For the past 23 years, Rundown has been one of the most popular stage productions in Cayman, not to mention a popular slow-cooked stew from which it borrows its name.
The show, written and directed by Henry Muttoo, Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s artistic director, resonates with audiences for a couple of reasons.
“It suggests that one needs to move with alacrity or miss whatever it is. In other words, you don’t walk down, you run down. Secondly, and more appropriately, the name is taken from a traditional Caymanian meal – a thick, soup-like concoction made with lots of breadkind, such as cassava and yams, and salted beef [or fish], coconut milk and lots of seasonings,” he says. And similar to the ingredients of the comfort dish Caymanians love, the much-anticipated stage production, which begins its run at Harquail Theatre on May 23, is also a hodgepodge of ingredients.
Whether you have been living in Cayman your whole life or recently moved here, the show offers a glimpse into the island’s rich, multicultural heritage, all with a satirical wink. Simmering with political commentary, media news and everyday happenings among Caymanians and expatriates, the production is like an English pantomime or American musical, according to Muttoo.
“The format of the show is always the same. It takes place during a rehearsal in a Caymanian yard where people meet to discuss trenchant points on topical things, in a light-hearted manner. It’s also a way of branding the show. Now, whenever anyone hears the word ‘rundown,’ the shows comes to mind … A large number of Caymanians and residents who are now 33 years old have grown up with the show. It is now a major theatrical and cultural event, eagerly anticipated by the society,” he says.
“Rundown” features a plethora of local actors and musicians, many of whom have performed in previous incarnations of the production. While certain characters from past shows will be making appearances again, all of the material is new, except for two classic skits by former CNCF chairman Dave Martins, who originally wrote and created the show until 2008, and which were last performed between 10 and 15 years ago, according to Muttoo.
“We have a very talented cast. Matt Brown, who made his ‘Rundown’ debut last year, is a terrific find. We have honed his natural talent and his facility for comic mimicry, and he is now a stand-out cast member. Leroy Holness, who plays ‘Ital, the Rasta,’ has acted in every one of the previous shows. The show also includes the substantial comedic talents of Rita Estevanovich, Priscilla Pouchie, Patrick Lopez and Kevin Creary, and several newcomers,” he says. Those include Dexter Bodden, aka “The Calypso Cowboy,” along with Jevaughnie Ebanks, Leslieanne Bernard, Fiona Pimentel, Evana Medina, Maia Muttoo, Carla Court and Ned Miller III.
In a press release, Muttoo states that as a satirical, musical comedy, “Rundown” reflects the writers’ and actors’ interpretations of what goes on in Cayman. “It is presented, as satires go, in a quite harmless style with the idea that we laugh best when we laugh at ourselves … Any kind of theater is important to a community.
“Satirical theater is simply another way the artist interprets society. Every society needs the artist’s voice. Theater is play, and play in the context of the stage means that it is not real. The same goes for ‘Rundown’ – nothing is real, no matter how it resembles a situation or a person we know.
Although audiences shouldn’t expect the show to say everything they want, Muttoo says each skit will resonate in meaning for people. His examples include “the Mount Trashmore” issue, and the “Chinese worker who has come to build the cruise ship dock but gets lost in the Rundown yard,” among others.
“The situations in which characters find themselves; the political and social issues touched upon; the topics and melodies of the songs; the quality of the production; and the fact that they can expect – every year – to have one night of hearty laughter at people and events without taking anything or themselves seriously – almost everything, from whole skits to a few lines, will have some meaning to some people,” Muttoo says.
Asked if he is worried some audience members will be offended by the material, he explains that it has only happened on two or three occasions. “The response from people we mention in the show is overwhelmingly positive. As a matter of fact, many of these people are bitterly disappointed if their names are not called in the show. Some even call us to ask if they will be mentioned this year. When you are mentioned in ‘Rundown,’ you know you have arrived.
“We have always stressed the fact that there is no malice in the show. In any case, the show is only based on reality. Most of the dialogue is either exactly what has been said or what I imagine might be said in the situation.”
Actor Matt Brown, whose characters include Ozzie Bodden, a wise Asian man, and a loud Texan, says: “All the characters are quirky and extremely comedic with lots of accents with show-stopping costumes.”
The full-time radio personality and event host adds, “We poke fun at all of our favorite politicians and Cayman personalities. They all start to sweat around ‘Rundown’ time.”
“If you’re quite famous in Cayman, please wear lots of antiperspirant,” he jokes, adding, “If you have a sense of humor, you’ll enjoy the show. This is the event when we all sit down together and laugh at each other – Caymanians, Americans, the Brits, Jamaicans, you name it – it’s a mixture of all the nationalities that influence the island. We really bring out the humor in hot, controversial topics, whether the dump is on fire, the permanent residency test being a bit too hard, or [Police] Commissioner Baines is on patrol.
“It’s all fun to poke fun! If you can’t laugh at yourself, you may need a bit more fiber in your diet.”
Brown praises Muttoo’s writing and directing prowess, referring to him as the “theater whisperer” because he hears and sees things that are not visible to the average human.
“He subtly brings powerful messages through comedy and uses our characters the way a conductor would use instruments in an orchestra – bring up the cello, shut up the oboe. It’s really a balancing act. This production is an amazing piece of theater with tons of entertainment value – a professional, polished satire comedy.
“The process doesn’t happen overnight, as there is year-round script-writing and idea-sketching and lots of deleting and cutting that ends in a brilliant show. Henry Muttoo is not afraid to fire you. Lots of actors don’t make it past the first few weeks of militia training. He whips us into shape like a comedic drill sergeant. Story. Set-up. Punchline. Repeat!”
Like a yummy rundown stew, the stage production’s flavors just have to simmer and meld together before being ready for public consumption.
Rundown dates: May 23-25; May 29-June 1; June 12-June 15. Thursdays through Saturdays 8 p.m.; Sundays 6 p.m. Tickets for all performances are $25 and $15, available from Funky Tangs, Fosters Airport and CNCF offices at the Harquail Cultural Centre. For more details, call 949-5477.