‘Bar Girl of Jamaica’ opens at UWI, Mona

Cast of “Bar Girl of Jamaica” by Robert Johnson Jr. (from left Joel Miller, Lilieth Nelson, Micheal Forrest, Quera South and Desmond Dennis.
Photo by Giselle Bain

A staged reading of “Bar Girl of Jamaica,” a new play by Robert Johnson, Jr., opened on Sunday, June 19 at the Philip Sherlock Centre for Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI, Mona).

The presentation of “Bar Girl” builds on the groundbreaking Ten Weeks in Jamaica: Theater Conversations from Jamaica to the World produced by Akiba Abaka Arts in 2020.

Bar Girl of Jamaica, directed by Akiba Abaka, brings to the stage conversations about love, faith and politics happening in roadside bars across Jamaica.

This new story is told and performed by Quera South, Michael Forrest, Lilieth Nelson, and Desmond Dennis.

The reading is followed by a post-show discussion featuring Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah (UWI, Mona) and Denise Wedderburn (Treasure Beach Women’s Group), and moderated by Akiba Abaka.

The public presentation is the culmination of a developmental workshop and international artist residency that comprises the first stop in the Akiba Abaka Arts’ “Multiple Ports System”™, an integrative play development process.

“This time spent at UWI, Mona and the public reading allows the creative team to work through the play with local Jamaican actors, scholars, artists and residents in order to aid the authenticity of its literary development and inform a responsible world premiere production in Boston, Massachusetts,” Abaka said.

About the creative team

Robert Johnson Jr. (playwright): Attorney Johnson grew up in Boston’s South End, Roxbury and Mattapan and has been writing plays since high school.

His Coffee and Sour Cream, written while a student at Boston English High, was the first high school play produced at Harvard’s Loeb Experimental Theatre, in 1964.

Johnson’s play, Patience of Nantucket, under the direction of Akiba Abaka’s Up You Mighty Race Company, received excellent reviews on its premiere in Boston and Nantucket, Mass. in 2007.

The Boston Globe wrote: “[the] masterful ‘Patience’ is …power packed.”

The Boston Herald wrote “Johnson’s script makes Patience so real, and though 150 years have passed, he’s worked in striking contemporary political parallels.”

Akiba Abaka (director): Akiba Abaka is co-founder and co-artistic director of Akiba Abaka Arts.

A distinguished director, dramatist, producer, actor and arts educator, Abaka has more than 20 years of experience bringing theater to diverse communities throughout Greater Boston.

As founder and artistic director of the acclaimed former Up You Mighty Race Company, she produced professional performances and community engagement programs dedicated to the research, preservation and advancement of African American theatrical art forms.

Her service to the field also includes: Lead Theater Teaching Artist, Citi Performing Arts Center; Board Member, Boston Children’s Theatre; Member, Boston Children’s Chorus Innovation Team; Host Committee Co-chair, Theatre Communications Group National Conference; and Steering Committee Member, Berkshire Leadership Summit.

Abaka’s directing credits include: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry; Leading from the Affair by Walter Mosley; 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks; In the Continuum by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter; Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson; Patience of Nantucket by Robert Johnson Jr.; and The Emperor Jones by Eugene O’Neill.

Abaka is the recipient of the Boston NAACP Difference Maker Award, the Nathan Cummings Young Leaders of Color Fellowship from the Theatre Communications Group, the Independent Reviewers of New England Award for Best Director, and the John Andrew Ross Award for Distinguished Direction from Oscar Micheaux Repertory Company.

She is an associate producer at ArtsEmerson, the professional presenting and producing theatre at Emerson College.

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