Last night Miss Anonymous L took me to Batimore's Center Stage to see the opening for their new play, Elmina's Kitchen.
The whole play occurs inside the space of a West-Indie take out and delivery restaurant in the Hackney ghettos of London. Delhi, the owner, named the eatery after his dead mother, whose portrait hangs in a promiment spot on the wall behind the counter. The set was perfect: faded paint on the walls, stools and chairs with the vinyl worn out in spots, a t.v. to the side constantly flashing. You could practically smell the curry and the greasy chicken. Ashley, Delhi's 19 year old son, helps with food deliveries when he's not taking classes at college.
The kitchen's primary customers are Baygee, an old timer who sells just a little of everything to anyone, and Digger, a yardie or gang banger who runs a protection racket in Hackney. When he's not eating or chatting up Delhi, Digger struts across the stage engaged in his various deals and transactions via cell phone.
Things begin to change when Delhi hires Anastasia, a willful spitfire of a woman, to help out in the restaurant. An undeniable attraction charges the air between Delhi and Anastasia, and she pushes and nudges him to make some changes in his life. Delhi cleans up the restraunt a bit, replacing the chairs and tableclots, hangs up a neon sign and even adds some unique items like a Plantain and Chicken Sandwich to the menu.
Amidst all the positive changes, the bad inevitably creeps in. Delhi's older brother dies a day before his release from prison. Clifton, Delhi's estranged father, arrives for the funeral and stirs up all levels of old hurt and anger for Delhi. Troubles with Anastasia begin when Delhi's lack of confidence keeps him from moving their relationship beyond friendship. And, as if that weren't enough, Ashley drops all ideas of school and falls under the wing of Digger, who uses Ashley to help muscle and terrorize the businesses in his neighborhood.
Despite some of the high-action moments, Elmina's Kitchen is first and foremost about Delhi's relationships: their development, their evolution and their ultimate disentegration. It is ultimately the disentegration of Delhi's relationship with his son that drives the climax, bringing out a final moment that I was not expecting but could not have been more perfect for this powerhouse of a play.