“Puberty Rites” packs a powerful punch of reality as playwright Elaine Jackson breaks down the makeup of teenage girls today. Jackson clearly and vividly gives the audience a look into the lives of her two teenage characters.
Keesha is a 17-year-old Black girl who lives in the ghetto in a three-room apartment. Nine family members share the space, spanning four generations of family. Keesha is smart but has a very hot temper. She catches an attitude in a moment.
Keesha is a character with many complex layers. She is an aunt who has to babysit her quarreling nieces. She is a student in high school in an advanced English class. She is in love with her boyfriend, and while he openly gets other girls pregnant, she appreciates his honesty. She is someone who believes that life is rough because she is Black-and it doesn’t help her self-esteem that she never knew her father.
Now, put all of these issues together and you can see why she often gives a snippy response to criticism or demands. The interesting thing is that, despite all of the factors against her, she still manages to be wise beyond her years and has a streetwise sense about her.
The second teenager is 18-year-old Vesna, a white girl from a rich family who Keesha finds in a dry fountain in the park behind her project building. Vesna wants to end her life.
Keesha and Vesna start off antagonistically, cursing each other out and ranking on each other. Keesha shows a great deal of control and sense by not letting Vesna’s behavior provoke her to violence, which is obviously what Vesna wants. Vesna is very disturbed. She has serious issues going on at home that she doesn’t know how to deal with.
Though they start on the attack, Keesha eventually breaks down Vesna’s defenses and they realize they are in the same English class. The two girls end up baring their souls to each other, though they both fight it as it happens. Jackson’s storyline will have you shocked, laughing and feeling as if you’re encountering stories that teens today experience on a regular basis.
Yasha Jackson is amazing in the role of Keesha. She has an energy that doesn’t quit. Her performance is funny, focused and passionate.
Arielle Uppaluri as Vesna also explodes on the stage, delivering her character with raw emotion. Her performance hits the mark!
The direction of A. Dean Irby vividly brings the talents of the playwright and two actresses to life. “Puberty Rites” is presented by Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre in association with the Castillo Theatre and will play through Nov. 20. Be warned, though: The language in the show is inappropriate for a young audience.