BWW Review: SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY at the Round House Theatre - A Great Way to Open Their Renovated Theatre.
Welcome back to Bethesda Round House Theatre! After a successful renovation, the theater has reopened on East-West Highway with impressive architectural improvements. One will notice immediately upon entering the lobby, huge changes with a complete makeover. There is a huge bar and seating area that was desperately needed. I do believe they could use more variety of refreshments though.. The theater's intent is to get people to a performance early and stick around afterwards.
Inside the theater one notices the exposed brick walls which truly make it look classy. It is fabulous to see to left of the stage a place for surtitles which is a wonderful addition. I do suggest they put the same signage on both sides of the stage. Every theater should attempt to do this.
The biggest improvement is the addition of a thrust stage which extends into the audience. Wonderful!
Now to the play SCHOOL GIRLS. Thanks to the program and the work of Dramaturg Gabrielle Hoyt, we learn the name of the play was originally just SCHOOL GIRLS. But it was changed. The playwright, Jocelyn Bioh added the subtitle. She stated, "I wanted to give them an idea, think MEAN GIRLS, think high school, and it's African, so let it go."
The funny and poignant play deals with "colorism" which is discrimination based on skin color. The hit Broadway musical ONCE ON THIS ISLAND dealt with this subject. The plays takes place in Ghana and deals with colorism straight on. It is based loosely on an event in 2011 when Ericka Yayra Nego was crowned Miss Universe Ghana. She was born in Minneapolis, had previously won Miss Minnesota USA and through her Ghanaian-American heritage stirred outrage when she became eligible to compete representing Ghana. There is a photo in the program of Nego and she is clearly a gorgeous light-skinned woman.
If you have never noticed colorism, notice television shows and see how many dark-skinned Blacks there are. Watch a news show and notice the "light-skinned Blacks".
This problem is the subject of Bioh's delightful comedy that occurs in a Ghanaian girls's boarding school where the girls all wear the same uniforms, white blouses and stripped skirts. It is 1986 and as in many schools, the Aburi Girls Senior High School has its cliques and "Paulina" (the terrific Kashayna Johnson) is clearly the bully leader. Her followers are "Ama (Awa Sal Secka), "Mercy" (Debora Crabbe), "Gifty" (Moriamo Temidayo Akibu), and "Nana" (Jade Jones).
The Headmistresss "Francis" (Theresa Cunningham) holds fort with an iron fist.
Everything seems fine until a new student arrives, the much lighter-skinned "Ericka" (Claire Saunders) arrives who is American raised, a child of parents from Ghana, but with a questionable place of birth.
Right after she arrives, a former student "Eloise Amponsah" (Shirine Babb) visits the school. She's a former 1966 Miss Ghana and comes to the school to audition students for the pageant. Everyone is shocked when the new pupil stuns the school with her magnificent voice at the audition. "Amponsah" makes the point how "color" makes such an impression on judges.
I won't spoil the ending.
It is terrific to see so many local actors on stage.
Round House's regional premiere is directed by their Associate Artistic Director, Nicole A. Watson who does a masterful job. It's a quick 85 minutes long with no intermission.
Kudos to the design team: Paige Hathaway (Set), Ivania Stack (Costumes), Martha Mountain (Lighting), and Tosin Olufolabi (Sound). Taking a break from his impressive acting credentials is Kevin McAllister (Music Direction).
There are ten different productions being done of SCHOOL GIRLS across the country during this American theatre season. After you see it, you will understand why.
Next up at Round House is the Tony winner THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME opening Nov. 20, 2019.
For tickets, call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.