Braata delivers extra Easter praise ‘God’s Way’

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Marsha-Ann Hay (Valerie), Mitzie Pratt (Samantha) and Jerry Benzwick (Deacon).
Joel Edwards

Once upon a time an abundance of Caribbean theater regularly visited the boroughs of New York City.

Throughout the 80s and 90s annual, reliable presentations provided authentic theater to diasporans with Barbados’ Ron Roach and Paul Webster, Trinidad & Tobago’s Sullivan Walker, St. Lucia’s Derek Walcott and others who provided a plethora of live theatrical offerings to fill the void left by Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

“Pappy,” “Monkeyshines & Pappyshow,” “Sea Rock Children Are Strong Children” “Boy Days,” “Caribbean Woman,” and so many others delighted audiences during dinner-theater presentations held predominantly in immigrant communities.

Later, Trevor Rhone, E. Wayne McDonald, Oliver Samuels, Herman Hall, Shebada and a smaller sampling offered selected weekend treats to Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens crowds.

After what seemed like a drought, in 2009, Caribbean audiences got Braata, a company of folksingers who sang and danced with familiar rhythm. Founded by Andrew Clarke, he executive produced, acted and sang to helm the diverse grouping which comprised Eastern Caribbean talents and his own Jamaican thespians.

Jamaicans interpret the patois title to mean ‘more’ or ‘extra.’

Unforgettable imports from the Caribbean region introduced Guyana’s “Demerara Gold” in 2017 and a one-woman showcase by Ingrid Griffith which endeared audiences in Manhattan.

Since then the company has evolved to incorporate community and educational outreach, theater, and during the Christmas holiday season imports veteran talents for a family-fun showcase at Grand Market settings.

In 2020, Clarke managed to fend off COVID-19 while fundraising by providing door-door delivery of Jamaican cuisine specially ordered to suit the palates of home-sick diasporans.

How the highest accolades from Jamaica has eluded this truly missionary leader and his band of pied pipers must rest with oversight and perhaps political priorities.

Clarke at least is deserving of every platitude.

He is ambassador, performer, spokesperson and dedicated patron of the arts.

So too are his associates who initially until now stands side by side to deliver the best from the region. The company has traveled far and wide to promote the region.

Jerry Benzwick (Deacon) and Marsha-Ann Hay (Valerie). Joel Edwards

The leadership of 86-year-old Jamaica Progressive League seems to recognize Braata and its contribution to unifying the diasporan community. Recently, Sadie Campbell, president of the oldest Caribbean organization in the USA, stopped into Manhattan’s eastside where Dahlia Wright’s “God’s Way” took over the culturally-provisional Theater at the 14th St. Y.

On a mission to support Braata and also spread the news of her Hopeful Village entity Campbell joined like-minded aficionados of Caribbean theater to enjoy the dramatic/comedy set in an upscale area in Jamaica’s capital city.

The storyline focusses on the shame and scandal that beset a pretentious yet prayerful family whose head of houseful must absent himself from the island in order to keep up appearances as a successful immigrant.

Spoiler alert – the title is a giveaway resolution of the plot.

Featuring Marsha-Ann Hay, (Valerie) Jerry Benzwick, (deacon) Mitzie Pratt (Samantha) and Epiphany Samuels (Georgia) the ensemble cast is directed by Guyanese Keenan Charles.

How the story unfolds is a must-see opportunity Clarke has enabled for diasporan families to engage particularly during this Easter season.

Coincidental to the pre-Palm Sunday weekend TV airing of movie “The 10 Commandments” direct quotes from the film’s Pharoah, Egyptians and quotations from Bible verses paralleled scripted patois of the hilarious but seriously provocative play.

Programmed gospel also integrated reggae-relevant music in between scenes and intermission for a joyful medium to chorus praise familiar to Caribbean audiences.

The Palm Sunday matinee audiences seemed spiritually moved by Wayne Marshall’s “Glory to God” “God Is Standing” by George Nooks and “Hear My Cry” from Marvia Providence.

Last year a virtual presentation offered sneak peek to Harris’ “God’s Way with limited performances.

However, this year, Easter week presentation will be live and slated from April 14 to 24 at Jamaica Performing Arts Center, 153-10 Jamaica Ave. in Queens.

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