Wesley Gibbingsreviews Antigua Girls' High School performance of the playThe Forgotten
Antigua Girls' High School (AGHS) ventured into the deep and dark when the school competed in the Caribbean Secondary Schools Drama Festival at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts on November 3.
Presenting Zahra Airall's The Forgotten, the cast of young players executed the difficult task of a surreal plot involving the parallel time-zones of a teenage suicide victim who returns to engage with mourners at her own funeral service.
Lishawn Wilson plays 16-year-old Jonee whose death unfolds as a suicide driven by the fact that she had been a victim of incestuous rape and had become pregnant. Letty, played by Jianna Minnott, Ursula (Queenela Williams) and Kyla (Haylee Edwards) are friends who pay respects to their late close acquaintance and schoolmate but also end up quibbling over the depth of their respective relationships with Jonee.
The dramatic tasks at first appeared way beyond the reach of the youthful cast. Things could have gone awfully wrong. When asked why the difficult assignment for her young charges, Airall told T&T Guardian: "I think as adults we have to stop underestimating what these young people can handle."
The play has few light moments, flows slowly and dolefully and could have easily sunk into a series of mawkishly sentimental speeches, except that the pace of the action is interrupted by dramatic outpourings of emotion by an intensely engaged cast.
Jonee's anguish is well captured by Wilson against the backdrop of a mournful refrain from soloist/ classmate, Onalie Lares. Lares' contribution to setting the tone of the tragedy was noted by the judges in their comments at the end of the play.
Adjudicator Dr Dani Lyndersay also described the play as "a very daring production" which resembled a "detective story" on account of the gradual unfolding of the circumstances leading to the death of the young girl.
The use of hooded "enigmas" as pall-bearers and as a ubiquitous spirit-world presence resonates well with the tone and texture of the script which betrays the playwright's background as both activist and performer. In some respects, the production flows at the pace and depth of Airall's The Looking Glass–a short story in which she declares that while the bodies of young victims of abuse "would not remain permanent, their memories would."
Stories of the macabre are clearly viewed by Airall as a primary vehicle for relating the horror and tragedy of young innocence lost. The Forgotten achieves such an objective through the delicate treatment of a young, competent cast.
Wilson said she has a background as a theatre arts student and a church play. "I was a lamp," she chuckles. In The Forgotten she is a corpse returned to life.
Minnott found some areas of the play "extremely difficult" including a well-choreographed fight scene with Williams who also confessed to have been playing a role completely out of her natural character as she is "someone who is always smiling."
In the end, the catharsis earned by Jonee as she engages her friends at her own memorial appears to have set her soul at peace as she declares: "I am ready."
First on stage on the occasion, Airall's unforgettable play and its execution by the young women of AGHS set the early tone for a festival full of delightful dramatic moments.