Celebrating Easton LeeSunday, April 11, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Veteran actress and broadcaster Fae Ellington donned the role of artistic director to remount the Passion play The Rope and the Cross which was broadcast on local TV station Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica ( PBCJ) during the recent Easter holiday weekend.
Ellington, who was part of the original cast when the production was first mounted more than 40 years ago, wanted to pay tribute to the playwright, the late Easton Lee, who died in January of this year.
“We just wanted to honour Easton... those of us who have known him for over 4,000 years,” Ellington quipped, during the interview with the Jamaica Observer.
“I was having a conversation with Donette Chin Loy Chang and remarked that in times past, we would have been in rehearsal for the production. She then said to me that we should do something, and that planted a seed in my head. Initially, she wanted to film the project for posterity but the $1 million-budget was a deterrent. The next best option was recording for television. Ellington made contact with head of the PBCJ Keith Campbell, who immediately offered his support for the project. She then called on her friends, Leonie Forbes, Grace McGhie Brown and Alwyn Scott, who were original castmates, and asked Glen Campbell and Damian Radcliffe to join in on her project. Which is a staged reading of excerpts from Lee's celebrated work.
“Due to COVID-19 there has been no theatre. So this is a real pivot on our part to allow for some theatre during these times. There is a level of closeness and togetherness in theatre which is not allowed at this time, so we came up with the idea of the staged reading. It was like a grand reunion for those who had done the play before, and the new members of the cast just fit in perfectly. I knew what I was getting from Leonie, Grace and Alwyn, and as for Glen and Damian... they just rose to the occasion,” she shared.
Ellington further noted that the success of the project was the result of the assistance she received from so many quarters.
“When mi draw fi the script it pale so till! I called on Ruth Ho Shing and she was able to retype it so I could make copies for the cast. Cecile Burrowes was just too happy to come and do make-up, and I can't leave out producer Carla Thomas Hewitt and my editor Nesburn Kidd. I must also thank Johanna Lewin, who granted permission for us to use the musical arrangements of her late mother Dr Olive Lewin, who founded the Jamaican Folk Singers.”
Lee was inspired to create the poem The Rope and the Cross, and later the play after overhearing a conversation between his mother and a woman he called Aunt Rose, who sold bammies on the piazza outside the family's shop in Siloah, St Elizabeth.
“They were talking of the joys and burdens of motherhood, and my mom said she knew how the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, must have felt to see him so brutally killed. Aunt Rose's response was, 'But all of us forget that Judas did have a mother, too,'” he told the Observer in an interview.
Lee said that remark would haunt him for decades, and he always wanted to do something about it. He toyed with the idea of writing a play on a possible meeting between Mary and the mother of Judas. However, years would pass and even after studies in California and years of acting on stage, the play still did not materialise, but the haunting statement by Aunt Rose would not go away, and continued to play over and over in his head. The Rope and the Cross, the play, finaly made it to the stage in 1979.
The Rope and The Cross tells the story of the Passion through the eyes of two Jamaican mothers who double as the two mothers of the Passion, and a possible meeting of these two women. Lee explained that the idea was to make it relevant to “Jamaica, Jamaican situations, and the problems of Jamaican motherhood”. As a result, he dedicated the work to his mother, the mother of his sons, all mothers of sons, and all who mother sons and daughters.
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