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HomeNewsArchives'JANKOMBUM': A PLAY TO SEE, ISSUES TO DISCUSS

'JANKOMBUM': A PLAY TO SEE, ISSUES TO DISCUSS

When Eddie Donoghue's new musical drama, "Jankombum," has its world premiere this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts, it may open a can of worms, or it may spark constructive dialogue. At any rate, its subject matter is almost certain to have an impact reaching beyond the last row of seats in the theater's covered section, the only portion being utilized for the performances.
The play has many elements of a good soap opera — nothing new in the realm of Caribbean theater. Life, love, jealousy and betrayal are "universal concepts," Donoghue has been saying throughout the weeks of promoting the production. There's romance and intrigue under de taman' tree.
Throw in an hero of the underdogs — in this case, the slave population of the Danish West Indies in the early 1700s — who is fomenting an uprising, and you've got an adventure story.
Mix in an intellectual examination of the social, economic and ethnic differences within the forcibly intermingled Africans of diverse tribal societies, and add plots and power struggles within the leading church denominations in the colony, and the play becomes political.
Incorporate elements of African mythology and the work takes on spiritual significance.
Finally, intersperse 15 songs, chants and hymns, along with choreographed dancing and drumming, and you've got a musical.
All of which, we are told, "Jankombum" is. Plus, Donoghue says, it has a lot of humor.
The production, although it is taking place on the University of the Virgin Islands campus at the time of Humanities Festival 2000, is not a part of the UVI festival. The second and third nights of performance overlap with the first two of the Little Theater production of "Play Mas," which is a part of the fest.
The playwright says he created the work in the last year. While the play is set in the 1740s, Donoghue has telescoped time a bit to suit his needs. The title character, an educated free black of the Amina warrior people, is loosely based on a composite of leaders who played integral roles in the 1759 slave revolt on St. Croix. Jankombum (played by Mark Phillips, in his second dramatic role — "The first was in elementary school") derives his name in part from Jankommaajoo, in Amina lore the wife of the god Borriborri. The white society disdainfully calls him "Jim Cock."
Other main characters are Sister Rebecca (Josephine Lindqvist), a free mulatto teacher and staunch member of the Moravian Chruch; Freundlich, the Moravian missionary twice Rebecca's age who marries her; Mr. and Mrs. Carstens, a planter and his wife who are pillars of the Moravian Church but conspirators as well; Mama Luna, a former slave who runs an illegal bar and house of prostitution; and Advokat Brakte (Hans Eisler), a renowned Danish prosecutor. The cast of about 30 includes 10 slave children.
The story hinges on the marriage of Rebecca and the missionary and is based on an actual 1730s case — one of only two interracial marriages on record in the Danish West Indies as of that time, according to Donoghue. The Lutheran Church (the "state" church of the colony) and the Dutch Reformed Church took the couple to court and not only put the marriage asunder but sent Freundlich to a penal colony and Rebecca back into slavery.
This stance contrasted curiously with the code noir of France and the policy of Spain from as early as of the 16th Century of "encouraging interracial and intercultural marriage — including between planters and their concubines" in the New World colonies, Donoghue notes.
Secondary themes include talk of insurrection in the slave ranks and of abolition in the churches, efforts by planters to use alcohol and the opiate of religion to maintain control over their slaves, the early courting of Rebecca by Jamkombum, and the resentment among his followers that he should be attracted to a light-skinned woman.
Donoghue spent years in the employ of various senators and administrations in V.I. government until his unceremonious removal as Education Department public relations director by Gov. Roy Schneider. Meantime, over those years, he made his mark in the community as a keeper of the flame, acting in plays and in a film biography of Gov. Peter Von Scholten, producing documentaries for public television, and writing historical narratives and contemporary research articles for local newspapers on the lives of African-Caribbean people in the islands.
Not many may be aware that Donoghue, a native of Montserrat and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has also been a choreographer, a fashion designer and, yes, previously, a playwright. His first play, premiered in 1965, was "A Flap on Broken Wings," a drama about the struggles of immigrants in England. He wrote another called "Destination on Hate Street" And during his years studying in Sweden, where he earned a doctorate in sociology, he gained fame as a Caribbean dancer.
