Tobago drama to shine in New York City

Belle Fanto is enjoying ongoing popularity in Tobago at the Drama Guild House.
Belle Fanto is enjoying ongoing popularity in Tobago at the Drama Guild House.

As he walks onto the stage, I feel as if I am witnessing one of Louise Kimme’s tall, elegant, black-painted male statues come to life.

With hands clasped behind his back, body leaning forward slightly and dark face fixed in a pleasant expression, all this moving ‘statue’ (actor, Teneriffe Mapp) is missing is top hat and coat tails.

I am with three friends at TDG House (Tobago Drama Guild House) – an intimate, 60-seat theatre space in Lowlands. My friends and I, comfortably settled in the front row, are close enough to the stage to feel a part of the action unfolding before us … courtship and marriage … transfer of family land … parental involvement in marriages … the use of Obeah to get one’s way … the village ram … pregnancy … deception …

The production is Belle Fanto, a romantic tragi-comedy written in 1967 by the late Eric Roach, a posthumously awarded Tobagonian. Presented over the decades in Trinidad, Tobago and the Diaspora, the play is one of Roach’s iconic works.

The small audience sits, enraptured. So natural is the acting, so poetic the dialogue and so compelling the plot, that it doesn’t take long for us to forget we are in a theatre.

Our emotions rise and fall, flitting from intrigue … to laughter … to the delightful expectations of romantic reciprocity … to the sinking feeling of unrequited love … to the subtle undercurrent of tension which accompanies that “Oh no! What happens next?” sensation.

The standing ovation at the end of the 90-minute play is no surprise. My friends and I, and no doubt other audience members, leave fulfilled, eager to tell others about this “must see”. That evening was experienced in late 2014. Since then, the TDG’s version of Belle Fanto, directed by THABITI, has been presented to the Tobago public on eight occasions.

The cast of 17, made up of members ranging in age from eight to 68, includes main actors Teneriffe Mapp, Sheena Nelson, Dernelle Smith, Andell Franklyn, Samantha Sylvan, Cherryll Birchwood W Thabiti & THABITI.

Tobago Drama Guild, which unites with the energy of a family, was founded in 1999 by THABITI and Birchwood Wheeler Thabiti – the proverbial father and mother of those who come under their theatrical wings.  The guild boasts a membership of more than 30, inclusive of primary and secondary school students and teachers and certified theatre arts practitioners.

If you have not had the privilege of experiencing Belle Fanto, you can do so when the guild presents the play for the ninth time on Saturday, May 16, at the Guild House, 14 Birchwood Triangle, Lowlands, Tobago.

This final performance is a fund-raiser preceding the guild’s New York tour (June 13-19) during which the group will perform Belle Fanto for the New York public at various theatres. Funds raised at the pre-tour show will cover the expenses of the primary and secondary school members of the Belle Fanto team.

Birchwood Wheeler Thabiti says of these youngest cast members: “It’s the first time they will be going on tour. It is great exposure for them – an opportunity for cultural exchange, growth and development of the young Tobagonian.”

Other fund-raising initiatives include the sale of Tobago Drama Guild bags and T-shirts, as well as the offer of the group to perform at hotels and other business establishments.

For fund-raising merchandise, information and / or tickets ($150TT each) for the final performance, please call 868-729-2235, 868-639-7391 or 868-721-6870.

By Columnist, the Trinidad Guardian