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Thursday 15 November 2018
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Salazar triumphs as ‘Miss Miles’

The first question to ask after seeing Cecilia Salazar’s “tour de force” as Miss Miles in the play of that name is how many more performances will be demanded by a public that has taken this extraordinary one-woman performance to heart, for the Little Carib was as packed for the advertised last night of the show on Sunday, November 7 as one imagines it was for the first night two weeks previously.

One wondered, too, how many of the older members of the audience remember both the gas station scandal, the hounding of Gene Miles for blowing the whistle and giving evidence at the Commission of Enquiry, and the Caura Dam affair that may have been responsible for the early death of her father.

Although the programme notes claim that “this drama is really fiction” yet, because “it draws on research based on conversations … the actual final document of the Commission of Enquiry into the gas station racket” and Fr Anthony de Verteuil’s biography of Gene Miles, plus a social and political analysis of Our National Heroine by Nyahuyma Obika – as well as newspaper articles commenting on the racket, it resonated well with the audience, especially when they were able to identify with some references to recent scandals (the word “heart” raised a laugh).

Cecilia Salazar gave the performance of a lifetime as Gene Miles, from birth and baptism (complete with an Irish accent for the priest baptising her) and with the emphasis on religion in her family, through a child playing pat-a-cake in primary school, to the teenager adoring Reverend Mother in St Joseph’s Convent, going to confession and never missing Mass – or ‘mas in Carnival time. After leaving school and a stint teaching, she entered the Civil (now Public) Service like her adored father.

Brought up to tell the truth, at first idolising those who led this nation to Independence and intoxicated by the mere idea of freedom, she was headed for trouble as she climbed the ranks of that same Civil Service.

Each stage of Gene Miles’ life brought a lightning change of costume – and wigs – from baby clothes to school uniforms to business suits … with only one necessitating changing behind a screen.

Salazar carried the audience with her from birth through school, to well dressed young woman as she hinted at what went on between an attractive assistant and a Minister – who dropped her like a hot brick when her conscience troubled her and she volunteered to give evidence to the Commission of Enquiry.

Gene Miles was pilloried in her lifetime, deliberately hounded to death, driven half mad. Salazar conveyed the emotions of the character, her love for her father, her hero worship of the leader, joy at Independence celebrations – and disillusion. She knew what was right – and what was expected of her, yet she elected to stay true to her upbringing no matter what and suffered the consequences.

There was but one lacunae in the performance, when Salazar donned a mask with mannered “puppet on a string” movements for the torment endured towards the end – which seemed both contrived and unnecessary for an audience that, on the whole knew the story of the brave woman who determined to tell the truth come what may.

The set was simple, but effective – a sofa doing double duty for a car interior, an office chair for the office itself, a lectern for political speeches at elections and for the witness box in the court of enquiry. Lighting made use of images projected on a curtain to create atmosphere and illustrate the text.

Apart from the “puppet” interlude, the evening held one spellbound whether one was old enough to remember the scandals of the past or not. Cecilia Salazar seems bound to win yet another Caicique award for her stellar performance – and one must tip one’s hat, too, to Tony Hall, the author, and not forget the costume designer. Our thanks for an intelligent, amusing tragic-comedy (with the accent on tragedy), a serious local drama that is all too rare in what passes for theatre in TT today.

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