Last update: 05-Dec-2013 12:18 pm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Stanley Marshall, performer at large
Stanley isn’t such a common name these days. Most people who will encounter it will find it embossed into a widely used range of tools that are notable both for their ubiquity and reliability.
Somehow, I find that reassuring, because that’s exactly the way I think of Stanley Marshall who passed away on Saturday.
I think of Stanley, and I remember him most clearly and vividly from Beef, No Chicken, one of the last plays that Derek Walcott wrote as an ensemble work for the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) that he founded.
It’s worth noting here that most of Walcott’s early plays were crafted with his players in mind and the most notable characters in these works are best understood by a knowledge of the actors who created them for the stage.
The suave swagger of Don Juan was mightily influenced by the swarthy handsomeness of Nigel Scott, the earthy, stage-consuming gravitas of Errol Jones anchored Dream on Monkey Mountain and the rapid-fire wit of Wilbert Holder stoked the heat of Pantomime.
When I think of the TTW people who I met when I began doing work in the theatre in 1979, I think of Errol Jones, Albert La Veau, Wilbert Holder, Claude Reid and quite specifically, of Stanley Marshall.
Errol and Stanley were the only two veterans I met who were determined to see what I would make of myself in that world, dismissing people who referred to me as Dexter’s son, a reference intended to contextualise me into my father’s history with local theatre.
In Errol’s case, it was a quite specific act. He had been a friend of the family and had known me as a baby. For Stanley, though, I always got the sense that he was curious to see what everyone planned to do in the world.
What I proceeded to do was get involved in the young turks of the theatre world back then, new arrivals keen to break with tradition and carve their own space. So the workshop and its people became an other to me. An institution of elders to my young eyes and inexperienced mind.
But it quickly became clear, even to the most unruly and disrespectful of the new set, that these men could work.
Albert La Veau performing with Helen Camps in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Errol Jones and Wilbert Holder in Sizwe Bansi is Dead and finally, the revelation of Beef, No Chicken.
I’d been too young to see early productions of Dream on Monkey Mountain and too unsavvy to truly understand what was happening in The Joker of Seville and O’Babylon, but in “Beef,” I finally understood the power of the workshop as an ensemble and the remarkable synergy of Errol Jones and Stanley Marshall on the stage.
Stanley was very much a character actor, a man of such generosity while he worked that he could be a supportive foil to anyone, raising their work while supporting them effortlessly.
He was the guy that spins the star of the trapeze fast enough and far enough to do the triple twisting double, the soccer player who is always in place to move the ball to the finisher, the actor who makes everyone work harder and with more honesty.
His supporting roles continued offstage, working with the local drama association and into his private life, where he was a dedicated, considerate husband and father.
The last three times I saw Stanley he was walking with his wife at the Westmall Hi-Lo, and despite my regard for his acting skills, I’d like to think that the pleasure he took in greeting me was no show.
I’d always admired Stanley Marshall for his steady, unwavering commitment to his craft. If the TTW had been a band, Stanley would have been their bass player, the steady, reliable, always underplayed bedrock of that beat.
Now his work is done, as are Wilbert, Errol and Claude before him. The workshop is in new, younger hands, overseen by Albert La Veau.
As long as it lives and works, what these men invested in it will remain a vital part of local theatre.
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