I’ve just seen Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls, presented by Obsidian Theatre in association with Nightwood Theatre at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The co-production is a natural considering how perfectly the play fulfills the mandates of both companies, a piece by a black playwright (Obsidian), on a stage populated by women (Nightwood).
Inspired by the true story of Erica Nego, a Minneapolis-born biracial woman of Ghanaian heritage, the universality of the story is in the character relationships, particularly the echoes of that 2004 Lindsay Lohan—Rachel McAdams film that led the playwright to subtitle the work as “The African Mean Girls Play”.
Some aspects of school and adolescence are the same wherever you might go.
We watch five Ghanaian girls excited by an upcoming beauty contest. As in the film, there’s a reigning princess who has no hesitation in bullying her classmates, even getting them to lie & cheat on her behalf, at least until bi-racial Ericka arrives from America.
The unity of this ensemble directed by Nina Lee Aquino was a joy to behold, the players as tight & attentive to one another as a string quartet. This was a team effort to achieve the right look and feel and sound to every aspect including hair, costumes, body language, dialects, music and even fights. At times they’re a dance-troupe at other times a real classroom.
Natasha Mumba had genuine star quality as Paulina, the alpha princess of this group. The arc of the story has a few surprises, as we discover reasons we might have sympathy for powerful Paulina, that maybe this whole business of beauty contests is much more than meets the eye.
Nana (Tatyana Mitchell) and Ama (Rachel Mutombo) each have their fights with the queen Bee, although those are essentially sub-plots, to the main conflict with Ericka (Melissa Eve Langdon), whose arrival threatens Paulina’s dominance of the class.
Mercy (Bria McLaughlin) and Gifty (Emerjade Simms) are paired off for some of the funniest moments of the play, a bit like a Greek chorus. They energized the show and lightened the tone.
Akosua Amo-Adem (school headmistress) and Allison Edwards-Crewe (Eloise, Miss Ghana 1966) represent the adults of that world, to whom the students usually speak very politely, normally seeking to impress rather than upset them.
The cast behaved as though this were a great privilege, lavishing us with great commitment throughout, the ensemble tight & energetic . While it’s a small group of actors in this tiny microcosm that is a million miles away from my own world, the 90 minutes of this play flew by in no time at all. I was totally consumed with the cares & conflicts of these six young women wanting to be in a beauty contest.
School Girls continues at Buddies until March 24th.