Set in the rainy Parish of Portland, Jamaica in the early 1970’s, this comedic mystery focuses on two brothers in their late 60’s, Joshua Jenkins, the local tailor (John Phillips) and his brother Jerimiah Jenkins, the local grave digger and part time medicine man (David Smith) and their extended dysfunctional family as they all try to come to terms with their own daemons as the small village is faced with a rash of unexplained death. The Jenkins family are well respected residents of the small village of Ranch Hill, but when their alcoholic niece comes to visit, their status could change. During the rainy period of unexplainable deaths extended family members and friends take refuge at the Jenkins’ house which makes for a stark revelation of truth, lies and secrets.
"The play is written from a Jamaican perspective, despite the part-patois title of the play, WHEN DEATH COME RUN is aimed at a general English-speaking audience," says Yvette Martin. ByBlacks caught up with the playwright, to learn more about the new production.
1. Tell us about the title of the play, what does it mean exactly?
Writing this play, When Death Come Run, was a way for me to tell a story of challenges with mortality. During my life, but most recently, as I'm getting older, some of my friends, acquaintances and family members have endured life threatening illnesses, for some death. Observing the approach each person took made me ponder, question what would I do? My grandmother Doris, inspired the title, as she told my Aunt, who was afraid of dying, to run when death comes.
2. The play's main theme centers around death, but it is also a comedy. What inspired you to write a dark play with a comedic twist?
I'm twisted!! I like to provoke thoughts! Plus humour helps me to put you in another conscious level when dealing with darkness or despair.
3. Do you think there are any cultural misconceptions about how Jamaican people deal with and think about death and the afterlife? Does the play address any of that?
Well, it being cultural misconception is definitely debatable! From my perspective I've come to understand that traditional Jamaican belief is that it takes about 9 nights for your spirit to travel safely from this world to the next. Hence the "nine night" celebrations.
The characters in the play have different views on mortality, and struggle with how they face death and what takes place after death. Being Jamaican with a "new world" thinking, Joshua states he must be buried within 2 to 3 days, not no 3 to 6 weeks. He wants to meet his maker sooner rather than later, where as Jerimiah believes when you are dead, you are dead, gone, caput. There's no knowing, so what does it matter! You have a character who decides on avoiding "Death" itself. I really wanted to embrace how different we are when accepting the inevitable.
4. You wrote the script, you are directing the play as well as acting in it. What's it like wearing so many hats during production?
I've somehow created a balance. I've been doing this for long time and with arts being my passion, lends to the ease of multi-tasking!
5. You've said one of the main goals of your company Visible Me Productions is to provide a platform for Caribbean Canadian actors. What was it like for you trying to make it in the theatre world?
I'm one of the fortunate ones! I started at a young age taking teachings from all the identified experts. I received a scholarship for the National Arts School but forfeited because I was offered an 'Artist in Residence' at Young People's Theatre here in Toronto coupled with 'Director in Residence' with adri zhina mandiela's bcurrent. I had early success working in theatre, radio, commercials, television & film.
I've always had a passion for Caribbean Arts. In 1988, I was given the chance to play cantankerous Vera in Roy Plumber's Gi Mi Life and the rest is history. I went on to act in over 25 Caribbean themed plays performing locally and internationally. I've also worked on over 30 productions with notable Toronto Theatre Companies. Over the years my love for the arts extended to working in technical production. I've worked extensively with Canadian Caribbean companies locally and internationally.
6. Can you talk about some of the opportunities your company has created for Caribbean Canadian actors?
Through my company I created jobs for local Caribbean Canadian musicians and technicians through my concert series. My plan of action is to produce several small and large theatre productions showcasing emerging and professional actors, writers, directors, costume and set designers etc. I had two workshops this year where I I hired an international well known music engineer to mentor local technicians. My main goal is add to the promotion of Canadian Caribbean Artists through Theatre, Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Film and Television.
When Death Come Run is playing all this weekend from Friday May 4th until Monday May 7th at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.com.