PHILIPSBURG – Theatre-lovers flocking to the opening night of Albina Matuzko’s production of Behind the Beyond (now playing at the National Institute of Arts Black Box Theatre, John Larmonie Center, Longwall Road) hadn’t really counted on getting a “twofer” when they sat down, ready to see the show unfold.
For the uninitiated, a “twofer” is simply a term of phrase, not literary, nor grammatical, and certainly not of theatrical root. It merely stands for the rewarding act of giving or receiving - two for the price of one.
It turns out that our theatre-goers, unbeknownst to them were not only holding tickets for the premiere of the much heralded “fake” send-up of a Stephen Leacock classic, Behind the Beyond, but also to a Reggae party that, quite unfortunately, was also taking place next door – effectively and annoyingly disturbing the latter part of the show.
The director had promised “Something completely different” for the St. Maarten Theatre scene – and had the eager crowd of well-wishers, family and friends arrived just half an hour earlier to hear a borrowed backup generator purring noisily on a pre-premiere run, they would probably have been more on their guard.
It’s not as if they weren’t warned. NIA co-director, Clara Reyes, a doyen of St. Maarten Culture and dance, made it clear that the venue itself, aptly termed the “Black Box Theatre” exists only because of the dire need to have a performance space that is affordable and multi-functional to identify, capture and nurture the abundance of untapped talent with exists within the local community and has done for many, many years. Intimate in its setting, most charming with its clip-on lighting and curtained backdrop, the audience is assured that this work in progress is close to the heart of those who conceptualized it and continue to hope that one day they will be housed in their own purpose-built state-of-the-art facility.
And Director Matuzko said as much when she too addressed the audience on opening night to introduce her cast of players and the support teams (and families) behind them. She pointed to the tiered seating that had to be literally air-lifted in to provide suitable seating for our theatre-lovers. She also noted limitations of space and time on rehearsal schedules due to the great demand of use by all types of groups and organizations – oh and yes, she could not fail to mention the stream of reggae music coming from outside, threatening to drown out the performance, spoiling it for audience and cast alike. Needless to say, “twofer” was not the choice of words streaming through the Ukranian-born director’s mind, while delivering her introductory dialogue.
In what can be described as no less than brilliant, Ms. Matuzko has managed to incorporate all the shortcomings of local theatre into her first production on the island in subtle, but deeply profound ways. It is no accident that the rise and fall of curtains at the start, during and at the end of the show is symbolized by crudely constructed roller blinds that would be more befitting of your kitchen window than as a prop in a major production. But the audience got it, understood the sentiment and genuinely appreciated the gesture.
In fact, this play is all about the audience getting it and being involved. It begins with some of the lucky play-goers receiving their own hand-made opera glasses so that they could be part of the show. It also begins with the cast of players entering the stage as members of the visiting audience, even taking up places within the audience for the opening “Audition” scene.
The story begins to unfold with the appearance of two actors on stage, who we soon learn are girl and boy narrators (Meredith Boekhoudt and Ray-Angel Simon) who are going to manipulate, pour scorn on and generally upstage our enthusiastic, but amateur troupe who have passed the auditions and are now into playing their roles.
The narrators masterfully take the audience on a journey through three acts (one with intermission) against a backdrop of props that are authentic in appearance and professionally executed to mimic the 1910 period in which the play is set.
Act I introduces the characters to the audience, starting with the appearance of Parliamentarian, Sir. John Trevor, played by veteran journalist, Joe Dominique. The director promised something different, and so it was when this character entered the stage, laces and flies undone and belt unstrapped. The audience was not to know whether this was part of the act or not, however the actor delivered his lines relentlessly and unperturbed. If it was not part of the act, it’s something a wardrobe department or stage hand would have caught, but sadly such is a luxury in the Black Box Theatre – and so the show went on with this actor, literally caught with this pants still on – just.
Act I is driven by the two lovers in the play, Lady Cicely ( lovingly captured by Eveline Henriquez- Dijkhoffz) and Jack Harding (teasingly played by talented teenage actor, Sjeord Scott). The antics of the pair (look out for Lady Cicely’s death scene dive) was well received by the audience well into the scene and continued into ACT II where the pace of the drama picks up and distraught mother, Mrs. Margaret Harding, (played by Carla van Dam) makes her entry stage left.
Adding to the pace, and providing a few of the silliest and funniest moments, is the introduction of the French Maid (played with effortless ease by another talented teenager, Zack Phipps). The audience warmed to this character, even with an obvious slur against French Maids which, in the political correctness of present society (read recent spat between French side and Dutch side over ownership of the Oyster Bay Marina area), may do well to exclude from future performances.
According to the narrators, by the time Mrs. Harding comes into the picture the play is just about “puffing itself out” with a “deep sense of Melancholy” with only the setting of “atmosphere” to consider, however ACT III is much more than that, since it reveals the true intent of the dynamics of the unfolding drama all along.
Behind the Beyond is not rip-roaringly funny. Neither do I believe it is meant to be. It has taken a slice of life in Victorian England as seen through the eyes of Canadian humorist, Stephen Leacock, and transposed the emotions and sentiments that are contained within us all, irrespective of time and place, into a modern day St. Maarten, bent on keeping in step with globalization – replete with video games, mobile phones and electronic devices.
The production plays tribute to workers, like the three stage hands, played mostly in the dark (remember the back-up generator at the start?) by the director’s husband Cor Sikkes, Nascha Kagie and Werner van de Zilver. These are workers you’re sure to find in all walks of life right here on the island. They work very hard behind the scenes to ensure that those upon whom the spotlight shines are provided with all the support they need – even though sometimes their own yearning for attention and recognition can no longer be contained.
The nostalgia of the period was not missed by the audience, mostly adult in nature, but also quite unexpectedly by children in the audience who obviously would be puzzled by much of the ado on stage and yet were thoroughly amused and entertained.
It is however a shame that, at least on opening night, the theatre lovers attracted to see the “something different” that director Matuzko offered, consisted mainly of persons already familiar with this type of production and also of the time and era. Here was and still is, a wonderful opportunity for more St. Maarten residents, unaccustomed to this type of theatre, to take a peek – see and experience for themselves the something different and completely magical thing that has been around for centuries. It’s called –Theatre.
What is there to lose? With a “Twofer” ticket, anyone who finds the show boring or not to their taste can always leave at the Intermission………..and follow the sound of the Reggae music next door.
Go see Behind the Beyond. I promise you will have a good time.
Behind the Beyond is playing at the (Black Box Theatre) John Larmonie Center, Longwall Road, Phillipsburg, St. Maarten on the following dates:
February 24th February 25th (Sold Out)
March 10th March 11th
All performances begin at 8:00 pm Sharp. For reservations: 543-0600