Power defines Bitter Cassava, from the music to dancing to the singing to the performances delivered by every actor on stage. The play tells the story of Samuel William Blondell (Muhammad Muwakil), the village ram, who throws his common-law wife Justina (Tishanna Williams) and their three children out of the house when he decides to marry Betty-Lou (Ruby Parris), and the repercussions that follow. Power is also part of the story, the power of revenge and a broken heart, and karma, the notion that what goes around comes around. As the narrator, Pa Cefus (Darin Gibson) says “When yuh plant a bitter cassava garden, all while it growing, it lush and green like any good cassava crop, but in the fullness of the time, papa, is a bitter harvest to reap.”
The play is written and directed by Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson, who directed the play when it was first staged in 1979. The play has since been produced several more times under different directors. Wilkinson said he was excited to be bringing the play back again and he was grateful for the cast and crew. The actors were grateful for the process which led to the development of their characters.
Wilkinson said he knows the play will have a great impact on those who watch it, and he is amazed at the continuing relevance of the play in today’s society. “It speaks to the cost of brutality within the family and the way that that brutality spreads itself throughout the society and makes for an uncaring, unfeeling society and makes for communities that simply do not know how to look after their own.”
Many cast members also agreed that the play will have a great impact on the audience. Williams, who credits the play with her decision to become involved in theatre, said “the situation is something that is so relevant to us, unfortunately the smallest child to the oldest adult knows on some level what this is, and what this looks like, and therefore it is something that is translatable. We’re at a time in our history where the conversation with respect to a lot of issues that Bitter Cassava deals with is now a global social media conversation.”
Muwakil, who played the same character eight years ago, said this time, the play feels more real. “Audiences will be shocked, they’re going to cry, people are going to hate me if I do my job correctly. There’s depth because you have to create back-stories and understand where these characters coming from, so it’s not just this one-note badman character, he’s come to where he’s come to by a process. It’s been interesting finding the motivations for things and that’s helped me understand abusive people more and how abusers become abusers, etc.”
Parris said she blames Blondell’s character for provoking the entire situation. “Women in today’s society often pit against each other when a man horning them or a man leaves them for somebody else. They always go after the outside woman, nobody attacks the man, and normally it’s the man who’s to blame. Sam has a common-law wife and three children with her. How could you leave your family and go with somebody else? I think it has to do with men thinking that the higher the colour or social background the woman is, the more they will move up in society and the social hierarchy. I hope men watching the play see themselves in Sam and see a change that they need to make within themselves, because it’s a series of bad choices being repeated.”
Gibson said he hopes the audience goes away with a new perspective. “To me, people don’t think too much about the spiritual effects of things, and part of what the person goes through is a spiritual or psychological blow and it comes back around.”
Kurtis Gross, who plays Papa Iban, said the play is a “drastic, dread, dark story, but it reflects actually what’s happening in society in our country, sad to say. It tells you about the frustration that we face, it tells you about what we’re going through, how we deal with pressure, things like that, so as much as the story is dark, it’s real.”
The play incorporates elements of T&T folklore, such as douens, and a spiritual element that is part of Trinidad folk culture, typical of Wilkinson’s plays. There are also elements of comedy, mostly between Pa Cefus and the policeman, played by Gervon Abraham.
Bitter Cassava runs from June 9 to 26 at the Little Carib Theatre. Showtimes are 8 pm and 6 pm on Sundays. Tickets are $150, with a $200 special gala performance on June 11 in aid of the Coalition against Domestic Violence. For more information call 622- 4644 or find the BV Theatre Project on Facebook.