Sunday, 1 August 2010

THEATRE REVIEW: Wispy new comedy ‘Ghett-Out’ is a satisfying, funny surprise

GHETTO LIFE: Keith ‘Shebada’ Ramsey, Abigale Grant and Orville Hall in Ghett-Out; above, Ramsey and Walton.

Ghett-Out (Stages Productions)

Director: B.L. Allen

Cast: Keith Ramsey, Maylynne Walton, Orville Hall and Maxwell Grant

Venue: Green Gables Theatre, Kingston

Tyrone’s Verdict: B-

For close to a decade, Stages Productions has earned gigantic commercial successes with comedies that poke fun at all the unique facets of Jamaican life. More often than not, however, the scripts leave a lot to be desired. Their latest offering, fortunately, shows that it’s never too late for attempts at improvement. With Ghett-Out, the Stages family finally earns another commercial breakthrough worthy of the usual vociferous street buzz. It’s an enjoyably wispy play that is not without its flaws but still manages to deliver the big laughs and a story audience members can buy into and wrap their minds around.

Centering on the struggles attendant to life in the inner-city (ghetto, if you prefer) and ambition for a better life, Ghett-Out follows Barbara (Maylynne Walton) and Shebada (Keith Ramsey), two street higglers (both in turn good-hearted and aggressively brittle), who share a tenement yard with the God-fearing Maude (Abigale Grant), whose husband Ruler (Orville Hall) has gone abroad to make life, among other things. Life in the ghetto as they know it could be upended soon if local authorities, led by a dishonest politician (Junior Williams), are successful at transforming the piece of ‘real estate’ into a thriving housing project and commercial district.

Two crooked police officers – Maxwell Grant as Run Tings and Luke Ellington as Makka – keep a close eye on all the happenings, ready to pounce at the slightest sign of an opportunity to earn some dirty money. Ruler’s lispy return from the States further thickens the plot and introduces a few welcome twists (including the disappearance of a huge chunk of cash, and the blame game that ensues) to the action that unfolds on stage. Are these ‘ghetto’ residents really who they appear to be? As the popular admonition goes, ‘Never judge a nayga by where he’s from’. (Okay, I just made that up.) Director B.L. Allen and writer Michael Denton do not wrap up the loose ends of the story lines as neatly as I would have liked, but I hardly mind as the humour is so frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious that certain things can be overlooked.

Ramsey is superb, deftly capturing the nuances of his beloved character Shebada – that rarest of delightful creatures of contemporary Jamaican theatre – who can make the audience erupt into spontaneous laughter without even trying too hard. He shares some side-splitting scenes with Walton, who reveals a new gift for spiky, sexy comedy without crossing the line into vulgarity. The rest of the cast largely offer solid work, particularly Hall and Grant, whose performance as Maude is amusingly consistent.

On the surface, Ghett-Out is all fun and games, but an undercurrent exploring corruption and socio-political commentary in Jamaica lurks throughout, adding to the appeal of the production. Fast-paced and enjoyable, Ghett-Out is surprisingly gratifying.

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* Nelson comes up short with dull, chemistry-free ‘House Arrest’

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