by Cathy Buffonge
A most interesting and unusual performance took place at the Cultural Centre recently, when Jamaican actor and comedian Stogie Kenyatta performed his one man show “The World is my Home: the Life and Times of Paul Robeson”.
Paul Robeson was born in the US in 1898, and grew up at a time when racial discrimination and denial of civil rights were the norm. Rising above these massive hurdles, he became a valedictorian at university, a football star, a lawyer, a singer, a stage actor, a movie star, and later on a civil rights activist and campaigner.
He believed that all men should be brothers and live in harmony. He travelled widely, to England, Russia, Africa, Australia, always upholding the message of equality and the brotherhood of man.
Stogie Kenyatta takes us through Robeson’s life and before. Starting with the past generations, Kenyatta opens the show by taking the part of Robeson’s grandfather, born into slavery and living in fear, followed by Robeson’s father, escaping slavery and later becoming a minister of religion.
For the rest of the show we see Robeson in the many different stages of his life: from a young boy witnessing the death of his mother, to a schoolboy, a valedictorian and champion footballer, a lawyer, his marriage to his wife Eslander, his involvement with jazz in Harlem, to becoming a famous bass singer, international stage and screen star, and later a civil and human rights activist.
Kenyatta’s many changes of clothing, hung up on the stage ready for a quick switch, are a feature of the show: from school pants to dinner jacket and black tie, to an African wrap, they are all there, so that there is hardly any gap between the different segments of this marathon show. Appropriate music is played throughout the show to illustrate the different stages of Robeson’s life.
Jamaican born Kenyatta, who grew up in the US, has been performing this show for many years, throughout the US and also in the Caribbean. The gifted performer is assisted by his wife Meechie and production assistant Zulma.
With very little funding, the UWI Open Campus here and the Alliouagana Festival of the Word Steering Committee made the arrangements for the show to come to Montserrat. Head of the Open Campus and Chair of the AFW Committee, Gracelyn Cassell, is very grateful to the actor and his team for including Montserrat on his tour of the Eastern Caribbean. She explains that, “Once Stogie convinced us that a potentially small audience would not bother him, we thought it necessary to make the sacrifices for this to happen. It was an opportunity that we could not afford to miss.”
This show gave us a glimpse into Robeson’s life and the issues that he grappled with, and a view of American history from slavery through the Harlem renaissance, the civil rights movement and beyond. Watching the show was a good experience.