By Kevin Zimmerman

Hillcrest High student Nadia Butler was looking for more out of her school break than an endless marathon of Netflix viewing and daily doses of chat show host Wendy Williams’ “Hot Topics.”

“I wanted to do something for the summer,” Butler said. “I didn’t want to stay home.”

Instead Butler has been spending part of her school vacation in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago — by way of Springfield Gardens Church of Christ’s stage.

Butler, 16, has taken on the role of Fayleen Lightbourne, a middle-aged woman with her sights on the owner of the local roti shop, in the American-Caribbean Theatre Alliance’s production of the original comedy-drama “My Countrymen.”

The play, written by the alliance’s founder Harlan Penn, centers on Phillip “Roti Phil” Charles, who runs the famous Roti Phil’s shop — roti is the Indo-Caribbean street food that is similar to unleavened naan bread — in the Belmont section of Trinidad and Tobago’s capital.

On just another average day in paradise, Roti Phil and his circle of friends and family are forced to deal with one of Port of Spain’s main thugs in the drug and human trafficking trade.

Penn adds some levity to the proceedings with a romantic triangle between Roti Phil’s youngest daughter, Kendra, her friend Ramona Singh and a young American working in the shop named Davis Johnson.

Isaiah Campbell, 17, landed the role of Davis. This is only the second show Campbell has been a part of — unlike the rest of the cast, he wasn’t a drama geek at Hillcrest High, where Penn was the theater arts teacher.

“I wanted to try something new,” Campbell said. “I had seen a show and thought, this seems like an interesting thing to do.”

For this budding thespian, stepping onto the stage has brought plenty of excitement. He thrives when he sees the audience reacting to his acting.

It has also brought a sense of uncertainty, which keeps things interesting.

“In the last show, an actress ran off the stage (mid-scene),” Campbell said. “I saw she was going to do it. So I just said my line. I yelled my line at her, then I tripped going off the stage.”

During a rehearsal at the church last week, Campbell fumbled a couple of lines — he was having trouble getting the right cadence to a Jamaican-tinged “Yaman” he shouts at the end of one scene.

But as the only actor playing an American in the show, Campbell has one less complication to deal with — mastering the speech patterns of a native Caribbean.

“The accent is really the most difficult thing,” Eddie Nieves, who plays Roti Phil, said.

As the lead, Nieves carries plenty of scenes with a wide range of emotions. He gets to romance Fayleen, to confront the bad guy Portuguese and to offer fatherly advice to daughter Kendra.

Nieves, 18, stumbled onto acting as a way to deal with shortcomings in his everyday life.

“I was never a happy child,” Nieves said. “I found that theater was a way to let out my frustrations.”

As bad girl Ramona, Anjuli Padilla runs into plenty of frustrating moments in her quest to snag Davis from her friend Kendra’s heart. Ramona is more interested in Davis’ ability to secure her a green card than in creating a life together.

For Padilla, 19, who studies acting at LaGuardia Community College, Ramona may not be a nice person, but she is not completely foreign to the actress.

“I’m like Ramona in that she isn’t afraid to go after what she wants,” Padilla said. “But I don’t like that she is not concerned with other people. She is kind of disrespectful. It’s a challenge (to play). But it is fun and interesting.

Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4541.

If you Go

“My Countrymen”

When: Thursday, Aug. 27, at 7:30 pm; Friday, Aug. 28, at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Aug. 29, at 5 pm; and Sunday, Aug. 30, at 5 pm

Where: Springfield Gardens Church of Christ, 144-04 Farmers Blvd., Springfield Gardens

Cost: Free

Contact: (347) 551-7468


Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4541.

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