The Theatre VCU production of “Playboy of the West Indies,” which was directed by Theatre VCU’s head of performance, Marvin Sims, was played for the last time on Feb. 23 to a packed audience.
Mustapha Matura’s West Indian adaptation of J.M. Synge’s Irish “Playboy of the Western World” offers a flavorful and comedic look into a town turned backwards by the arrival of a captivating and mysterious young fellow.
Set in the sun-drenched climate of Mayaro, Trinidad, the play commences with the late evening arrival of Ken into the town’s rum shop, owned by the feisty and headstrong Peggy. Almost instantly, Ken charms his way into Peggy’s heart, giving her an exaggerated account of how he killed his overbearing father. Before long, the town gets wind of the handsome young stranger and his gruesome feat.
Eccentric and humorous characters emerge as Ken’s persona arouses the amorous adoration of women like Mama Benin, and the suspicion and envy of the men, like Stanley, Peggy’s suitor. Ken quickly gains the reputation of a playboy. Ken’s attachment to Peggy, along with his playboy status, present him with dubious loyalties of the townspeople, until his presumed dead father unexpectedly turns up searching for him. Peggy must then decide whether her love for Ken can withstand the falsehood that he embodies.
A dynamic and talented cast, vividly designed sets and Marvin Sims’ adept direction make this performance a pleasant success. Some actors, however, offered more convincing portrayals than others. Letitia James’ interpretation of Mama Benin as the outwardly lascivious older woman magnified her stage presence throughout the play. Moquisia Brown, along with Corey Spruill, offered the most comic relief with their hilarious portrayals of smitten school-girl, Alice and raving drunkard, Jim.
Jeannie Giannone thrived in her role as the fiery Peggy. One of the more impressive performances came from first year theatre performance major, Anna Sosa, whose portrayal of the infatuated, young Ivy triggered laughter and compassion from the audience. Undoubtedly, the best act of the evening belonged to the show-stealing leading man, Thomas “T.J” Simmons who very captivatingly became his character, Ken, in the performance.
A few problems were evident in the production. The actors’ Caribbean accents lapsed into American inflections as the play progressed. Another problem was that the actors’ too often emphasized vernacular like “dat” (that), drawing attention to their feigned accents. Additionally, the chemistry between Peggy and Ken was unconvincing.
Kenneth McKether, Theo Ellis and Wesley Du also appeared in the play. Delivering the entire play in a West Indian dialect, the gifted cast enlivened Matura’s “Playboy of the West Indies,” creating an enjoyable and entertaining production.