As the curtain rises on the sparse set of Pantomime, the audience watches Harry Trewe, dressed in white, start a tape recorder and begin a light song and dance routine based loosely on the story of Robinson Crusoe. Unhappy with his initial effort, Harry stops the machine, then starts it and tries a few more lines of the song before stopping the recorder once more. Finally, he exits with it, leaving an empty stage for a few moments before Jackson Phillip, dressed in an open, white waiter’s jacket and black pants but barefoot, enters to serve Harry his breakfast. Finding Harry gone, Jackson calls to him and, hearing no response, speculates halfheartedly that Harry has jumped into the sea below the gazebo at the Castaways Guest House, where the play is set. As Jackson exits, Harry enters with a goatskin hat and parasol, notices Jackson’s shoeless footprint in the dirt around the breakfast table and continues his song with the essential but subtle question of the play: “Is this the footprint of a naked man,/ or is it the naked footprint of a man . . .?”
When Jackson returns, the quick-paced dialogue commences with mutual greetings wherein Harry admits a desperate boredom and, without explanation, casts Jackson as Friday in his version of the Crusoe story. Responding to Jackson’s refusal to play along, which apparently has happened before, Harry jumps up on the ledge overlooking the sea and feigns a suicide attempt. Jackson, protesting that he will be accused of murder, threatens to quit his job, but Harry jumps back down, complaining about the lack of entertainment for guests due to arrive in less than a week. Jackson, however, argues that the guests will be “casualties” if he does not complete repairs to the guesthouse instead of humoring Harry with work on his pantomime.
While Harry attempts to persuade Jackson to play Friday to his own Crusoe, Jackson protests the insistent refrain of Harry’s pet parrot, “Heinegger, Heinegger.” Threatening the parrot in playful banter, Jackson tells Harry that “language is ideas . . .” and “this precolonial parrot have the wrong idea.” Although Jackson wishes only to serve breakfast and continue the repairs, Harry persists in his plans for the pantomime of Crusoe, reminding Jackson of his talent for singing calypsos. Suddenly, Harry stumbles on the idea of reversing the roles: The white Harry will play the part of the black Friday while the black Jackson will play the white Crusoe. Still reluctant, Jackson argues that he must finish his work; however, Harry, professing his liberal views, all but coerces Jackson to take Crusoe’s role.
Jackson, disconcerted by Harry’s penchant for wandering around in his underwear and realizing that Harry will not drop the project, consents and quickly adapts the improvisations in progress to his own perspective: that of a colonial subject who becomes the colonizing authority. As Jackson begins to dominate the pantomime’s development, Harry becomes visibly more hesitant to continue the reversal of roles. Jackson substitutes an invented religion and language that inverts the colonial dominance of the British Empire. Including references to Harry’s divorced wife and his dead son, Jackson, in essence, gives the worldview of Man Friday to the part of Crusoe—reversing the perspectives of master and slave as well as the skin colors of the two actors in their respective roles.
Harry, unnerved by the very improvisation that he had asked of Jackson, decides that the pantomime has become...
(The entire section is 1444 words.)