While I love all forms of theater, it’s apparent that typically I gravitate towards musicals more than plays. However there is one theatre in town that still somehow manages to pull me in with every play they produce and that is the Jungle Theater. Whether it’s thrilling, drama or a comedy I always leave there thankful that I attended. That feeling was reassured, once again, as I walked down Lyndale in Uptown this past weekend after seeing the media preview for School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh.
The script introduces us to a group of girls who all attend one of the most exclusive boarding schools in Ghana. These girls all revolve around the schools queen bee, Paulina, who is hardly nice to them to say the lease. Paulina has been setting her sights on becoming the next Miss. Ghana to advance to the Miss Global Universe pageant. However the arrival of a new student from America who captures the attention of the pageant recruiter, throws Paulina in a sticky situation in which she must fight for her throne along with her desire to win.
Bioh writes an extensively compelling script that takes a truly deep discussion about internalized racism, bullying and self-doubt into a humorous setting. Through quick witted dialogue we are able to take an inside look at what many young women, no matter the color of their skin, age or location, have to go through on a daily basis. It’s truly eye opening but done in such a carefully constructed way.
Each character, no matter how big or small of a part they have, area dealing with struggles whether it’s internal, external or with their family. The performers all bring these characters alive from script to stage so beautifully. This is also partially due to the director Shá Cage for casting such an all star cast. Cage also made her Jungle directorial debut with this production. Normally I have a list of actors that no matter what show they are in, I’ll try to go see it but Cage just skyrocketed to the top of the list for directors.
Everyone in this group of performers shine throughout the show. As an ensemble they set a fast but never rushed pace that feels natural. They spoke at the same time and truly trusted each other which was apparent from the start. Ivory Doublette plays Headmistress Francis and does so beautifully showing off a maternal quality for the young girls that I think is a very real emotion for so many educators in the world. Hope Cervantes plays the pageant recruiter Eloise Amponsah and exudes such a frightening ambition that only comes from truly understanding the backstory of Eloise.
Salome Mergia, who plays Nana, also had a rich character to portray as Nana is the oddball in the group. She’s the one that Paulina picks on the most and knows she can manipulate Nana to do her bidding because of Nana’s desire to fit in. Mergia plays Nana through I think a level of understanding that everyone can relate to when going through peer pressure. Nimene Sierra Wureh has the comedic timing of a well seasoned actor as she plays Gifty with hilarious punch lines and even received loud applause and laughter with just a side eye look.
Ashe Jaafaru plays Paulina and was a stand out in this role. Her role is probably one of the most realistic ones of the group of girls due to the range of emotion and backstory she must portray. Everything she did was calculated and had a reasoning which was really incredible to watch.
In this current political climate there are a lot of people that are afraid or get uncomfortable when you talk about race and the ideals of beauty with Eloise wanting Ericka to be Miss. Ghana due to her having lighter skin and a more “universal look.” While these conversations are necessary to move forward for progress and equality sake no matter how hard they are, this play approaches them through humor while still having very real wretched experiences.
School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play plays at the Jungle Theater now through April 14th.