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Anancy Struts into the 'Winners' Circle'

Anancy (Melissa Halliman) is surrounded by the Cat Clan

Anancy Chaptaz: Winners' Circle, written by Sabrena McDonald, is a fun fable with a golden message at its heart. The third play in the series At its heart is the lesson that people should not be judged according to their origins and that it is important to try to understand what others have gone through.

But more importantly, Winners' Circle is fun.

It is an engaging children’s production with enough meat for parents to enjoy. McDonald has created a delightful wit-infused script which is willing to poke fun at itself. The play is filled with several delightful moments, though occasionally the energy flags, which suggests that it needs more work on its pacing.

Lord Lion (Jared Johnson) lays down the rules of the Storyland gamesWinners' Circle, ably directed by the series creator Damion Radcliffe, is produced by the Independent Actor’s Movement (IAM). In this installment, Anancy (Melissa Halliman) wants to make it into the annual Storyland Games and schemes her way onto the underdog team of the games, the Mixed Clan. For several years the Mixed Clan has uncontested loses while the Cat Clan dominate. The Fur Clan and the Bird Clan vie for second and third place. A secondary strand in the plot involves Mad Moo (Tesfa Edwards) a solitary, gruff rolling calf who prowls Storyland at night.

A look at the animals in the different clans which includes Lion, Cheetah, Black Puss, Patoo, Humming Bird, Tiger, Grung Lizard, and Mongrel Dawg highlight that Storyland is in that mythical space of Jamaican folktales which rests in Africa and Jamaica. The producers have even further cemented our space as a part of the Americas by adding a Puma to the list of animals.  

Several of the characters are quite interesting, including the bullying Puma (Alanis Blake) and of course the rat duo Royal (Aaliyah Smith) and Big Head (Annakay Hudson).

One of the commendable elements of the production is how it engineers audience participation by provision placards with which they can cheer for their team during the games.
Mad Moo (Tesfa Edwards) strikes fear into the hearts of Royal (Aaliyah Smith) and Big Head (Annakay Hudson)
Winners' Circle benefits from good choreography by Paula Shaw and Christina Pinkey. The movement, an interesting fusion of folk and contemporary moves, as well as much animalistic movement added energy and texture to the production.

The costumes are colourful and occasionally inventive, even though costuming remains the production’s weakest element. The most successful costume is that of Mad Moo, which is achieved with remarkable simplicity. Yet, coupled with good lighting and a commendable physical performance by Edwards, it was convincing, and for the youngest members of the audience equally terrifying and fascinating.

The largely young cast performed reasonably well, and some of the older members are beginning to stretch their theatrical muscles. Edwards is perfectly cast in this role, though dropping his timbre would have been more in keeping with the role, and been even more effective in underscoring his terrifying, albeit misunderstood nature.

Winners' Circle allows for an intriguing re-interpretation of folk culture through Mad Moo - a Rolling Calf that has nothing to do with a dead butcher. Creating these interpretations, a taking liberty with the folk stories, is important if they are to remain a vibrant part of the cultural fabric.

In a similar vein, while Anancy retains the traits of laziness and being fast-talking trickster. However, under McDonald’s pen, it is not the famed spider who corrupts the system for his own gain. What is even more fascinating about this version of Anancy, is by giving him aspirations to being a DJ superstar, McDonald traces a tenuous link between the fast-talking spiderman and the man of words. Even so, the Anancy character presented in these stories yearns to be more definitive. As yet, the Chaptaz had not created any traits that are able to transcend the different stories.

Yet at the end of the Day, Winners' Circle is an entertaining bit of children’s theatre that is itself a winner. The production is currently playing at the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre, June 1, 2 and 4, 2013.