Jamaica Magazine

Play Review: ‘Adopted Child’ at Stages Theatre, Kingston, Jamaica

Written by Anthea McGibbon
Its not every day that the adopted child – often seen as disturbed, and a mischief maker – makes a comeback and takes charge. But in Adopted Child, a roots play by Jamaican playwright Paul O Beale, it happens. 
 
This is a modern day play in a contemporary Jamaican society deals with the concept of child development from a refreshing angle.  Amidst great un-expectations, it is a 14-year-old Rastafarian child Stellarita/Starlita Lookgood played by Trudy Bell, who is adopted.
The play is laced with lessons, as much as it is heavily packed with issues. Paul O Beale is brilliant in how he exposes multiple issues through subtle agendas. Beale addresses the deals behind Rastafarians as the usual society outcasts often misread, through the development of the adopted Stellarita. Stellarita/Starlita  who was ‘raised ‘ by a Rastafarian continues to have an unusual affair with him long after she goes to a home, and thereafter is adopted by a childless couple and in the end becomes a  functional family.  
 
Beale tackles issues such as ‘fragility of a child’s natural disposition’, abilities of a child, hazards of ‘traumatic’ early experience, the irrelevance – even harm of parental indiscipline, the force-ripe child, intellectual capacity and self-esteem and identity of both children and adults.
Traditionally, Jamaicans are led to believe that in former years most children were exposed to hard work, discipline, firm rules, fanatic spiritual practices, to protect them. Through the play we get an understanding and are taught of the need to appreciate perspectives, values, and of course discover hidden sensitivies of the developing child turned young adult who sometimes are left to drift in a sea of moral confusion.
The characters all well researched, and Stellarita almost convinces that she really was raised by Rastafarians or is a Rastafarian herself when she fills her role with ease. Ras Muckery played by Paul O Beale, is a necessary supporting role. It is used in the revelation of harmful traits in society, but by the end is used to support Stellarita’s role to demonstrate how proper guidance, understanding, can hone true Jamaican talent to accomplish great things among today’s youth regardless of early influences and exposures.
 
So the joke is on the ‘high society ‘Mr Plough’ played by Donald Thompson. Mr Plough is too high minded and ‘rich’ to be any earthly good to those who should count and his own son, Stumpy (Stede Flash) falls for the lowly Rastafarian riff raff, Stellarita who is adopted by Mrs Agnis Gungo (Belinda Reid), who is too old to convince her husband, James(Michael Nicholson), that she should bear a child.
 
Stellarita’s name is well selected, as she is a rising star who eventually takes proper charge forcing the audience to take a look at the values of at least some Rastafrians in society. Simply because lessons learnt during her hardened experience as a child under the influence of Ras Muckery before and during her years at the girls’ home lay a strong foundation for her to build on when she is adopted. 
 
Ras Muckery is of course Stellarita’s real dad, but this is only revealed at the end.
 
Stellarita relies on some of these lessons in dealing with issues presented to her since her arrival at the home, for example the second time Stumpy is ‘shocked’ when he attempts to work on the electricity panel in her home.
 
After becoming more rounded when she is taught English by Mrs Gungo, her new mom, she loses the ignorance of wanting to ‘burn fire’ on everyone she looses patience with. She rises to become the business manager of new ‘father’s business’ in an ironic twist after he becomes ill. As such she shields her family from the ploys of the Planta (played by Patrick Smith), former right hand man of Mr Gungo, who used the business to fund the welfare of his 18 children.
The perspective on parent/child bonding is breathtaking. It erases the myth that adults who are not biological parents are not able to be ‘successful’ at parenting leading to dysfunctional family life. In the short time factor both the scornful Mr Gungo and the childless Mrs Gungo as parents remove the stigma attached to adopted children and career driven women. The bond happens late in Stellarita’s difficult teen years, after her early childhood development years and with unnatural parents, but she is disciplined, focused and respectful. The family functions ‘normally’ even in dealing with its fair share of problems such as an early love affair between Stellarita and Stumpy. 
 
Another lesson brought out by the review of Jamaican society is the blessings gained when not judging people at face value, and how deft Jamaicans are.
The few errors made are not consequential, and will be quickly erased as the play becomes seasoned on stage yielding more impact on a wider audience. 
Adopted Child reflects playwright Beale’s tempered personality, but reveals his strength as a critical thinker and detailed and observer passionate about Jamaican relations. The actors could not be better chosen. 
 
Above all the play Adopted Child challenges the induced theory in books like The Magic Years and The Hurried Child that childhood is a time of play and romance that must not be interrupted by the harsh realities of the grown up world. At least for Jamaican children, they are psychologically resilient with inborn capabilities and competencies, virtues, positive social depositions to develop ‘normal’. They are spontaneous as much as they possess the ability to interact constructively, and adapt in any situation for better especially when exposed to a framework of adult guidance in the face of life’s complexities. 
Adopted Child be that the perspective that the modern family exists to enhance the child’s well being – to ensure that what is good for the child is given to them with due diligence.
 
The stage props, are modest, and few times the music and attire were inconsistent with the scenes, but message was yet effectively delivered in the package made up by the Pragmatic production team members of Adopted Child such as Rohan Winter. For some it is a comedy to see twice in order to savour all the delights, especially with the impromptu lines of Stede Flash, and strange circumstances not often seen in Jamaican theatre, roots play or otherwise.
 
PLEASE NOTE
Adopted Child opened August 1, at the Green Gables Theatre (Cargill Avenue, Kingston). Thereafter, it runs Wed-Sat at 8:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m..
 

About the author

Anthea McGibbon

Anthea McGibbon, Editor and senior journalist, features arts, culture and people of Jamaica. Contact her at [email protected] or [email protected]