Talking Trees Literary Fiesta – Keiran King’s Last Call

By Gwyneth Harold

Four young friends: a broken hearted woman with the voice of an angel; an ‘everyman’ plodding along in life; a confident stewardess with boundless ambition; and a charming man who uses women for pleasure.  They have not seen each other in ten years and choose to connect at the most prestigious lounge in Kingston, the bar at the Myrtle Bank Hotel. Their reunion is held under the watchful eyes of the veteran bartender, who sees in them the world passing him by. The first reading of debut playwright Keiran King’s Last Call will be at the Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta on Saturday, May 28 in Treasure Beach.

King says that he penned the production in 2010 while tending to his ailing grandfather, to whom he was very close.

“He was born in 1919 and the main motivation for this particular project, which is bringing to life the period when he was a young man,” King said.

“I picked the Myrtle Bank because of the almost mythical place that it occupies in the collective memory of our older Jamaicans. It was a very swanky place and it wasn’t the sort of place where, because of the prejudices of the day, everyone would be allowed. It had this air of sophistication and elegance and – although levelled by earthquake, burned down twice and rebuilt – was host to a number of important events over the decades. It has a hold over our collective memory and seemed like the perfect place to set the piece,” King says of the hotel that stood on Harbour Street in downtown Kingston for nearly a century and closed in the 1960s. The facade of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, now on a section of that site, is in tribute to the hotel’s design.

King and his grandfather shared a love for American film and stage music of the 1930s to 1950s, and Last Call will also share this sound.

He said, “This music, called American standards, is enduring as it is still being performed by musicians today. Half of the music in Last Call is from this collection and the other half is written by me, with orchestration by Karen Armstrong.”

King spoke passionately about the importance of seeing through all elements of the production to deliver a fine stage product to the audience, “We are paying attention to the details of the production. Our sets will have the artistic designs that you would expect to see in the architecture of the Myrtle Bank Hotel. Our actors will be outfitted in the fashion of the period: well cut suits and dresses.”

King entered the world of musicals at age ten when he was cast in a Father Ho Lung production. He grew up playing for the Ho Lung productions that opened to sold out audiences at the Little Theatre.

“It was a fantastic way to start,” he recalls. “It was a caring environment where the cast were like uncles and aunts who looked out for me every step of the way. I did that all through Campion [College] and while I was at UWI [The University of the West Indies] Mona appeared in Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) shows, including Pearlie. The person who directed all of the Ho Lung and JMTC productions that I was in was Alwyn Bully. I did theatre school in Ithaca – one of the best theatre schools with a Broadway sized stage – and even after studying abroad, Bully remains one of the best directors that I have worked with. It is sad to me that he is no longer in Jamaica working.”

The members of the cast of Last Call are: Maurice Bryan, Rishille Bellamy Pellicie, Aisha Davis, Shayne Powell and Andrew Lawrence. Production staff are: orchestration, Karen Armstrong; choreography, Paula Shaw; set design, Larry Watson; sound and lights, Nadia Roxburgh; assistant director, Michael Daley; costume and production, Scarlett Beharie. Curtains rise at the Phillip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona on July 29, 2011.

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