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David Heron remounts J'can classic

Observer senior writer

Sunday, April 07, 2019

The Rope And The Cross, Easton Lee's Jamaicanised version about the relationship between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot, is being remounted to mark its 40th anniversary. Directed by David Heron, it takes place April 21 at The New Vibe Lounge in Long Island, New York.

Heron, known for plays such as Against His Will and Ecstasy, told the Jamaica Observer that he approached Lee about staging the play as its latest landmark approached. The 88-year-old playwright agreed and they collaborated on the project, which has a couple of notable changes from the original.

“The one major change I've made, which both Easton and I are hugely excited about, is that the roles of Pontius Pilate and Herod are being played by women — actresses Marsha Ann Hay and Joanna Pickering, respectively,” he said. “I just felt that the role and status of women has changed so much since the biblical era and since the play was first done 40 years ago, that it would be interesting to see these strong, powerful women determining the fate of this man,” Heron added. “It really does bring a different and very modern dynamic to the story that I think audiences will find interesting and a bit controversial.”

Heron's first association with The Rope And The Cross came during his final year at The University of the West Indies. At the time, he was doing a project on actress Leonie Forbes, who was appearing in its latest production.

“She invited me to see the final dress rehearsal at St Andrew Parish Church and, even though it was only a rehearsal, it was an electric and unforgettable experience. As an aspiring actor I remember hoping that I'd have a chance to be in the show one day,” Heron recalled.

He got his chance several years later. Heron appeared in Jambiz International's production of The Rope And The Cross as High Priest Caiphas, alongside Munair Zacca as Annas and Alwyn Scott as Jesus.

Recently, Heron saw the original script and was determined not only to revive it, but expand his involvement as director.

“The exciting observation I made when I picked the script up again months ago was how timeless it is. Easton Lee wrote and first produced it four decades ago, and the play tells a story that is set thousands of years ago but is as relevant today as it ever was,” he said. “Its themes of oppression, government corruption, tyranny, autocracy and the quest for equality and freedom resonate now perhaps more than ever.”

One of Jamaica's respected theatre and literary figures, Lee first staged The Rope And The Cross in Siloah, St Elizabeth. It featured theatre stalwarts including Forbes, who played Miss Birdie, Rooney Chambers as Jesus, Gary Harvey as Judas, and Marguerite Newland as Miss Vie, with narration by Bari Johnson.

Nixon Cesar plays Jesus and Emilio Evans has the role of Judas in Heron's production. The cast is completed by Lincoln Brown, Kevin Elden, Fleurette Harris, Fulton Hodges, Hector Lincoln, Candice McKoy, Fitgi Saint-Louis and Osondu Thambo.