THE POLISHED HOE adapted from the Austin Clarke novel by Colin Taylor and Alison Sealy-Smith, directed by Taylor (Obsidian/Frank Collymore Hall). At Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). To March 4. $10-$30. 416-973-4000. See Continuing, page 72. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Mary Mathilda, the central figure in Austin Clarke 's The Polished Hoe , is a figure in torment, a murderer who feels forced to justify her act to a witness who will understand.
In Obsidian Theatre 's adaptation of the novel, by director Colin Taylor and actor Alison Sealy-Smith , Mary reveals the murder early on; the full confession isn't immediately delivered. But what works on the page doesn't always work onstage, and it's only partway through the play that The Polished Hoe grips its audience.
Set on the imaginary Caribbean island of Bimshire in the well-to-do house where Mary's been kept as mistress by the plantation overseer, Mr. Bellfeels ( John Blackwood ), the piece has a genteel quality for its first hour, with Mary (Sealy-Smith) interviewed first by a deferential, comic constable ( Jamaal Grant ) and later his sergeant ( Tony Thompson ), who's known her since childhood.
The text, leisurely in pace, is matched by Taylor's direction. But as a result the story emerges too slowly until the final half-hour, when Mary talks specifically about her childhood. That's when we watch episodes involving her younger self ( Jajube Mandiela ), her mother ( Joanne Reece , who also plays the teasing Gertrude) and the savage Bellfeels.
The bulk of the tale rests on the shoulders of the sergeant and Mary. Thompson offers an imposing figure who keeps his power and his long-term interest in Mary in control as he attempts to save her reputation.
It's Sealy-Smith who anchors the production as Mary, obsessed with visions and voices from the past. Whether girlishly flirtatious, angry because she's been denied her dreams, recognizing bitter truths or finally unburdened of her secrets, the hypnotic Sealy-Smith brings deep passion and grace to this complex character.