don't smoke bbys

Smoking is bad for you, but The Troubles were way worse

Our very own sports guru Ross Chapman decided to switch things up this week and attend CU Player’s production of Joyriders. He thusly brings you his review of the show.

Columbia University Players (CUP for short) put on a show this weekend about life for the poor in 1980s Ireland. The production in the Black Box in Lerner watched four teenagers and an adult as they carried out a youth training program to try to keep Irish youth out of jail and off the streets. South Belfast in 1986, the play’s specific setting, was “a hotbed of violence, the radical Catholic IRA [Irish Republican Army] and the mostly Protestant British Military clashing regularly among the squalor.” If the wretchedness of the living conditions didn’t ruin your day, the IRA and the government certainly could. The five featured actors and the staff around them did a fantastic job with Joyriders by Christina Reid. Not only did they show a reality of life in 80s Belfast, but the questions of jail, government, and poverty certainly made everyone in the room think hard about what they were really watching.

(A quick aside: costume designer Alexandra Warrick submitted her personal note in Wingdings. Translated, it says, “Joyriders live, joyriders die.” Translating wingdings is an awful experience.)

Save for a few opening voiceovers, there are only five actors in the cast. Kate (Alex Taylor, BC ’15) is the social worker in charge of the youth training program. She was an activist in her past, and is frustrated that she is no longer trying to change the world in the same way that her youth are. If she isn’t the most central character, Arthur (Charles Harper, SEAS ’18) almost definitely is. He’s an annoying teen with a love for cooking and crude jokes. He suffered a head injury at the hands of the military, and begins the play in the middle of litigation for reparation money. The intermission of the play comes right as we learn the true sum of his government aid. Also portrayed on stage were Maureen (Rebecca Farley, CC ’16, who “has a predilection for pineapples”), one of the few girls at the program without a criminal record, Tommy (G. Schuyler Van Amson, CC ’17), a loud, angry, communist-leaning boy, and Sandra (Korinne Winter, BC ‘15), a tough and intelligent girl who doesn’t take crap from the other characters.

In the Black Box setup, there are tiered seats that make three walls around the actors. One interesting but sometimes unfortunate effect of that acting style is that actors face each other without regards for the audience. In one scene, one actress’s back was turned towards me, and the other was completely blocked from my line of sight. This made some lines about as hard to hear as the opening narrations, which didn’t benefit from the acoustics of the room. But that’s where the production problems ended. The music, when it was there, was sparse, a cappella, and did not break the context of the scene. The lighting effects weren’t often needed, but sufficiently instilled panic and confusion. The costuming particularly impressed me in its apparent authenticity. When Tommy was pushed, his visibly old sweater released a cloud of dust, reminding us of his poverty in one of the few scenes where it isn’t front and center. The only setpieces were some chairs, a sewing table, and a half dozen wooden pallets. The general lack of flair in black box productions played very well into the plainness of the play’s setting.

The actors didn’t affect huge accents, but they did adopt vernacular grammar, which created a strange disparity that I didn’t much care for. To me, the acting in the second act was much better than the first. This was partially helped by the greater presence of monologues and drama during the second half of the play. I was particularly impressed with Alex Taylor’s depiction of the futility Kate felt at a few points in the story. And Rebecca Farley’s performance of the emotional and optimistic Maurine made a sometimes painful character very enjoyable to watch.

I was very impressed by the CU Players’ presentation. They don’t do musicals or Shakespeare as a rule (“no limits”, they call it), and they have a history of picking interesting, thought-provoking, but overall enjoyable shows. The Christina Reid script itself plays on its own themes very well, and makes consistent but not overbearing callbacks to earlier moments in the show. I’m not entirely sure how much CUP changed from the original scripts, but I definitely liked what I saw. Go see another show of hers, or, as a much easier and Columbia-supportive option, check out another CUP production.

Official promotional smoking via CUP’s Facebook event page