Elmina’s Restaurant

by Kwame Kwei-Armah. This play, set in a West Indian neighborhood in Hackney, deals with gangs and how they affect families. The plot is a complicated mash-up of family tensions and the hard world of the lower class in London. Delroy (Deli) runs a low-end restaurant with his son Ashley, who is angry ashamed that Deli doesn’t stand up for himself against the other neighborhood business owners. The restaurant’s regulars include Digger, a loan shark and thug who fascinated Ashley. In the first act Deli hires a new cook, Anastasia, who tries to turn the restaurant around and falls for Deli. However, when Deli’s brother is killed by the Yardies (a gang) on the way to visit, the whole situation changes. Deli is forced to choose between being oppressed by the gangs or having his life systematically destroyed.

This play was really interesting to read — at times it had that gritty feeling of American Buffalo but had a more ritual feeling to it, emphasized by the prologue and musical interludes involving a traditionally dressed gurkel player. Kwei-Armah creates big, complicated, and interesting characters and then traps them in a small restaurant. The rest is them working things out, with heart-wrenching results. I would go to see this play in a heart-beat — it is big and full of heart.

As far as writing goes, the stand-out aspects of this play were the desperation of all the characters and the unity of place. These gave the play its intense focus and the brilliant fireworks and conflicts.