nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
October 16, 2008
During the talkback after the performance of The Ritual, a young man from the audience raised his hand and admitted, "I don't know if I understood everything." The cast and artistic staff encouraged him to articulate what he did understand. Tentatively, he began: "It's about five girls who have a friend who is pregnant and she's deciding what to do with the baby."
At its very core, this young man pretty much got the show, and if anything, illustrated in part what was happening in the show itself: young people—in this case, five high school girls from a Trinidadian private school—trying to understand a difficult situation; processing the roles of the adults around them; and identifying how all of it relates to them. Banana Boat Productions, whose mission is to bring more awareness of Caribbean experience using theatre, chooses wisely to partner with New Perspective Theatre Company in bringing Trinidadian playwright Zeno Constance's work to a New York stage.
In this spare production, the five actresses, Esther Bigord, Shykia Fields, Yolanda Griffith, Heather Sky-McField, and Omrae Smith (young women mostly in their early to mid-20s making credible high school girls), conjure up a huge cast of characters in a mostly stylized and presentational manner. Clad in the basic school uniform of white shirts and navy skirts and sitting in sturdy and austere wooden chairs, the five young girls (identified only as Girl #1, Girl #2, etc.) start their first period class on a Friday morning. The topic of conversation is their absent pregnant friend Omega. Conjecture and gossip rule much of the discussion at first, but soon the girls begin to act out different scenarios that draw out the context and culture of Caribbean life for young women. As each actress takes on the role of Omega, the other women play parents, Rasta suitors and cads, police, and other authority figures. The lyrical Caribbean accent—the actors comfortably handling the accent work here—also invokes a people and place.
Borrowing some of the physicality from stock commedia dell'arte characters, part of the stylized movement and speech did distance me from empathizing fully, but when it worked, it really underscored the themes of universality, especially that of female experience. Shykia Fields also has a wonderful moment in her monologue that breaks from the different scenarios when she implores the girls (and the audience) to keep investigating and seek truth because "...we are all Omega."
Much like the young man in the talkback, the girls in The Ritual remind us that we mustn't underestimate young people; while at the same time, we must take responsibility for what they reflect back to us.