The warm, mischievous smile and smooth crooning voice of David Bereaux delighted an appreciative audience last Friday on the opening night of Talk Tent, held at Queen’s Hall in Port-of-Spain for three nights only. Acting as singing MC, Bereaux wonderfully stitched the show into a seamless evening of clean comedy, storytelling and social commentary.
Eight lead performers (nine, including Bereaux) entertained a largely older audience with a variety of tales and songs, ranging from the jokes and word-play of Felix Edinborough as Pierrot Grenade to the beautiful, calming solace of Brian Carimbocas and Denise Smith who sang inspirational religious songs as well as some Andre Tanker music.
Paul Keens-Douglas dedicated the show to the memory of Hal Greaves, a community activist who worked tirelessly to help at-risk youth in “hotspot” areas like Laventille. Greaves died in October 2016. He had led Project Reason (which gave classes in literacy, life skills and civics) for youth, and was an actor who performed in plays and Talk Tent as well as at orphanages. “He gave us many thoughtful, glorious moments of happiness, and we miss him so,” said Keens-Douglas.
Performer Avion Crooks, the first act, played the part of a lively, gossipy street vendor. In her performance, she hawked balls of many kinds: tamarind, bene, sesame, chocolate, coconut, sweet balls and even sour balls. She drew laughter with her word-play and her raucous market vendor observations, speaking in proud Trini (rather than English) language, commenting archly on the habits of various street personalities.
Spoken word artiste Kleon McPherson from Tobago proved very entertaining, bringing a knowing, contemporary edge to the night’s “ole talk,” as he half-swaggered, half stumbled on stage with a rum bottle, acting the part of a drunken man at this year’s Carnival, in danger of being arrested by police. “De rum shop...could bun down...We jamming still...” he uttered to laughter, at the start of his first talk piece. His spoken word pieces were sardonic and sometimes witty, commenting on T&T foibles and flaws, including his own. From people’s hypocrisy and self-created problems to the agonies of tortured spandex worn by some very large women, his pieces provoked both thought and laughter.
Farida Chapman performed two very serious, passionate pieces about domestic violence (Rise Up, Woman) and AIDS, which left the audience silent in contemplation before they applauded her loudly, while Miguel Browne tempered the sombre, reflective mood in Chapman’s wake with some upbeat folktales and proverbs related to modern situations, to show the wisdom which we can still draw from our heritage.
Veteran storyteller, writer, performer and show producer Paul Keens-Douglas told a folk tale recalling Grenada and the Bishop Revolution, called Fedon’s Flute, which reminded people about the ancestral spirit of rebellion which can still be heard if you listen for it. His second piece poked fun and gave some very serious sociocultural criticism of the inordinately huge role of sponsors in shaping T&T culture today— “The sponsor is the most popular man in town”—too many times, he says, the culture seems to be led by sponsors’ warped values—though it is only a passive population which allows this to happen. He closed with a humorous favourite: the story of Tanti and De Renovation, in which he lampoons the agonies caused by amateur, conman builders.
Short Pants was the final performer of the night, reciting his calypsoes like poems or rhythmic stories. He recited Games (about an Olympic T&T gymnastic travesty), The Finger (about the need for prostate exams), and Ah Pushin (about passing on his calypso tradition to his children). His poised, well-timed delivery, clear articulation and effective use of body motions combined to give a memorable performance.
An antidote to all the noise and fury of Carnival controversy, this gentle, folksy show helped soothe spirits with its nostalgia, homespun lessons from folklore, spiritual songs, and comforting yet critical and entertaining stories.