A View of “An Kwi Douvan Jou”: A play by Michael Fontenelle and Directed by Allan Weekes

A View of “An Kwi Douvan Jou”*: A play by Michael Fontenelle and Directed by Allan Weekes

by Nkrumah Lucien

*A Scream at dawn

Note: “An Kwi Douvan Jou” is a Production of Fimagine Theatre Arts Collective In Association with the Folk Research Centre.

 

“Go lovingly into that chaos, says the myth, and you will discover that nothing is ever simply chaotic; that inside what looks like chaos alone, there are broken bits and pieces of genius and creativity ignorant of each other, each trapped in its isolation. As long as the various pieces of creative genius remain apart, isolated, chaos has the right to reign supreme over them, rubbing souls in dross..” – The Eloquence of the Scribes by Ayi Kwei Armah

On Saturday night, the Folk research Center was again alive with the staging of “An Kwi Douvan Jou” a Michael Fontenelle play directed by Alan Weekes. Despite starting a bit late, the performance was quite impressive. The play was able to achieve a number of things. First it tackled an issue relevant to the psyche of many St. Lucians arising from a legacy of colonialism in which the myth of the inherent supremacy of European traditions was built up and sustained on the debasement and demonization of African and other Non-Christian and Non-European traditions. Over many generations, some have become so disconnected from the African aspect of their heritage that they see as options either unquestioning belief or uninformed or misinformed dismissal of that tradition. However not all persons relate in this way. Within the play, there are those who still remain suspended between the two traditions without actively engaging the contradictions toward a reconciliation; instead they manage the two compartments in a curious balancing act. The priest, representative of the European side of the tradition does not in any way seek reconciliation and arrogantly accepts the superiority and exclusive validity of his tradition while the Madou, who represents the surviving African side of the heritage seeks the perpetuation of a tradition under assault even while hers is already a syncretized form.

One aspect which is not examined as deeply within this play is the possibility of reconnecting with both traditions toward a more profound reconciliation although Madou does point to it where she reminds the priest of the anciency of her tradition; saying to the priest that her tradition is “older than you, older than the church”. This would be a useful extension of the discourse which need not be pursued in the play as having engaged the issue ones can pursue that on their own. The Christian tradition here in St. Lucia continues largely to be seen outside of its European Christian and non-Christian past and its earlier African and Asian origins and evolution.  Many remain disconnected from the ancients roots and meanings of the fragments of African tradition which remain. In this context of ignorance and arrogance, conflict and chaos abide.

The play also deserves praise for showing the potential of the Kwéyòl language and also of persons from all economic and educational strata to engage the significant issues which affect them. Through language which seems quite appropriate to the characters involved, the issues mentioned above are dealt with in adequate depth and in an engaging manner as well. There are some interesting idiomatic expressions which carry forward some significant point with necessary force.

Characters and Plot

The main plot of the play is centered around the impending death of Dennis Dakite who is seriously ill. The responses to his approaching death are varied. The play opens with Madou, the former lover of Dennis, a priestess and the mother of two of his children. She is keeping vigil for him, preparing the way for him to go to meet his ancestors; informing them that he is on his way. Younifa, his eldest daughter is pissed off at Madou’s ritual which she considers to be bagay gajé (things of the devil) based on her European education, religious or otherwise. Younifa can be seen as the most significant character in the play as she embodies in its most potent and charged form, the conflict of her society between two heritages. This forms the basis for viewing her relationships with all the other characters of the play.

Her husband Danndann, is not as convinced as she is of the superiority of the European tradition but seeks to accomodate both. He attempts to temper his wife’s strong hostility towards Madou’s vigil. At the same time he seeks to accomodate the priest by not openly challenging his myth of superiority.

Auguste, the brother of Younifa and husband of Titi, makes no pretense as does Danndann although he too does not openly challenge the priest. In fact he avoids interaction with him. His response in scene five to the praying of the priest at the house shows clearly how he feels about this tradition. Fontenelle is able through both Auguste and Danndann to present a well-reasoned challenge to Younifa’s intolerance. He points her to the fact that “Menm si twadisyon nou-an pa ékwi an liv…pa pou ou ba’y kout pyé”(Even if our tradition is not written in books you should not discard it). He reminds her that what she learned at university was also some people’s tradition which happens to be written. Later he finds reason to laugh at her; “Sa ou ni pou pè, ou ka chéwi”(what you need to fear, you cherish) pointing out that while she was riling over Madou’s ritual for which she did not have to pay, she had to pay upfront for the priest’s own. He seems indifferent to the priest’s but he is not shown to be particularly enthusiastic for either. In another development of his character he uses the Bible itself both to uphold sexist bias and to defend the infidelity of his father. He offers the Bible as a justification for his father having relating with more than woman at the same time. He further uses it to berate women. He offers reasoned challenge of Younifa’s assertion that her father was “tied” by madou pointing out that even if an older man gets with a younger woman(Madou was a school mate of Younifa) it does not mean that he was tied(or bewitched) by her; they may be kindred spirits.

