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"Yard Gal"

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The twentysomething Rebecca Prichard earned the London Critics Circle Award with her third play, Yard Gal. Members of Jamaican or West Indian posses (gangs) are known as yardies, yard meaning either a home or their native land. The girls are known as yard gals. So much for the title; now for the less interesting part, the play.

This is a semi-stylized, semi-realist, semi-serious piece about two yard gals, the Nigerian Bukola, nicknamed Boo, and Marie, a native of working-class Hackney, the East End locale. To make the play less hackneyed, the teenagers also impersonate a number of other characters, including a yardie pimp with whom both are involved, and sundry members of their own or another, hostile posse. The girls are strongly drawn to each other, but there is no lesbianism, only abandoned dancing at local joints, drug use and traffic, sundry rivalries, fights, the odd wounding with broken bottles, a two-year jail stint, illegitimate childbirth, and other such mundane matters.

If anything (debatably) distinguishes the play, it is Prichard's mastery of the local lingo. Though bearing a distinct resemblance to English, it teems with impenetrable terms and enigmatic syntax -- e.g., Marie's "I wanna look kriss man. All rude bways gwan big me up tonight star," to which Boo replies, "Ya too man crazy girl, innit." The glossary provided by the program elucidates only a portion of the argot's mysteries, and admiration for a young middle-class author's mastery of the dialect's arcana must have misled British critics into thinking the chase had a beast in view. But not all labyrinths house a minotaur, let alone a masterpiece.

The London cast, director, and chief designer are repeating over here. As Boo, Sharon Duncan-Brewster is genuinely appealing; as Marie, Amelia Lowdell is a mite less so. The minimalist production, mostly light-up cubes harboring diverse props, is adequately directed by Gemma Bodinetz in a text Prichard has slightly revised. But yard goods of yard talk do not sufficiently clothe an essentially bare-bones exercise.


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