Force Ripe in parts, mature in others
Strong message let down by weak elements
Force Ripe: How Young is too Young? is a play of contradictions. Written and directed by Fabian Barracks, it is strong on message, has great entertainment value, and presents a pleasing spectacle. Alas, the production is weakened by superficial acting, a somewhat flawed script, and ordinary directing.
Still, there is no denying that the playwright's intention to highlight the topical social issues of child abuse and teenage pregnancy was clear. Tiffany (Dana Brown), an ambitious 15-year-old, is an A student despite her irregular school attendance. But her youthful mother, Cherry (Belinda Reid), threatens to throw her out of the house and subsequently forces Tiffany to join her in plying her trade in one of the oldest professions: prostitution.
Tiffany's ordeal is further compounded by being sexually abused by Cherry's hope-in-marriage, Mikey (AndrÈ Bennett). But there is hope for the teenager in the community's sole shopkeeper, Cora (Dayna Stewart).
The tragicomedy's well-paced plot is laced with humorous and thought-provoking lines. The use of dramatic irony (in which the audience knows but the character does not) had the almost full house on Friday at the Theatre Place, Haining Road, New Kingston, engaged and entertained. Barracks' creation of the comical Cora and use of malapropisms to contrast the painful scenes and situations are commendable.
Breakdown in story
However, Barracks may want to explain how Tiffany, with the help of Cora, was able to still register for her CXC examinations weeks after the school's deadline had passed, as well as the not very helpful narration by Tiffany at odd times throughout the play. The latter resulted in some confusion: Is the story being told by an adult Tiffany (as the opening narration implied) or the young Tiffany, who is on her way to university? And why is the young girl only plagued by the memory of her rape and not what transpired on the streets?
The acting was below standard, although Reid and Stewart were effective in the delivery of their punch lines. Bennett attracted the audience's wrath in the curtain call. The actors' use of attitudes and gestures lacked depth and were at times overly dramatic. None of the four was able to internalise his or her role or show with any conviction the required emotional growth of their respective characters.
Stewart, especially, may want to pay attention to the necessary tonal quality for Cora's lines. Reid was the pick of the crop, especially in the timing of her lines.
Wearing his directorial cap, the young playwright moved his cast of four relatively well. He made good use of the entire stage and his entrances and exits were smooth and well defined. But in some cases, he needed to pay more attention to details. Casting a 16-year-old to play a 15-year-old is acceptable, but physically and vocally, Brown does not reflect lines used to describe Tiffany. Barracks may also want to review Tiffany's emotionally charged scenes and have Stewart vary the entertaining Cora's vocal pitch.
The story of the play unfolds in the living room, kitchen, and dining room of Cherry and Tiffany's house, somewhere on a street, and at Cora's haberdashery. All were well designed by Kirk Nunez. With most of the action taking place in Cherry's home, Nunez opted to use two-thirds of the Theatre Place stage for this setting. The other section was used mainly for Cora's place of business, which was easily moved to make way for the street scene.
Impressively, in spite of the characters living in an inner-city community, the designer saw it fit to decorate both locations, the home and shop, to reflect the characters' personalities. The glamour of Cherry was captured in the well-placed, relatively expensive furniture, while the more eccentric Cora was seen in her tiny shop with her notice board.
The costumes, designed by Barracks Entertainment Production Company, were also well done. Again, each character's personality was reflected in the item being worn. Likewise, the costume of police officer Mikey was appropriate.
The use of special effects is also noteworthy.
Force Ripe: How Young is too Young?, in spite of the weaknesses, is worth seeing for its message and entertainment value.