The play is the most ambitious production to date by the St. John-based Carabana Ensemble Theater Company. The work is being directed by Carabana artistic director Clarence Cuthbertson, himself a playwright who has had work produced Off-Broadway and elsewhere. Lee Vanterpool, an alumnus of George Balanchine's New York City Ballet, is the choreographer, and Robert Leonard is the musical director. As Cuthbertson — who worked with Donoghue 15 years ago on a UVI production of "Stages" — noted, "There are not that many musicals that are written by Caribbeans in a Caribbean setting."
The musical elements include an 8-minute prelude of chanting in a multiplicity of African tongues, five ballads, three cariso songs, two traditional Moravian hymns, a couple of "operette" renditions, a rallying song (We Are Chosen to Be Leaders) and an uptempo song set to drumming. The hymns are from The Moravian Hymn Book; two of the carisos are based on material from 18th and 19th Century authorities; for everything else, the lyrics are by Donoghue.
Although the play is predominantly in English, it contains phrases in Danish, Dutch Creole, Mokko, Ibo, Mandingo, Karabari, Akkim, Jalunkan, Kanga, Gien, Akkaran, Tembu, Sokko, Congo and Fula. Preparatory material for the production includes definitions for certain "key words." Among them: advokat (Danish for prosecuting attorney), bomba (a slave who supervised other slaves in the fields, but also the name of a popular drink in the 1730s), fribrev (a certificate of freedom that freed slaves had to carry), and kill-devil, uncured rum so potent that it could kill the drinker.
Curtain time is 8 p.m. each night. Tickets are $25, with all seating in the covered section of the theater. Ticket outlets are Modern Music in Havensight, Crystal & Gifts Galore, Parrot Fish, Drafting Shaft in Sub Base, the UVI Bookstore and the Reichhold box office on St. Thomas; and at Connections on St. John. Part of the opening-night proceeds will benefit the V.I. Montserrat Association to assist with ongoing hurricane recovery projects and local charitable initiatives.

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When Eddie Donoghue's new musical drama, "Jankombum," has its world premiere this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts, it may open a can of worms, or it may spark constructive dialogue. At any rate, its subject matter is almost certain to have an impact reaching beyond the last row of seats in the theater's covered section, the only portion being utilized for the performances.
The play has many elements of a good soap opera -- nothing new in the realm of Caribbean theater. Life, love, jealousy and betrayal are "universal concepts," Donoghue has been saying throughout the weeks of promoting the production. There's romance and intrigue under de taman' tree.
Throw in an hero of the underdogs -- in this case, the slave population of the Danish West Indies in the early 1700s -- who is fomenting an uprising, and you've got an adventure story.
Mix in an intellectual examination of the social, economic and ethnic differences within the forcibly intermingled Africans of diverse tribal societies, and add plots and power struggles within the leading church denominations in the colony, and the play becomes political.
Incorporate elements of African mythology and the work takes on spiritual significance.
Finally, intersperse 15 songs, chants and hymns, along with choreographed dancing and drumming, and you've got a musical.
All of which, we are told, "Jankombum" is. Plus, Donoghue says, it has a lot of humor.
The production, although it is taking place on the University of the Virgin Islands campus at the time of Humanities Festival 2000, is not a part of the UVI festival. The second and third nights of performance overlap with the first two of the Little Theater production of "Play Mas," which is a part of the fest.
The playwright says he created the work in the last year. While the play is set in the 1740s, Donoghue has telescoped time a bit to suit his needs. The title character, an educated free black of the Amina warrior people, is loosely based on a composite of leaders who played integral roles in the 1759 slave revolt on St. Croix. Jankombum (played by Mark Phillips, in his second dramatic role -- "The first was in elementary school") derives his name in part from Jankommaajoo, in Amina lore the wife of the god Borriborri. The white society disdainfully calls him "Jim Cock."
