing that makes them feel connected to the rest of Trinidad as they commit to participate in Panorama.
Role playing is a key facet that moves Questal’s masterpiece forward so we witness flashbacks and flash-forwards where we see the characters as they once were and the persons they aspired to be. These transitions are impeccably done by each actor with assistance from adequate lighting and sound effects. Queenie dreams of getting a loan and owning a small home of her own. Pinkie dreams the post-colonial dream of being rescued by a white man. Slowly, when Queenie faces the reality that she may never again get better for herself, we – the audience, are forced to accept the harsh idea that we too can become like them if we are not wary, and here, Queenie delivers one of the most resonant and emotional monologues in the play.
Syntyche Bishop convinces as Queenie, taking on the challenge of playing someone older admirably. She physically understood the challenges of Queenie therefore translates the façade of the character credibly. Although her start was not ideal, by the end of the near-two hour performance she claimed a commendable performance. At the end, Bishop loses herself in Queenie, giving us a heart-breaking finale where she accepts the fact that the world sees her as no one, and will forever see her as no one, allowing her two choices- end it all through the sin of suicide whereby escaping her reality or live the rest of her life as a displaced individual.
Adam Pascall thrills as “Van” and gives one of the more honest and heartfelt performances in the play. A solid actor, he moves with the action of the play seamlessly, making us laugh and cry when necessary. Aryana Mohammed as Pulba also gives a commendable performance as she is involved in every moment of the play and at times, the only one reacting appropriately.
Shivonne Churche-Isaacs is stuck between being a superstar and a reputable actor. Given the most comedic part in the play, she falls for the trick of playing for laughs rather than being involved in the action of play. Though she did make me laugh, her performance is one that can be forgotten a couple minutes after leaving the theatre.
Lalonde Ochoa never melds with “Ramraj”. Apart from what is said about the character by the other characters, we never get a sense that he is the leader of Queenie’s opposing party which he secretly vows to overthrow. Up until the Martinee, Ochoa’s action seemed to be the implementation of the commands of the director and the playwright with little evidence of his own creation. I hope the character would have resonated more with him by the final performance and he would have clearly understood and translated the character’s objectives.
The six actors who NTACTT chose to be part of their national company each showed great potential in their own ways. With continued hard-work and dedication, they can each give riveting performances in due course. They can surely become the next generation of thespians Trinbago needs.
Through a committed cast, a fantastically written-play, Belinda Barnes’ beautiful direction, Edwin Erminy’s simple and poignant set design and Greer Jones-Woodham’s appropriate and brilliant costume design, the NTAC has been navigated in the right direction this time around. Seeing foreign work is fine, but through this journey of celebrating the works by our own playwrights and exposing it to a new generation of theatre practitioners and audiences, it would give us all a better sense of what being Trinbagonian means.
Two Choices will run again on July 21st and 22nd at the National Library in Port of Spain as part of Culture Division’s Brown Bag Series.