Fantastic ‘Bitter Cassava’

Nevertheless, I went to the Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook last Thursday night anyway to take in Bitter Cassava, an internationally- acclaimed play, written and directed by Dr Lester Efebo Wilkinson.

As the band comprising Marva Newton (guitar), Alisford Phillips (bass), Girma Daniel (flute) and Louis Mc Williams (drums) played its opening number, I was put in a mood of questionable expectations.

Then came the first scene with Sam William Blondell (Muhammad Muwakil), Pa Cefus (Darin Gibson) and the police (Gervon Abraham).

What struck me was how realistic the acting was. I immediately got rapt up into the opening sequence of the story.

By the time Justina (Tishanna Williams), Sam’s common-law wife came into the picture my emotions started running wild.

Compounding the situation was the Chorus Of Villagers who sided with Sam against Justina.

However, I couldn’t ignore the fantastic voices and dance movements of the chorus group in their opening song. It was amazing.

That chorus group featured Deon Baptiste (dance captain), Deborah Maitland (principal chantwell), Chantal Baptiste (chantwell), Cherysh La Touche, Shauntelle Jones, Karina Solomon, Dillon Thomas, Kelcee John, Britney Jones, Kerry Ann Julien, Nicole Carter, Amy Langaigne, Rayshawn Pierre, Triston Wallace, Dwayne White and Kerri Mc Neil.

As the story continued unfolding, with Sam, a young man in a common-law relationship with Justina, who has three children with him, meets and falls in love with another woman from the city, Betty-Lou (Ruby Parris) and decides that Justina has to leave his house. And so, he chases her from his home. This scene produced more gut-wrenching feelings inside of me, when Sam eventually marries the new woman and humiliates Justina in the process.

With feelings of hurt, disappointment and defeat, Justina commits suicide. My eyes became watery and I soon started wondering what was I doing at the play. However, before taking her life, Justina, the young mother of Sam’s three children, put a curse on Sam and his new household. The tragedy that follows his brutal betrayal of Justina, as told to the police by Pa Cefus, the narrator and “the oldest man in the village,” is full of pore-raising drama, excitement, relevant music and believe it or not, lots of humour.

Mostly responsible for that humour are supporting actresses Kimmy Stoute-Robinson and Tafar Lewis and supporting actors Kurtis Gross and Wendell Ettienne, Papa Iban (Kurtis Gross) while Mavis John makes a special appearance as Mother Lucy.

The singing, dancing, acting, music and engaging plot all the way through to its final tragic closing where Justina eventually gets her sweet revenge, made for a wonderful experience of Bitter Cassava.

It epitomised the saying: “Hell hath no fury like a woman wronged.” I was truly happy with my decision to go to what turned out to be a fantastic play.

Speaking with Newsday after the performance Wilkinson said the entire cast was hand-picked, as were the musicians. He wrote the play back in 1979 to highlight the social ills of society, however, he said: “It is no different today.

What amazes me is how little we have moved over the years. It is mind-boggling.” He added that some women still fear men, men still ill treat women, children are still ignored and generally the talk is the same.

In a message from Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, and patron of the production, she said Bitter Cassava speaks to the issue of the breakdown of the family unit and its role as the cornerstone of the community. As such, she stated that “this strengthens the need for the work of our Community Mediation Services Division as the Ministry works to resolve conflicts in communities inclusive of domestic issues and parenting and counselling services


"Fantastic ‘Bitter Cassava’"

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