Other main characters are Sister Rebecca (Josephine Lindqvist), a free mulatto teacher and staunch member of the Moravian Chruch; Freundlich, the Moravian missionary twice Rebecca's age who marries her; Mr. and Mrs. Carstens, a planter and his wife who are pillars of the Moravian Church but conspirators as well; Mama Luna, a former slave who runs an illegal bar and house of prostitution; and Advokat Brakte (Hans Eisler), a renowned Danish prosecutor. The cast of about 30 includes 10 slave children.
The story hinges on the marriage of Rebecca and the missionary and is based on an actual 1730s case -- one of only two interracial marriages on record in the Danish West Indies as of that time, according to Donoghue. The Lutheran Church (the "state" church of the colony) and the Dutch Reformed Church took the couple to court and not only put the marriage asunder but sent Freundlich to a penal colony and Rebecca back into slavery.
This stance contrasted curiously with the code noir of France and the policy of Spain from as early as of the 16th Century of "encouraging interracial and intercultural marriage -- including between planters and their concubines" in the New World colonies, Donoghue notes.
Secondary themes include talk of insurrection in the slave ranks and of abolition in the churches, efforts by planters to use alcohol and the opiate of religion to maintain control over their slaves, the early courting of Rebecca by Jamkombum, and the resentment among his followers that he should be attracted to a light-skinned woman.
Donoghue spent years in the employ of various senators and administrations in V.I. government until his unceremonious removal as Education Department public relations director by Gov. Roy Schneider. Meantime, over those years, he made his mark in the community as a keeper of the flame, acting in plays and in a film biography of Gov. Peter Von Scholten, producing documentaries for public television, and writing historical narratives and contemporary research articles for local newspapers on the lives of African-Caribbean people in the islands.
Not many may be aware that Donoghue, a native of Montserrat and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has also been a choreographer, a fashion designer and, yes, previously, a playwright. His first play, premiered in 1965, was "A Flap on Broken Wings," a drama about the struggles of immigrants in England. He wrote another called "Destination on Hate Street" And during his years studying in Sweden, where he earned a doctorate in sociology, he gained fame as a Caribbean dancer.
The play is the most ambitious production to date by the St. John-based Carabana Ensemble Theater Company. The work is being directed by Carabana artistic director Clarence Cuthbertson, himself a playwright who has had work produced Off-Broadway and elsewhere. Lee Vanterpool, an alumnus of George Balanchine's New York City Ballet, is the choreographer, and Robert Leonard is the musical director. As Cuthbertson -- who worked with Donoghue 15 years ago on a UVI production of "Stages" -- noted, "There are not that many musicals that are written by Caribbeans in a Caribbean setting."
The musical elements include an 8-minute prelude of chanting in a multiplicity of African tongues, five ballads, three cariso songs, two traditional Moravian hymns, a couple of "operette" renditions, a rallying song (We Are Chosen to Be Leaders) and an uptempo song set to drumming. The hymns are from The Moravian Hymn Book; two of the carisos are based on material from 18th and 19th Century authorities; for everything else, the lyrics are by Donoghue.
Although the play is predominantly in English, it contains phrases in Danish, Dutch Creole, Mokko, Ibo, Mandingo, Karabari, Akkim, Jalunkan, Kanga, Gien, Akkaran, Tembu, Sokko, Congo and Fula. Preparatory material for the production includes definitions for certain "key words." Among them: advokat (Danish for prosecuting attorney), bomba (a slave who supervised other slaves in the fields, but also the name of a popular drink in the 1730s), fribrev (a certificate of freedom that freed slaves had to carry), and kill-devil, uncured rum so potent that it could kill the drinker.
Curtain time is 8 p.m. each night. Tickets are $25, with all seating in the covered section of the theater. Ticket outlets are Modern Music in Havensight, Crystal & Gifts Galore, Parrot Fish, Drafting Shaft in Sub Base, the UVI Bookstore and the Reichhold box office on St. Thomas; and at Connections on St. John. Part of the opening-night proceeds will benefit the V.I. Montserrat Association to assist with ongoing hurricane recovery projects and local charitable initiatives.