Jabber - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Marcus Youssef, Directed by Amanda Kellock
Runs until Dec. 7th 2013
Fatima used to hang out with her hijab-wearing friends, dubbing themselves the "jabbers", but when a racist incident happens at her school, Fatima's parents panic and force her to move to a new school. At the new school, Jorah is a troubled and mysterious boy who is intrigued by the new Muslim girl at his school, where both keep bumping into each other at the Guidance Counsellor, Mr. E's, office. At least, that's what the play sets it up to be, introducing the story as actors playing the story.
Jabber sets itself up as a play for teens, but while it uses it's framing device and teen-speak tone to connect with its intended audience, it's unraveling complexity, slowly revealing the two main characters' individual emotions, problems, and thoughts, and the many issues teens deal with today, manage to draw us in. Everything is not as it first seems, and Youssef's play is wonderfully written to examine the assumptions and stereotypes we make, as well as the isolation and connections Canadian teens live through today, despite our facebook-connected world. While there are some moments that might not make sense, it actually comes into play later in the plot, also showing the realities of our human flaws, and not just some perfect moral tale told all neat and tidily.
Amanda Kellock's direction, and using a simple set (by James Lavoie) with some frames, chairs and a screen, is used to maximum effect, with a cast of three gamely presenting this as actors playing out a scenario.
Mariana Tayler is wonderful and believable as Fatima, the Muslim Canadian teen who isn't as shy as people assume her to be. Tayler's Fatima has a great chemistry with Ian Geldart's Jorah, who gives the misunderstood Jorah wonderful layers beneath the hooded "loner". David Skylar fills in the gap as Mr. E, as well as Melissa, another teen girl that goes to the school. Even Skylar's Mr. E, while attempting to be a calm counsellor, still has is own preconceived notions and imperfections.
While the effective framing device still does first hint that the play might talk down to its teen audience, much like the subject matter, it uses it to revert your initial thoughts and twists and reels you into the story of these two teens' lives. Fatima, Jorah, even Mr. E, and Melissa, are fascinating characters that are far more complex than first-impressions would indicate, and Youssef (whose play Winners and Losers is playing down the street at Canadian Stage/Crow's Theatre) has written a wonderfully complex tale that doesn't feel like a lesson plan.
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