By Christopher Tobutt
Put on by the Cayman National Cultural Foundation at the Harquail Theatre, Moon on A Rainbow Shawl is a play about dreams of hope which might come true, but which you secretly know never will. The play which was written by Errol John in the 1950,s and is set in Port of Spain, Trinidad, about a time when Trinidad (along with many other places of the English-speaking Caribbean) where discovering their own value in their cultural identity, as something separate from the identity of the ‘mother country.’ This seems to be a theme that runs through the whole play, as each of the characters struggle to define who they are, against a backdrop of being told what their place is. They are tormented by dreams which exist outside their world, whilst trying to reconcile them with the boxes which they have already chosen to live in, and which limit them. The young have their dreams but are held back by bonds of loyalty not only to other people, but to hidden rules. The older ones too, dream, but their dreams are tempered by the reality of the struggles and heartbreak they have already been through. We know that a CNCF play directed and designed by Henry Muttoo is going to be good, but the acting and subtle nuances, tensions and ambiguities of the script were expertly interpreted by all the actors throughout.
The play opens at night as Ephraim (played by Fritz McPherson), a young man who just returning from his work as a trolleybus, walks into a yard between two run-down looking homes. He starts chatting with Esther (played by Lili Anne Aleria) a bright and studious girl who is looking after her baby brother. Both Esther and Ephraim are full of dreams, as well as full of the fear that those dreams may never come true. Esther has won a scholarship to high school, but is already worrying about clouds on the horizon which she feels may ruin it for her, before it has even begun. Ephraim is dreaming too, and he tells her that if he had her opportunity, he would have done something wonderful with his life. But when she asks him, “What?” he says that he doesn’t know. He wants something that is somewhere else, and has saved up for a ticket to England, but he doesn’t know what he will do when he gets there.
One of his heroes is Charlie (played by Ken Figueira) who is a much older man, an ex-cricketer whose dreams of playing professionally were dashed, many years before, because of institutional racism’s glass ceiling in the world of professional cricket. Yet he isn’t angry at this, so much as being angry with himself:. “I didn’t know my place,” he says, as if to suggest that his ambition had brought him into conflict with the establishment, and that he would have been better off not expressing it. Charlie is first seen in the yard drunk, and as the play unfolds we find that he has robbed the Café which is owned by the rich landlord, Old Mac (played by Leroy Holness). Above all, Ephraim doesn’t want to end up like Charlie, a man full of broken dreams and ‘what ifs.’
Sophie (played by Marcia Muttoo) is Charlie’s wife, and is the self-appointed matriarch of the yard. She too longs for something better; something respectable, but there is a sense of resignation in all her protestations against Mavis (Giselle Webb) a prostitute who uses the yard for business. Rosa (played by Swan Raudales) is a young woman and Ephraim’s girlfriend, is ambitious for Ephraim but within the limits of him becoming a trolleybus inspector. Sophia tells her that it is time to tell Ephraim that she is pregnant, but when she tells him he doesn’t want to know. He has his heart set on a new life away from Trinidad. There’s a sense of sadness in the play; yet there is warmth and a humble dignity, too. You know that not all the dreams will come true, but somewhere along the line one or two just might.