KRISTINA XIE ’16
The stage lights were dimmed and the music began, “Fire Fire in Yuh Wire Wire…” There she was, dressed in a stunning red dress, high black heels and dolled up hair, Jean Miles has finally arrived. Last Thursday marked the opening of the play, “Miss Miles: Woman of the World” at Austin Arts Center’s Garmany Hall. Written and directed by renowned playwright and director Tony Hall, “Miss Miles” features the award-winning actress Cecilia Salazar as Trinidadian activist, singer, fashionista and public servant, Gene Miles. The play first premiered in Port of Spain’s Little Carib Theater in 2011 and was critically acclaimed as one of the most celebrated plays of the year. Now three years later, Hall has brought the same remarkable play to our campus for an encore performance.
The one-person play traces the life of middle-class woman, Jean Miles from childhood to adulthood. As a child, she attends St. Joseph’s Convent and questions her Catholic religion. After the opening scene, Miles, dressed in a white button down shirt and light blue school uniform skirt, plays with the other children from the neighborhood. Like any young child, she plays with flowers and irritates her parents with her curiosities and absurd questions. In the next stage of her life, the audience learns about her new position working as a civil servant in the Ministry of Petroleum, Mines, Industry and Commerce. She appears to be bored of her job and enjoys dancing and singing to calypso music when she is not typewriting. Her narration of humorous anecdotes includes wild antics in the workplace such as her coworker throwing a typewriter. She also mimics speaking French during her visit to the neighboring island of Martinique during a business meeting. Throughout the play, the catchy hook, “Fire Fire in Yuh Wire Wire…” is used as the theme to illustrate Miss Miles’ fiery character and revelations about government corruption.
In the 1960s, the Trinidadian government hired Lockjoint, a foreign company meant to improve the sewage system in the country. During this period, all of the country’s gas stations were controlled by the central government. It was discovered that the government took several bribes in return for permitting Lockjoint to enter the lucrative business in the country. This incident was a critical movement in the country’s history because it was one of the first major instances of corruption in the government post-independence. Notably, it was also a period of transition and national unity after British colonialism. Jean Miles’ anticorruption campaigns strengthened and unified people as a result of a common cause. She contested politicians’ morality in public service while shining a light of the inner workings of the government.
Salazar’s outstanding execution of her portrayal of Jean Miles gave viewers the opportunity to understand and relate to the heroine. Her sass, humor and fashion sense captivated audiences around the world. Her multidimensional character depicts “the plight of people who stand for political diligence and have a greater respect for people who are willing to risk their lives to do so,” stated Raquel Beckford ’14. What makes “Miss Miles: Woman of the World” so alluring is the dichotomy of her character and ability to challenge government standards. She is both serious yet humorous, relatable yet intimidating. She stands for equal rights in civic service and reminds government of their duty to its citizens. Despite the seriousness of the politican scandal, her lighthearted humor makes her a relatable character. She is a colourful and flamboyant personality. She seemed to be full of compassion for the underdog, often taking up causes based on principle and putting herself in the forefront of protest. Throughout the play, spectators root for her to expose the corrupt government officials.
Viewers leave with a sense of comfort, inspiration and female empowerment. “Miss Miles: Woman of the World” shows us it is possible to challenge authorities and to do it with style, grace and, of course, a sprinkle of sass.