Being nineteen can be tough for a girl if she’s poor, uneducated and pregnant. Teenage boyhood can also be tough if the guy is sensitive and confused, and he’s the one who knocked her up. That’s the scenario in Toronto playwright George F. Walker’s thought-provoking comic drama Tough!
Tina and Jill gang up on Tina’s boyfriend Bobby in an inner-city playground. They call him a self-centred jerk/insect/dog-brain/sewer rat. Unfair, he exclaims. Tough, say the girls. He deserves those names and worse.
Walker’s play explores the nature of responsibility and how its meaning changes radically from different gendered perspectives.
Bobby claims he’s trying his best to figure out what he should do about Tina’s pregnancy. In his stuttering, inarticulate way he considers options from financially supporting her and the child to paying for an abortion. But every suggestion is greeted with disappointment by Tina and with insults or physical assaults by Jill.
The fact that Bobby doesn’t love Tina complicates things. And he has dreams— selfish, horny, unrealistic dreams, say the girls. Okay, but they’re his dreams. Besides, he insists, he always uses a condom so it really isn’t his fault.
Tina has dreams, too: a man to love, kids, a decent place to live. But now she’s facing the prospect of single motherhood and a life on welfare. Both Bobby and Tina have grown up in less than ideal homes. Their modest fantasies of transcending family dysfunction and urban poverty seem increasingly out of reach.
Does Jill help by always goading Bobby, beating him up and threatening to kick him to death? Her obsessive loyalty to Tina and dislike of Bobby seem at times almost psychotic, but are often also, like so much else in the play, very funny.
Tamara McCarthy directs this Twenty-Something Theatre production on Craig Alfredson’s nicely utilitarian playground set with mixed success.
Marlene Ginader is very good as Tina. Her solid, grounded performance makes clear how genuinely tough Tina’s choices are and how complicated her feelings about Bobby remain.
Katherine Gauthier’s hyper-intensity suits Jill well except when her fussy hand-acting makes Jill appear to be rapping rather than talking. Physical tics also get in the way of Timothy Johnston’s Bobby. Johnston’s sweet, vulnerable quality works nicely for Bobby’s unusual masculinity (Bobby gets dizzy, cries easily and lets girls beat him up), but he could tone down the arm-waving, head-scratching and blubbering. Less is more should be the motto for both these young actors.
See Tough! with someone from the opposite sex and prepare for a good argument afterwards.