Marcus Youssef's Jabber was first commissioned in Montreal, and makes its Winnipeg debut with Manitoba Theatre For Young People. It tackles some serious subject matter, all of which is highly relevant to the targeted teen audience; fitting in, gender expectations, cyber bullying, parental strictness, and expressions of love all come in to play. Add to that the additional layer of the young girl being Muslim and moving to a school where she is quite visibly different from her fellow students, causing her to experience racism as one of the manifestations of her "other"-ness, the story becomes red-hot.
Structurally, Youssef adds an interesting element of hope to what might otherwise be a bleak subject. The scenes are set up by the actors, as if playing make believe, stating "lets' say. . . " to build the situation. This occurs heavily at the beginning, and then tapers throughout as the audience grows attached to these possibilities and the choices made within them. The execution comes off a little heavy-handed, as the actors sounded a bit shouty over the backing music in the early scenes, however later instances really worked.
The performances are uneven; Adele Norhona is thoughtful and perceptive as Fatima, the young girl who the story centres on. Kristian Jordan has some lovely moments, however also at times comes across as awkward and un-centred. Cory Wojcik adds some great comic relief, as the teachers, and also a surprise small role as a teen. Unfortunately, the net result is a large stylistic difference in the 3 performances, which causes it to lose some of the cohesiveness that might have helped the play succeed more handily.
That notwithstanding, it is a great story for its intended audience, although parents of the younger 12-13 year old set might find themselves with some things to explain after the show. It definitely skews toward the middle to older edge of the intended bracket.