BWW Review: QUEENS GIRL IN AFRICA at Mosaic Theater Company

BWW Review: QUEENS GIRL IN AFRICA at Mosaic Theater Company
Erika Rose in Mosaic Theater Company's production of Queens Girl in Africa. Photo by Stan Barouh

The second annual Women's Voices Theater Festival's first entry is the follow up to the hit play Queens Girl in the World, an entry in the first festival in 2015.

Performed at Theater J, the first installment featured the talents of actress Dawn Ursula and director Eleanor Holdridge. Playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings' second installment, Queens Girl in Africa, is presented by Mosaic Theater Company, the fastest growing theater company in town.

With a killer performance this time by Erika Rose and the "oh so fly" direction of Paige Hernandez, you would think this would be another home run. Sadly, it is Jennings' work that keeps Queens Girl in Africa from being as fully satisfying as Queens Girl in the World.

Our heroine Jacqueline Marie Butler (Erika Rose) grew up in Queens, New York at a time when there was a lot of unrest in this country. Not Trump era, the 1960's. Malcolm X has just been assassinated and she is on her way to school in Africa. Without giving everything away, she pisses into a hole in the ground for the first time, becomes very active in a student political organization, falls in love, and much more. I'd call that quite the experience for this Queens Girl, wouldn't you?

Now that actually sounds very like a very engaging plot on paper, but unfortunately, the script is deficient. Queens Girl of the World featured many colorful characters. Aside from Jacqueline, Queens Girl in Africa, there weren't any other characters that grabbed me.

It's rough when a performer in a solo show isn't given a solid script to work with, at least in my opinion. Having said that, this production is not the first time a performer has made the material appear better than it actually probably is. Julie Harris did it brilliantly in The Belle of Amherst and Erika Rose does it in spades here. Even if the overall material does not grab you, Rose's performance of multiple characters will. Every characterization is distinct.

Director Paige Hernandez's staging proves that she has the Midas touch. There isn't a lot of scenery or propage onstage. In fact Deborah Kim Svingy's set is just enough to give us the idea of location without bombarding the audience. Hernandez gives Rose plenty of opportunities to make each character special and unique in their own way. I expect nothing less from this multi-talented writer, actress, and director.

There are other issues with this production though.

First off Jennings did not learn from her mistake the first time around and yet again wrongly represents a character who stutters. Moments of disfluency do not always land on the same sound and for the exact same length of time. If that were the case someone I am extremely close to - as well as others - would have a much easier time of it.

In Mosaic's strides to be all things to all people, all performances of Queens Girl in Africa are surtitled for the deaf and hard of hearing. This is a wonderful idea. Making theater fully accessible is something every theater company should be doing. The issue here, however, is the decision to display the words on the set itself. Rose has the captions behind her in full view pretty much the whole show. It just seems to me that the captions should have been off the main set piece and projected higher up so those who needed them could still enjoy the performance and follow along.

Overall, Queens Girl in Africa has a strong production team and actress behind it, but unfortunately in this case the playwright did her own show in.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.

Queens Girl in Africa runs through February 4, 2018 in the Lang Theatre space at Atlas Performing Arts Center. The venue is located at 1333 H Stree,t NE in Washington. DC. For tickets, click here.


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