News Releases

Efebo’s Bitter Cassava: Picong and Pathos

For Release Upon Receipt - June 7, 2016

St. Augustine

Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson believes that the Arts and art in general is being short-changed at this time in our history. “I have not done a hard-nosed investigation,” he says. “It is just a sense I have. The theatre is being short-changed.” Efebo Wilkinson is the playwright and director of Bitter Cassava which will run at the Little Carib Theatre from the 9th to the 26nd of June 2016.

Bitter Cassava is a full-length dramatic work with music and dance rooted in the folk traditions of Trinidad and Tobago. It involves the theatre-goer in the story of Samuel William Blondell. Blondell, also called Sam, has been in a common-law relationship with Justina for three years, but suddenly gets enamoured with Betty-Lou, the proverbial “town-ting” as the kaiso goes. Justina finds herself put out of the house and retaliates by putting a curse on the new lovers, which plays itself out to have surprising consequences for all involved.

Wilkinson says, “What drives Sam is just his own selfish masculine desire for this other woman, and his inability to see the value in this woman, Justina, who lived with him for years.” Justina herself is plagued by this whole sense of injustice. Pa Cefus, the old man, tries to guide Sam when he feels Sam is making poor choices and going down a wrong road. And Police? Well, Mister Police just wants to pick up Sam and throw his tail in jail.

Bitter Cassava is like any powerful dramatic work in the theatre, says Wilkinson. “It is entertainment. It is elevating. It also touches the audience in all the good ways that drama does.” He says, “What I am hoping Bitter Cassava will do this year is define for this country what Best Village Theatre is, present Best Village Theatre in all of its fullness, and then let the debate begin.”

The debate to which Wilkinson refers is the dichotomy in our culture and specifically in the circle of our theatre that a dramatic work is either Theatre or Best Village. Efebo Wilkinson’s Bitter Cassava is a pioneering work that continues to challenge this notion. It integrates the music and dance in such a way that they help to propel the central concerns of the drama in an organic way as one would expect from quality musical theatre. It also embraces our Trinbagonian culture and aesthetic to the full. It is one hundred percent Theatre and steeped in Best Village from head to toe – Best Village Theatre.

Dr. Lester Efebo Wilkinson is both practitioner and academic. He has sustained a decades-long successful career as a playwright and director in Trinidad and Tobago. Wilkinson was awarded the Vanguard Award for Directing by the National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago for, in NDATT’s words, “excellence in theatre; pioneering contribution to the development of drama and theatre in Trinidad and Tobago; and for blazing a trail along which the theatre in Trinidad and Tobago continues to progress.” Further, his work as Artistic Director of Mausica Folk Theatre enabled that company to perform in the International Theatre Festival in Los Angeles, USA, in Monaco and in Japan. Wilkinson, a graduate of The UWI, NYU and CUNY, currently mentors students of the Performing Arts at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, where he is a member of faculty, teaching courses in Directing, Caribbean Drama and Western Theatre History.

He says, “I tell my students before they look to direct a play they need to genuflect before the work and say ‘please show me your wares’… Don’t go making assumptions… Especially with work that speaks with the dialogue and dance and song of Trinidad and Tobago. Treat that work with respect and regard. There is a tendency to treat it with disregard because the local is commonplace to you.”

Some of the music in the play, with clear local flavour, was written specifically by Efebo Wilkinson for Bitter Cassava – The Wedding Song (Leave de gyul leh she follow she husband), The Douen Song (Come on and play, come on and stray-way), and The Hymn (Hand of Mercy) to name a few. Yet do not let that latter hint at solemnity fool you. There is enough bacchanal bubbling up in this play to counter-balance the sobriety and intensity of the more poignant moments.

The drama can be cutting. For example, some believe there is a silent contention that takes place between dark-skinned women and red-skinned women in this society. No need to cite a ponderous discourse on gender, race or colour stratification. According to Wilkinson, “When they say in this town, ‘If yuh eh red, yuh dead’ – They know what they saying.”

