Letters & Opinion

Starry Night Over Samaans Park (A Tribute to Derek Walcott)

Image of Nobel Literature Laureate Derek Walcott

AGAINST the backdrop of Van Gogh’s painting of the church at Arles, south of France. A crooked depiction “revealing more about our faith (Gauguin’s sentiment) than of architecture,” canvas gives life to theatre. The brushstroke of the post-impressionist painter no sooner the still life images of the sunflowers and the peasant potato eaters of Borinage, (a dreary mining district) in Belgium were also taking on new meaning upon the theatrical stage. Though worlds apart, there at Samaans Park (for the first time) far from the European night sky, framed within a dimly lit canopy, Vincent Van Gogh (also for the first time from the stage director’s and playwright’s perspective) gets ready to gaze upon a starry night.

Image of Sir Derek Walcott
Sir Derek Walcott

What first looked as if it would be marred by rain flew a solitary bat across the night sky as if to bid farewell to the rain clouds. Making it possible for us, just like Van Gogh, to dare to dream. The perceptive twist of a Dutch painter finding place among the souls of Fair Helen was clearly not at variance with colours changing hue (our skin, whether black or white, or of our persuasions even). It was a night fraught with drama that not even the swarm of crickets which took over Beausejour that Thursday night of 8th August, 2013 could dampen.

Enter Brian Carter-Green (Vincent Van Gogh) on the now dimly lit stage with some well-placed bulbs hanging high, like stars above the Café Terrace, replicating the night sky while the entry line through a swill voice takes form “Starry, starry night”, rendering nature’s own heavenly night sky its own permanence. If for a moment, you doubted whether there was anything of relevance with this stranger from Europe one wouldn’t help escape the fact that we have all at different times and in varying degrees worship the night sky, and stand or stare in awe of its magnificence.

Perhaps Vincent is no stranger after all with Walcott connecting him with us through the night sky, our faith as men, albeit crooked (like the church of Arles), but unbroken; much like our need for companionship, happiness, and for redemption. It is no easy road to walk this earth as humans or to find release from the vagueness of life. There was Vincent with Gauguin, first as a painter and as someone he loved, that the proprietor (played by David Tarkenter) finding what love he (Vincent) now professes for Gauguin was something he (Vincent) would have to tell him (Gauguin), himself.

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The lines we sometimes try so hard to escape unfolding beneath the night sky (our dreams, demons, and the like), with Paul Gauguin (played by Wendell Manwarren) stating clearly from the onset what brought him to Arles is his contract with Theo (Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, played by Nigel Scott). There would be no mistaking that he (Gauguin) was more than ready to keep this partnership with Vincent purely on a business level. The need of lasting relationships between men marred by business deals, money, and fame revealing an even darker side to him (man) and casting shadows over his interaction with each other.

Long before the lines between Vincent and Gauguin were blurred there is Lotte (played by Natalie LaPorte) filling in the gaps and further reinforcing the need for some lasting relationship (as yearn by us all). It didn’t matter that she was a ‘femme fatale’, there is still genuine human love burning inside her, and the need for companionship would now befall Gauguin to satisfy. The lines of friendship between Van Gogh and Gauguin would further strain to the point that Gauguin now decides to leave. Even if their paths would not cross for contractual reasons for Van Gogh and Gauguin their paintings would awaken still further dark sentiments between them.

If you saw Van Gogh as some stranger, then you would no doubt say the same of Gauguin. Even more so, you would think of the playwright a stranger, or strange, for finding the connection with these two men and us, as his audience, and of course redeeming the connection with his country through marrying different cultures (whether Dutch, French or English) with his own. And no less Lotte, would you consider a stranger too, who first meets Gauguin while stooping with him asking – “Is this what I think you are doing?” The underlying theme of finding connection even with the regular man and woman relieving themselves like rain in areas marked in yellow outlines on the streets of Castries.

It was a night of finding connections, of working together despite the odds. O, starry starry night, would just about provoke the slightest thought of there being something including but not limited to Art between these two men (Van Gogh and Gauguin), who not only worked well together but lived together in that yellow house in Arles. When all along he (Van Gogh) still finds Lotte erotic apart from just being some female subject he wants to paint with his brush. Theirs were more than a conversation between themselves as it is one among all men. Yet you find Van Gogh strange, like you would Gauguin, foreign; like you would find the harlot, Lotte, an outcast and, now, more than ever the playwright, Walcott, even more foreign and stranger than the lot.

It was more than just about the staging of an eccentric Dutch painter (Vincent Van Gogh) and his union with Paul Gauguin, (a French painter), or that of Gauguin with Lotte, or of Lotte with the French soldiers (a role played by Michael Prokopiou, a Zouave) as her client. If anything, it was a conversation between Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) and Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) from a period anterior to the discovery of modern man. Theirs were a started long before we walked this earth. The 19th Century man with his conversation finding meaning well into the 21st Century. When all this time the playwright’s language (including Gauguin’s modern expletive outbursts of the f- word towards Vincent) seems foreign or just a bit strange than noble of the 19th Century was enough to influence any conversation.

Despite the indifference of the status quo there we find the Antillean current running its course deep between men and connecting their progeny, binding them together, and finding commonality. There was Lotte finding Gauguin and Vincent losing Gauguin, and now his union with both Lotte and Gauguin. When all this time it is Walcott conversing with Augier and finding LaPorte in Augier’s factory and working well with her. Or rather Lotte finding Gauguin, it was more like LaPorte finding Walcott through Augier, and Augier finding Walcott through LaPorte. Like Vincent “For the most part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars (the Nobel Laureate, his local actress and producer) makes me dream”.

It is therefore hoped that they would all remain as much good friends with Vincent despite his torrent mouth, which seem to almost (without the Mac preceding the word) doom their friendship marking his departure to France. Perhaps Vincent is a Saint, after all, for seeing colour as a way through Art to give happiness to the locals by creating beauty. Vincent’s ear now severed in atonement for any bitter or disastrous result is enough for a fresh start in bringing about this conversation now before us to a constructive and successful conclusion – with some permanence like the stars. As for me, when there is a terrible need of dare I will no doubt go outside to gaze always upon the starry night over Samaans Park. Lady and Gentlemen, the stage is yours – a standing ovation to you all.

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