Titi is connected in different way. Her dream is the means by which she engages the conflict but she does not seem to have the courage herself to face up with the dilemma placed in the dream between the two traditions. The dream presents, in symbolic and in some ways literal form, the intrusion of European dominance of Africans perhaps foremost through the opposition and debasement of their religious tradition. She seeks the help of Younifa and other characters to confront it. However, it would not be fair to count her as a weak or minor character as there are none in this play. Instead one can see different characters dealing with the dilemma in different ways and on different levels based on their own engagement based on their class, education and their integration into a society in a process of European conquest by way of domination of values and worldview. Titi’s engagement remains primarily on the level of the subconscious as perhaps much of her conflict is suppressed. This probably reflects her in ability to assert herself within her social relations as much as other characters.

Bobot, a physically handicapped male with a speech defect, is the loyal helper of Miss Madou. He plays the ti bwa while she sings to the ancestors as well as helping her to set up her various ritual items. He is as deeply committed and dedicated to the work of helping Madou as he is inept at playing the ti bwa and singing. He is not a minor character either. Bobot too has something to say about the issue. He has his bit to add about the discourse as well.

Madou, played by Magilta Hippolyte a newcomer to acting but effective nonetheless is the counter to the priest. She has no reservations or doubts about her tradition and is not troubled at all by the priest and his condemnation nor with Younifa and her antagonism. She has simply come to do her duty to the spirits and ex-lover and goes about her way unperturbed by them all. She is perhaps the most confident and self-assured character of the play, comfortable in her tradition without internal contradiction.

The priest, played by seasoned actor Joachim Clauzel, is a lot less confident character but arrogant in his tradition. While he is the representative of the tradition counter-opposed to that of Madou, he personally seems less grounded and contradictory. At various points in the play one can see how much his apparent confidence is anchored simply on the belief in the inherent superiority of his tradition. The writer however presents through a few interesting incidents how the guise of confidence falls apart.

All in all the acting was of a high standard and the script allowed for nuance in most roles. A lot more could have been achieved with the lighting in terms of accentuating the mood of various scenes but one can understand the constraints in terms of the set.

The mix of experienced and novice actors must have worked to complement both as the slips did not necessarily always come from the inexperienced actors nor did the strong points of acting necessarily come from the more experienced actors. Younifa on beginning workshop apparently was not an effective speaker of Kwéyòl. However one could not tell. In the coming performances, the director will have some work to do in fine tuning some actors and bringing greater balance in the acting.

Dancers

The dancers could have been stronger and smoother in their execution to carry the mood more convincingly in both the opening and closing scene. One dancer for reasons he alone knows chose to deviate a bit from costume in the last scene which took him out of time and character. They dancers sometimes got into each other’s way which of course interrupted the smoothness of the performance. The achievement of mood and texture generally in the play could have been done a lot more effectively perhaps with more resources in terms of set. lights, sound etc.

Music

The music was taken care of by Niger Nestor, playing both flute and guitar, blending in a range of tunes throughout the scenes including “No Woman no Cry”(Bob Marley), “Turn your lights down low”(Bob marley),  I am Sailing”(Rod Stewart), “Do it to me one more time”(Lionel Richie?), And closing with “Rasta Man Chant” (Bob marley) on guitar or flute. Madou and Bobot also had their own singing. among others:

“Lèspwi mwen ha vlé volé

ouvè ba mwen woy

Masa èspéwé anko

Ouvè ba mwen woy”

There are two very strong scenes in which the representatives of the two traditions face off which were both well executed. For some reason the end of the play appeared anti-climactic. I hope this is something the director looks into. It may be a combination of intensity of acting, atmosphere through lighting etc. I hope it is not the script.

This conflict of tradition has been addressed in other plays before this, such as

“The Light in the Dark”(Stanley French), “The Curse of Dauphin”(Travis Weekes). The former deals with the element of a nephew returning from university and being dismissive of his aunt’s worldview. She is presented as being paranoid and superstitious and her friend seeks to bridge the gap. The latter deals with a particular historical event where a priest supposedly curses a community of persons for ridiculing him. Both deal with the emotional and psychological effects of this conflict. “An Kwi Douvan jou” builds on the examination of the issue through this particular situation and at the same time presents a profound discourse, awakening the Kwéyòl language with nuanced characters and an engaging plot. I hope the house will be packed in the Saturdays to come and that this play will not be allowed to disappear into obscurity as are so many unpublished St. Lucian plays.


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~ by iandiyanola on March 25, 2012.

3 Responses to “A View of “An Kwi Douvan Jou”: A play by Michael Fontenelle and Directed by Allan Weekes”

  1. Give thanks for the review. VEry itneresting and progressive, glad to see Culture being kept alive in my fellow Caribbean territories.
    Bless
    RasCas

  2. Well done Krumah. I look forward to seeing this play soon.

  3. If not for possitive critism good work cannot be made better. well done Rastaman.Give thanks to Mikey, Mr.Weeks Fi Magine and all the contributers.

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