JAMAICA MAN written and performed by John Blackwood (Theatre Passe Muraille/Obsidian). Runs in rep to November 20. See Continuing for details. Rating: NNN
Now that winter's on its way, how about a quick trip to Jamaica? John Blackwood manages an hour-long tour in Jamaica Man , a semi-autobiographical play in which he convincingly shows us both his Anglo and his island roots. As the laid-back guy who acts as narrator, Blackwood's first character eases us into a series of tales and figures from Jamaica, with helpings of island history and music. Even though the narrator's clearly a flim-flam man, he's seductive enough to win us over. Part of the Stage 3 series at Theatre Passe Muraille , the show's a remount of a SummerWorks piece from 2003.
Blackwood is skilled in dialects and in creating warmly drawn characters, becoming, among others, a granny who values her mincemeat pies, a factory manager, a rich planter and a higgler, a woman who sells fruit in the marketplace. The dozen or so figures here are nicely drawn and give us a sense of the rich culture of the island's blacks and whites. As Blackwood tells it, people are defined by social status and culture rather than colour.
There are poetic moments, too, such as the description of arriving in Kingston harbour and the 1692 earthquake that seemed to bring a judgment to the "wicked" city of Port Royal.
There are bits about the maroons, or runaway slaves, who hid from the white settlers; Jamaica's economic problems since the days of slavery; and a history of the real Captain Morgan yes, the man on the rum bottle.
It's a pleasant enough show, in part because of Blackwood's charm as a performer.
Since he plans a longer version of the show in the future, he must realize that a number of these episodes are too short to do more than tantalize the audience.