Efebo Wilkinson shares further, “I think the audience gets confronted with something that is so intrinsically Trinidadian and Tobagonian. The language, the lifestyle, the way the characters are portrayed. They know them. The long-suffering that these characters represent. Cefus knows them. When Sam in the early stages is simply being Sam – simply about a good time and not seeing how this connects to Justina and his children. In life, things catch up with you and people know that but the audience cannot help but feel a bit saddened that it has.” As we say here: What sweet in goat mouth, bitter-bitter in de belly. 

Dr. Efebo Wilkinson’s 2016 Bitter Cassava is the first of what he intends as a series of productions aimed at celebrating Best Village Theatre and other aspects of homegrown culture and aesthetics. This initiative is called The BV Theatre Project. Indeed, the BV Theatre Project has partnered with The Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago for its one night only Gala Performance on Saturday June 11th 2016 at 7:00pm. This show, on the first weekend of the three week run, will help to raise awareness of and financially support the need to take a firm stand against abuse of the most vulnerable members of society, including children, the elderly and women.

The Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago were both established to provide support and psychological care to primary and secondary survivors of domestic and sexual violence. With locations in both North and South Trinidad, over the years they have created several innovative projects and initiatives such as Peace, Love and Understanding in Schools (P.L.U.S) and Stop Elder Abuse Now (S.E.A.N.). Also, they implemented the Young Male Awareness Program, the Judicial Sensitisation Project and Domestic Violence and Legal Advocacy Training addressing the rising levels of violence perpetrated against the elderly, women and children in our society. Daily, they provide free and confidential face-to-face individual, family and group therapy, free public education workshops, and a twenty-four hour Hotline service at 627-7273/657-5355.

Truly Bitter Cassava is transformative art… transcendent but firmly rooted in the ground and touching lives and hearts in a very real way. It is made possible by a hardworking cast and crew, by the patronage of Dr. The Honourable Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, and by support from sponsors Blink bmobile, Guardian Life, Stechers, and RBP Lifts.

In addition, beyond a compelling cause and a gripping script brought to life by an award-winning director, Bitter Cassava boasts a stellar cast of actors: Muhammad Muwakil, Tishanna Williams, Darin Gibson, Gervon Abraham, Ruby Parris, Wendell Etienne, Mavis John, Kurtis Gross and other major performing arts professionals. Choreography is done by well-known dancer/choreographer Gregor Breedy.  The dances and songs are moving. Especially, one should look out for Mavis John’s portrayal of Mother Lucy who senses that something is off and everything is going to go left in quick time.

A bitter cassava is a provision that all while it is coming up appears lush and sweet and promising… but then it flips on you… just like life sometimes. The play Bitter Cassava has been the recipient of the Best Village Prize for Playwriting and the National Drama Festival Playwriting Award. Bitter Cassava will run at The Little Carib Theatre from June 9th to June 26th 2016 and tickets are available at the Little Carib Theatre Box Office, Kam’s Music, Crosby’s Music, Cleve’s Music and select outlets of Cher-Mere Day Spa. This is a play that is full of surprises… full of laughs and a few tears… and replete with Trini flavour. 


About The UWI

Since its inception in 1948, The University of the West Indies (UWI) has evolved from a fledgling college in Jamaica with 33 students to a full-fledged, regional University with well over 40,000 students. Today, UWI is the largest, most longstanding higher education provider in the Commonwealth Caribbean, with four campuses in Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Open Campus. The UWI has faculty and students from more than 40 countries and collaborative links with 160 universities globally; it offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Food & Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science and Technology and Social Sciences. UWI’s seven priority focal areas are linked closely to the priorities identified by CARICOM and take into account such over-arching areas of concern to the region as environmental issues, health and wellness, gender equity and the critical importance of innovation. Website:


(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)