Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
All colloquial lingo words are associated with a specific generation and period of time. The younger generations of Jamaicans do not have the word 'bangarang' in their lexicon as it is being replaced by 'mix-up-and-blenda'. But in 1978, 'bangarang' was one of the more popular slangs. So it was not surprising that the all-female group Sistren Theatre Collective used it as a part of their title for their creation Bellywoman Bangarang.
The play is being staged at the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre on the campus of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMC).
The production seen on Saturday not only drew attention to a period in Jamaica's past but provided a prism for comparisons with the present.
The actors, students of Jamaica School of Drama at EMC, and their director Carolyn Allen were helpful in this regard.
The title of the play would suggest a comedy, but the creative blocking and fine acting brought very disturbing realities to the fore. It certainly was not funny.
Bellywoman Bangarang tells the story of four young women, Didi (Amoya McCalla), Marie (Joylene Alexander), Gloria (Tanice McIntosh) and Yvonne (Sasheika McCarthy), ages 14-18. Their background is made known through flashbacks linked with ring games, songs and dub poetry.
Didi is the eldest child of seven and was physically abused by her mother. In addition, Didi is uneducated because she was forced to stop formal education so she could take care of her siblings.
After an abusive episode, she ran away to live with her father in the city.
Gloria was also raised by an abusive mother, a live-in helper in the city. She too ran away, to an aunt.
Marie and Yvonne both lost their mothers and were raised by Christian women.
Different parenting styles
There are differences in the mothers' parenting styles. Goddy (Patricia Morris) leaves young Yvonne's dating habits alone and doesn't seem too concerned that she is taking money from a pastor's son.
However, when Yvonne becomes pregnant for a nondescript character who raped her, Goddy is livid and chases her out of the house.
Marie's 'mother' is overprotective and interestingly, it is her nature that leads to the eventual rape of her naive daughter.
Cherry (Sasha Belnavis), a 'friend', does not like Marie's naivety and tries to get her to be more defiant to no avail.
The play seems to suggest that Marie may have planned with her brother to rape the young girl.
The play begins with the four principals in the advanced stages of pregnancy in the maternity ward of a hospital. But the untimely arrival of their children is disturbing. Nurses are on strike for a better health system and willingly leave their young patients to fend for themselves.
The shortage of beds in the ward does not point to a bright future for the unborn either.
Alarming and, by extension, disturbing is the graphic description and show of physical abuse.
Allen magnifies this by having the symbolic rape of young Marie in the audience's face. Generally, her directing was good but there were too many unused items on the Ron Steger set.
These included the tyre upstage right, the hanging clothesline with clothes that encircled the stage and extended into the audience.
The director's use of ring games and other cultural forms was good.
Steger's set was attractive and in many ways practical, and was backed by trainee-theatre thespians who gave commendable performances.
They showed the youthfulness and naivety of their characters quite well. McCalla, McIntosh, Alexander, McCarthy, along with the other members of the cast, executed the transitions in space and time with much conviction. The growth in the respective characters was also nicely developed and clearly presented.
The performance of Bellywoman Bangarang by the School of Drama is timely, as it helps in assessing Jamaica's progress over the years. For that purpose, it is well worth seeing, but it is not recommended for all age groups.