Writer: Melisa Tien
Director: Tamilla Woodard
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
The classic sports narrative features athletes who overcome adversity by losing themselves in the game, often forging friendships and finding opportunities along the way. Yellow Card Red Card, playing at New Ohio Theatre’s ICE Factory Festival, stays true to this narrative without feeling like a rehash of the familiar.
Yellow Card Red Card tells the story of Aisha (Alfie Fuller), Yasmine (Selamawit Worku), Soureiya (Phumzile Sitole), and Christina (Torée Alexandre), star players on a women’s soccer team in northern Cameroon. Their coach, Abdou (Irungu Mutu) hopes to not only lead them to victory on the field, but help shape their futures as well. The five-actor ensemble takes on the roles of secondary characters—parents, siblings, a midwife, a recruiter for the national women’s soccer team. The first half of the play establishes the lives of the characters, while the second half vacillates between their championship match and scenes from their lives off the pitch.
All of the women face different pressures at home. Aisha’s parents are determined to see her go to university, even if it means considerable sacrifice on their part. Yasmine, the eldest of the players, has three children at home; her husband wants to keep trying for a boy, but Yasmine would much rather spend her time on the soccer pitch than changing diapers. Soureiya, who suffers from an unspecified condition that is affecting her eyesight, comes from a strict family of refugees from religious violence in Nigeria. Her mother is suicidal and her father believes modern medicine is a sin. Christina is the only Christian on the team—her teammates and coach are all Muslims. Christina’s real problem lies not in her status as part of a religious minority, but in the secret she never dares share with anyone: she is in love with one of her teammates. Every woman keenly feels the pressures of a conservative society that adheres tightly to the mandates of traditional gender roles. They must have a man escort them to practice (even if it’s a younger brother) or pay for a moto (motorcycle taxi) so that they aren’t traveling alone. For the younger women, the expectation that they will wed young and start having children is omnipresent; Yasmine’s life serves as an indication of what they can expect from the future. They all have considerable household responsibilities to juggle with their soccer practice schedule, but on the field, that melts away; they come together as a team to emerge victorious.
Melisa Tien’s script is compelling and engaging while Tamilla Woodard’s direction gives us a show of near-constant motion. There is no physical ball—actors mime kicking and passing. They run in place and, mimicking one of sports cinema’s great tropes, shift into slo-mo for goal kicks. Performers bounce between the central and secondary characters quickly and seamlessly; this show is an acting workout as much as it is a physical one. The performers are all to be commended for excellent work as are costume designer Sarita Fellows and accent coach Barbara Rubin. There is some business in the second half where Abdou brings an audience member onstage to perform the opening kick of the championship match; this felt gimmicky and out-of-place. The miming of the soccer ball was an effective device for the most part, but the execution of the choreography could have been tighter.
None of this show’s few weaknesses take away from the fact that it is a powerful and beautifully executed work. This feels like a show with a future outside of this festival, but it deserves attention now. Yellow Card Red Card is not to be missed.
Runs until 5 August 2017