WINDY CITY TIMES
||THEATER REVIEW School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play
by Mary Shen Barnidge
This article shared 825 times since Thu Aug 5, 2021
Don't be fooled by the title. If you arrive at the Goodman Theatre expecting a cross-ethnic copy of the seminal 2004 Hollywood film involving spoiled, shallow, WASP-y suburban teenagers and their clueless parents, you won't find it at this long-awaited return to one-room live-action entertainment. The setting of Jocelyn Bioh's play is the West African republic of Ghana in 1986, and the stakes are much higher for the young women lucky enough to receive an education at the Aburi Girls Secondary School. At this elite academy, disciplinary action risks severe reprisals at the hands of irate families whose social status demands nothing but perfection of their offspring. For the scholarship pupils seeking escape from the hardscrabble poverty of the slums, the price of failure is a lifetime curtailed by squalor and hopelessness.
These tensions are exacerbated by the intrusion of a new student who is not only a transferee from the (fantasy-kingdom) United States, as well as the (estranged) daughter of the richest man in Ghana, butgasp!doesn't need to use painful bleaching creams to achieve her barely beige complexion. This last factor is especially important in light of the imminent auditions for the title of Miss Ghana, itself the first step to representing their country in the Miss Global Universe beauty pageantan honor promising prestige for a former crownholder looking to mentor a winner, a hefty donation for the Aburi school and glamorous travel opportunities for a candidate conforming to Eurocentric definitions of female attractions.
On that fatal night in 2020 just before all the lights went out, the personnel of the Goodman's preview performance had no way of knowing that the remainder of the run would be delayed for more than a year. Director Lili-Anne Brown and her carefully selected cast have made good use of their rest period, though, delving deep into personalities too easily reduced to shrill sitcom stereotypes, and in doing so, acquiring the courage and confidence, not to mention the vocal stamina, to express emotions in full-throated cries of despair reflecting an intensity belying the ephemerality of its source. Astute audience members are advised to note the faces of charactersnot just those speaking, but those listening as wellfor a demonstration of ensemble techniques conveying at all times the grim choices underlying Bioh's plentiful comic repartee bringing forth chuckles from playgoers blessed with privileged upbringings and short memories.
Bioh has packed a wealth of provocative topics into a brief 80 minutes, proceeding at a congenial velocity designed to camouflage the serious issues simmering beneath a veneer of adolescent dynamics. We may not know, when we first meet these young ladies on the brink of adulthood, precisely what secrets will be revealed, but we are not surprised to discover the multitude of obstacles lying in ambush to impede their progress.
This article shared 825 times since Thu Aug 5, 2021
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