BWW Review: QUEEN'S GIRL IN THE WORLD and QUEENS GIRL IN AFRICA - Performed in Repertory at Everyman Theatre
I must applaud Everyman Theatre's Artistic Director Vince Lancisi for having the brilliant idea of ending its season with two plays by Caleen Sinnette Jennings in repertory: QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD and QUEENS GIRL IN AFRICA. What a genius!
They deal with the semi-autobiographical tale of a young Black woman from Queens New York, with one actress portraying Jacqueline Marie Butler in the years 1963 to 1965 spanning her youth from the age of 12 to 15. In QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD, we see Jacqueline sitting on the front stoop of her home at 2933 Erickson Street, E. Elmhurst, Queens where she attends school and then we see her transformation after transferring to a school in Greenwich Village with a large Jewish population where she learns the term "oy veh", attends Bar Mitzvahs, and loves a bagel with a shmear.
We hear great music like "Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas, "Sherry" by the Four Seasons, Carol King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Supremes "You Can't Hurry Love", and "Sea of Love" by Cat Power."
In QUEENS GIRL IN AFRICA, her mother decides to leave the USA and they head to Nigeria (as Marcus Garvey had suggested to Blacks in the early 20th century) where her father works in a hospital in Lagos. Here from 1965 to 1967 (aged 16 to 18) she attends high school with other students whose parents work in the hospital.
I had the opportunity to see both shows in one day, one at a 1 p.m. matinee, the other at 7:30 p.m. What an amazing day of theater. What a double-header! I saw AFRICA in the afternoon but I highly recommend you see them in sequence so you will understand more how Jacqueline develops over time.
Both shows have only one actress who must demonstrate amazing acting skills. For the WORLD, Everyman Resident Company member Dawn Ursula reprises her role she did at Theatre J in Washington, DC in 2015 where she won a Helen Hayes Award.
To say that these two women give a tour-de force performance is an understatement. You will never forget their tremendous roles.
Who do they play? In THE WORLD, besides the role of Jacqueline, she plays her father, Dr. Charles Norman Butler with a West Indies accent, her mother Grace Lofton Butler, teacher Murray Lewis who is recovering from throat cancer, Earl Waddlington, her hysterical first boyfriend, Persephone Wilson, her neighborhood girlfriend (not to be believed) , her mother Miss Saphronia Wilson, and father Mr. Looyd Wilson ( a stutterer), actress Gloria Foster who she sees in a play and then meets on the street in a wonderful scene), Karen Rubin from the Village who wears braces (how she sounds like this I just don't know), a an angry civil rights worker for SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), and Leah Hoffman, her 9th grade English teacher who makes all the students read the New York Times.
Some key events she discusses are the death of Medgar Evers (June 12, 1963), the March on Washington (Aug. 28, 1963), JFK's Assassination (she recalls drumbeat and a salute from a little boy at the funeral), the four Black students killed in the Birmingham Church Bombing on Sept. 16, 1963, the Malcolm X Assassination on Feb. 21, 1965 (she actually met Malcolm X who visited their home) and the Vietnam war in Nov. 1965. And most importantly she first bra when she was 15. And out of the blue they sail on the Queen Mary to Africa.
In Africa, Jacqueline (Erika Rose) in July 1965 remembers seeing "The Beatles" on Ed Sullivan, the television shows "Shindig" and "Hullabaloo". There's one of my favorite songs "Ferry Across the Mersey". I couldn't think of the group who sang it but thank you Jacqeuline wanted to take the ferry and mentions Gerry and the Pacemakers. The Queen Mary docked in Liverpool but Jacqueline is unable to visit the home of "Paul" and the Beatles.
Rose's characters include her father and mother, Dr. George Dendricks (a colleague of her father) and his wife Maggie, Jewel Essen (one of Jacie's Aunties), Mr. Quality (a tradesman), Gilliam Dendricks (her first love interest), friend Terry-May Dendricks, Mr. Gillespie, headmaster of the International School Ibadan, Frances Akpom, a wealthy Ghanaian, Cathy January, a White American from the South, her geography teacher Mr. Haggerty, Lauren Louise Fox, a Black American friend, Sam Lyles, a stutterer, Fumilayo Ogunseye, a wealthy Nigerian student, and Godfrey, the butler's house man. A total of 18 characters.
In Lagos, Jacquelyn is introduced to an outhouse with a hole and the smell that goes with it. Later she will sing the Nigerian national anthem.
While in bed, she sees an animal crawling up a wall (great projection by Sarah Tundermann) but does not know it's a gecko (she does not yet know of the Geico commercial).
Key parts of history that occur while in Nigeria include assassination of many various Nigeria leaders, a Civil War with the country of Biafra (finally settled in 1970), riots in Cincinnati, Newark (the long hot summer of 1967), and Detroit where the National Guard and Military are sent in July 1967 (43 dead and 1189 injured), Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are assassinated in spring of 1968, Otis Redding dies, the six day war in the Middle East, and her first mini-skirt.
How Rose and Ursula remain on stage throughout with just one intermission, know all their lines, change facial expressions, use various body movements, learn their different accents (great work by Dialect Coach Kim James Bey) is beyond me. These are performances that will long be remembered. Each of them deserved the standing ovations they received immediately after the show.
Both these plays were Directed by a member of the Everyman Resident Company, the incomparable and talented Paige Hernandez. What a fabulous job she does and what a future she has a director.
There is a third play which is currently being written by Playwright Jennings. It takes off after Jackie attends Bennington College in Vermont and is entitled QUEENS GIRL: BLACK IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS. It will be performed in a new performance space being built on the second floor of Everyman which will open in March 2020.
Do not miss these two powerful plays. They run until June 23, 2019. For tickets, call 410-752-2208 or visit www.everymantheatre.org.
Heat up your DVRs for the following all on WETA:
June 1 3 p.m. "Great Performances: Broadway Musicals : A Jewish Legacy".
June 1 7 p.m. "LES MISERABLES 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2" featuring Alfie Boe, Nick Jonas, Lea Salonga, Colm Wilkinson, Norm Lewis, and Ramin Karimloo. This is a must see. Repeats Tuesday, June 4 2 p.m., Wed. June 5 at 8 p.m., Friday June 7 at noon, and Thursday, June 13 at 8 p.m.
June 21 at 9:30 p.m. "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/ Feeling Heard: American Masters.
June 22 SOUTH PACIFIC at 8 p.m.the WETA movie. Repeats Sunday, June 23 at noon.
June 30 at 2:30 p.m. FALSETTOS on "Live From Lincoln Center". Nominated for five 2017 Tony Awards starring Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, and Andrew Rennells.
June 30 at 10:30 INDECENT, the Paula Vogel Tony Award winning play that recently was produced at Baltimore Center Stage and Arena Stage.