Friday, May 4, 2012

An Estranged Woman

I feel partly obligated to write about the Lord Street Production, Miss Miles. There is a recurring observation: the need for more review of creative work in Trinidad and Tobago. Even if the only person who says it is dancer/choreographer Dave Williams, he’s said it enough times that it has attained critical mass in my mind. I can agree critique is critical to the arts.

Having said that, I got to the final night of the second run about twenty minutes late, the scene was of a young Miss Miles; it’s a one-hander, practicing her Catholicism. Her repeated, exaggerated rituals of the church disturb. Her story is testimony to belief in Christ or religion promising no salvation in this life, particularly given that her fate is already known to most of the audience.  She went from toast of the town to being taunted. She returns from the afterlife to tell the story.

In this scene the audience is also introduced to her parents. They interact with her responding to them in a way that lets you know what they said or asked. This “dialogue” gives a sense of the rigid principles inculcated in the young woman who would go on to be a whistle blower, to her demise, as her father was in both regards.

I was, albeit slightly, hesitant about seeing the play. I was unsure about how it would portray the People's National Movement. The legacy of the party is inextricably linked to the story of this country's progress and development as relative or subjective as that is seen. This is acknowledged but overshadowed or underplayed in the production and rightly so as it is believed her career and life were sabotaged by the party, or part thereof or in part.

She was romantically linked to the legendary Mr. O'Halloran, the same one of Rudder's Panama, his scandals some say in the tens of thousands.  To this day Johnny O remains a reference to the corrupt history or some would say element of the party.

Miss Miles takes great pains to inform the viewer that the P.N.M. was founded on principles of integrity and a vow to end corruption in public office. She did this in wondering how she could be possibly vilified by this very party, to the audience given her life long adherence to ethics, path of virtue and the party’s ethos.

What it may have failed to do was give insight into why this conscientious, dedicated public servant was the one left unprotected, all things considered. In this sense it reinforces a political view that either reflected a lack of research, a preference for the salacious or a subconscious bias, benefit of the doubt given. This is not to question the veracity of what can be seen as a legend akin to the likes of Marilyn Munroe.

Did Miss Miles betray Mr. O’Halloran using pillow talk to bring him down? Was she unfaithful to him? More than once? There are moments when the very proper, respecter of no persons, as she refers to herself,  writhes and wines on the stage floor giving a glimpse of her inner jamette.  Was her demise really orchestrated or the burden of her conscience?

The play gets more merit for its theatrical devices than it does for its script which failed to provide new information or insight that would have added dimension to already well known characters.

It’s in some sense an adaptation of Anthony De Verteuil's The Story of Gene Smile and the Gas Station Racket but augmented and stylized effectively with an original sensibility and miles of appeal.

Some have said the play was too long, a common criticism when the Producer is the Writer and in this case, too, the Director. Some have described it as a “tour de force” for the very experienced multiple Cacique Award winning actor/actress, Cecilia Salazar.

If you, like me, are tickled by a convent girl accent, Miss Miles does not disappoint.

If you want to know the story, I humbly suggest you catch it if it’s ever mounted at a theater near you.


  1. I truly appreciate that you have taken the time to do this.

    While I agree that there could have been more 'new' content injected into the production, I've the impression that for the uninitiated to the story of Jean Miles- her fierce anti-corruption stance, her subsequent demise and maybe to a lesser extent her complexity as a (rare) woman in the 1950's/60's (at once ex-convent-girl, Jacquie Kennedy-fashionista involved with an inner-circle PNM govt official)- it is quite adequate and useful as an introduction or overview.

    Also, I accept that it might not have been the writer/producer/director's intention to provide a critical representation of the heroine, as she has come to be posthumously glorified. Though, as you've highlighted, there is clearly room for such an undertaking in the future.

    As for her being "left unprotected", I think that is perhaps one of the most critical (pun intended) points to be made in any discourse on Jean Miles. And it must turn our attention to the nature of our society then and now: what role did the rest of the society (beyond the govt of the day) play in her alienation and are there parallels in the recent past or even today?

    For me, this story, more than anything else, speaks to the condition of our collective soul.

    Otherwise, I agree with the view that it was a bit too long, particularly the scenes portraying Miss Miles in the womb and the one of her restless ghost.

    1. I guess to be fair the womb scene which i missed and the restless ghost would represent some of the "new". Thanks for your comment too! For a proper review I think you need to see a production more than once perhaps for details and too for perspective. Having a background in theater might also help. Just saying.