Red is for Riding,” a play by CSUN student Marcel Hill, is an idealistic twist on the children’s story filled with modern issues involving sex, violence, betrayal and greed. The cast performed the play at the Pub in the University Student Union last Wednesday and Thursday.
Hill, a cinema television arts student who wrote and directed the play, said he aimed to raise awareness of social issues, some of which he came across as a child.
“There were certain issues I was exposed to early in life and I was interested to see how I could take something everyone was familiar with, add on to it and structure it for a more adult audience,” Hill said.
Hill effectively raised these issues even though there was too much story to keep track of and the audience was left with fragmented impressions of dialogue and memorable scenes. Although the play takes place in a fantasy setting, the story was shaped in light of recent events like Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans that led to the unveiling of social issues, Hill said.
With politicians, gravediggers, prostitutes, madams and a big bad wolf, “Red is for Riding” has it all. The prostitutes moan and scream throughout the play to signal scandal and excitement. This helped to sustain the energy level, as the 105-minute play dragged on at some points.
The title expresses some of little Red’s (Tasha Finken) vulnerability. She is defenseless and at the mercy of an ever-preying world. She is born to an ex-mayor, who has fallen from grace, and an illiterate mother, who is mad with despair. Looking for her mother, Red finds herself in a town infested with ulterior motives, greed and lies.
At about five feet tall, Finken is built as one might imagine Little Red Riding Hood. With a soft voice and shredded red hood, her body is clenched as she takes small steps among friends and foes.
Ex-Mayor Bradford Black (Justin Rabi) becomes Big Black (Wolf), whose part in the play is energetic and startling. Rabi, a double major in theater and criminology, said he was drawn to the play because it dealt with social and political issues in a dark fusion of fantasy and reality.
Rabi also plays the Graveyard Master, who makes money by burying the bodies of those who die of SDIA (AIDS spelled backwards). The scenes with the Graveyard Master and the gravediggers are filled with humor and energy.
In the play, the people, fearful of the fast-spreading SDIA, elect a new mayor to clean up the city of prostitutes, who are believed to spread the virus. But the newly-elected Mayor Turner (Stephen Barnett) is no savior and instead is motivated by greed and self-interest.
Regina Dixon passionately plays the woeful Honey. The sorrow in Dixon’s voice makes it hard to not sympathize with the almost insane mother of five who has ripped out her child’s tongue in order to stop the child from crying. Still holding on to a life that is no longer hers, Honey awaits the return of her equally mad husband.
“I thought this woman has been through a lot,” Dixon said. “I took each word, each line and said in my mind, ‘What does this mean, how would I feel?'”
Dixon said there are elements in the play such as the fictional disease of SDIA, that everyone can relate to.
“(AIDS) is something that happens around us,” Dixon said. “Everything we talked about, there are people out there dealing with (it) or they know someone who is.”
The play also touches on welfare issues with Madame Blue, the “Welfare Lady” (Jonnae Thompson). She is cold and unaffected and “symbolizes people’s tendency to give into the routines in these kinds of jobs,” Hill said.
Among other memorable characters is Peaches, one of the prostitutes (Shari Lucas). Lucas is fresh, fun and delivers her lines with a poetic flow.
“There’s blunt, dark hope in it,” said Alvin Henry, a music industry studies junior, who was impressed by the play. “It’s different.”
Hill said he wants people to leave the play with a greater awareness of the world around them.
“Things are not as they seem. Turner (the new mayor) won’t turn things around,” Hill said. “Honey thinks her husband will come home, Red thinks she’ll wind up with her mom.”