Thespians seem to cultivate their gift of expression by affecting the emotions of an audience large or small using comedy, drama to elicit tears and laughter within a brief period.
Some are able to elicit those feelings without props or encumbrances. Delving into the imaginations of captives, they often transport patrons to places remote, adventurous, decadent and romantic.
Solo acts are far more captivating, particularly steering minds to familiar locations.
Trinidad & Tobago immigrant Sullivan Walker wowed Caribbean theater lovers in the 80s in Brooklyn with his reminiscences of “Boy Days.”
His one-man journey from Laventille to New York remains a tribute to the legacy he left when he died Feb. 2012.
Transporting audiences to cemeteries, shops and other alluring locations throughout the twin island, Walker’s journey continues to recall the enduring presence of the talented thespian.
Similarly, Debra Ehrhardt’s one-woman interpretation of “Jamaica Farewell” provided a nostalgic retrospect about the turbulent years of transition from colonial rule to independence. That was the 70s when Jamaica’s Michael Manley, the fourth prime minister introduced a political alternative to a nation unfamiliar with Democratic Socialism.
Her adventure was vivid, graphic, eliciting belly-aching laughter, tear-jerking interludes and abounding empathy — often within minutes. Recounting personal reflections of an 11-year period when she dreamt of leaving her birth-island to arrive in America, the actress envisioned a very different existence from the one she lived in the capital city of Kingston.
Ironically, that dream began when she was seven-years-old, yearning to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse at DisneyWorld and was ultimately realized when she landed at a Miami, Florida airport, making it past US customs with a duffel-bag filled with contraband cash.
“If you can dream it you can do it” Ehrhardt said.
In this millennium when English-speaking Caribbean nations have come of age making it to the half-century mark, immigrants continue to tell their stories.
Familiar to many of these reflective biographies is the love and passion of the motherland. That regardless of the strife and struggles those places shaped the individuals who arrived fully-loaded with optimism.
“Demerara Gold” squarely embraces the simplicity, freedom and unique aspects of growing up in a region sometimes referred to Caribbean, sometimes Latin America and always Third World country. The one-woman spectacular will return for a one-night outing at the Black Spectrum Theater in Queens on April 1.
Once known as Demerara (because of a river that runs through it) later British Guiana and now Guyana, a bedrock for yellow, gold, actress Ingrid Griffith takes liberties to address issues of womanhood, abuse, paternalism and culture.
Engaging innocence, glee, excitement, angst, pride, hope, carnival under a banner of tri-color nationalism that blazed independence when the country embarked on self-rule from Britain in 1966, Griffith gets high marks for speaking truth to justice.
She provides history, geography and mathematics to emote life lessons that transcend generations.
Through a one-woman journey from a seven-year-old youth to adolescence and teenage transition, Griffith takes audiences from the rural community she was born to the big city of Queens, New York when she is reunited with her immigrant parents.
She uses the voices of 18 individuals clearly nuanced by individuals she is intimately acquainted.
That it is staged in Women’s History Month, the delightful showcase integrates her parents, grandparents, sibling, relatives, and friends with characters that come to life as role models that shaped her youth.
In a recurring dream, it is a woman emerging from the sea that haunts her sleep.
And through a scene depicting her grandmother’s loyalty when her husband abandons the family without a hint of reason — returning with a large stash of gold to appeal to the matriarch’s feminine resilience weighs more than 14 carats.
At times the patois is poignant, particularly in prayer when little Ingrid appeals to a higher authority reciting “gentle Jesus meek and mild…”
Growing into womanhood, Ingrid the child blossoms becoming adorable, huggable, rude and the transparent youngster whose mother left a band of gold as a promissory note to return and swoop her to America.
The only impediment is an elusive US visa.
To every immigrant’s tale it is the visa that is the center of hopes and dreams and often the basis of much struggle.
Hilarious and often reminiscent of experiences relatable to many Caribbean national there are some dark moments that resonate with reality and balance.
Ingrid blooms as a teenager and after arriving in America she is able to understand the ramifications of her father’s casual rum shop stops, his mood swings and her mother’s total devotion to him when she was a mere child.
Stress on this mainland amplifies the naivete a child might ignore on homeland turf. But with added novelties, pop radio blaring “Shaft,” the Sugarhill Gang, and the “I Love New York” theme song, a hip Yankee schoolmate, dalliance with sex, Seventh Day Adventists and a full-blown alcoholic father, a battered mother and all the amenities of a foreign land, the lively, carefree, Caribbean upbringing morphs into an eye-opening nightmare.
Griffith’s talent cannot be overstated.
From face, fingers to feet she successfully captures images absent from the set.
At times, video projections and music enhance an 80-minute non-stop bio-drama that tackles domestic violence, ambition, family values, migrant concerns, and adjustment to a new society.
“Demerara” is the sugary, sweet nostalgia that should travel through the boroughs.
“Gold” is the brilliant mettle (sic) that decorates the jewel in her crown.
Together, they bring platinum patent to BRAATA’s treasure trove of annual presentations.
Griffith’s singular appearance merits many more outings and far-reaching audiences deprived of the limited engagements some were privileged to enjoy recently at the New Perspective Theatre.
It is productions such as “Demerara Gold” that Viv Robinson must have appreciated when she perceived an Audelco Awards in 1973 to honor excellence in Black theater.
Hip-hip, hooray Griffith struck gold and it shines with excellence, charm and brilliance.