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Pecong by Steven Carter– Off Broadway Theater Review

 

CLASSIC GREEK HEROINE GOES SEPIA

 

picture - PecongTheater Review

by William Gooch 

published March 28, 2010 

 

Pecong

now playing Off Broadway at the National Black Theatre  

through March 28 

 

There is nothing new under the sun, or so the proverb goes. Thus, taking Greek or Shakespearean classics and reworking them into contemporary works have been done time and time again, sometimes ad nauseum, and rarely to acclaim. Of course, there are successful exceptions; West Side Story immediately comes to mind. With some important editing, Pecong, Steven Carter’s Caribbean-influenced adaptation of Medea, could enter that pantheon of classic reworkings that source the original storyline but elevates the classic tale to a modern work that contemporary audiences find relevant.

 

In Pecong, Mediyah (Lorna Haughton) the granddaughter of Granny Roots (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney) falls in love with calypso crooner Jason Allcock (David Heron), bewitches him and is later spurned by Jason in favor of the light-skinned mute, Sweet Bella (Lily Robinson), daughter of class-conscious magistrate Creon Pandit (Karl O’Brian Williams). In Pecong’s construction, Carter closely follows Euripides’ Medea; however, by infusing Caribbean cultural references and patois, African ancestral worship and class and coloration divisions, Pecong also becomes a commentary on the African diaspora experience.

 

Most audiences know Phyllis Yvonne Stickney from her many film roles and stand-up routines. What some folks may not know is that Ms. Stickney has been a solid figure on the New York theatre scene for over two decades. As Granny Root, Stickney brings a measured tranquility and a tactile understanding of the cultural infusions that Steve Carter references in this work. We have seen Ms. Stickney effectuate a West Indian patois in some of her film roles, but as Granny Root, Ms. Stickney also brings authentic gesture and nuance to a role that could have been weighted down with caricatured sassiness and finger wagging. As the keeper of the secrets, Granny Root has a prescient knowledge that goes beyond emotion and is directly connected to the elements and the ancestors, and Ms. Stickney accurately portrays that wisdom.

 

picture - PecongDavid Heron brings his superior acting skills to the role of Mediyah’s lover and foil. While some in the cast get weighted down with the West Indian patois, Heron was able to clearly articulate the dialectical rhythms and patterns and not get lost in the singsong banter of Carter’s dialogue. Heron’s Jason is cocky, arrogant and has coloration issues, all of which result from his upbringing. Yes, at the same time, Heron is able to show Jason’s truthfulness and vulnerability in a way that makes his character likeable and relatable.

 

picture - Pecongpicture - PecongOf the three main characters in Pecong, Lorna Haughton as Mediyah is the least seasoned. Though she makes a valiant attempt to show Mediyah’s angst and pride, it never quite works. At times it seemed as though Haughton was forcing Mediyah’s feelings of superiority, instead of it being a robe that she wore naturally and proudly. And special note should go to Kim Weston-Moran (Faustina) and Joyce Sylvester (Persis) as the cackling, gossiping hens.

 

In Pecong, which is a verbal battle of hurled insults in rhymed verse, Steve Carter has accomplished what many playwrights find difficult to do: take a well-known, ancient story and make it fresh and culturally relevant. A worthy accomplishment indeed!!

 

williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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