MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 9, $49-$115
Following its initial run last fall, MCC’s School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, which earned a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble, is back at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for an encore engagement running through December 9. Below is an update of twi-ny’s original review from November 2017, with the new dates and actors added.
Actress Jocelyn Bioh’s professional playwriting debut is a sharp, uproarious tale of a clique of young boarding school students in central Ghana who can be as nasty as they wanna be, able to go toe-to-toe with Cady, Regina, Gretchen, Janis, and Karen from Mark Waters’s 2004 hit movie, Mean Girls. Bioh, who has appeared in such plays as Suzan-Lori Parks’s In the Blood, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Everybody and An Octoroon, and Jaclyn Backhaus’s Men on Boats, even references the film, which was written by Tina Fey (and the musical adaptation of which has been extended on Broadway through July 7), in the title of her show, School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, which is back for an encore engagement at the Lucille Lortel through December 9. It’s 1986, and the students at Aburi Girls Boarding School are getting ready to audition for the Miss Ghana beauty pageant. Paulina Sarpong (MaameYaa Boafo) is the egotistical, narcissistic leader of a group of girls, willing to say or do just about anything to remain in charge. She brags about her soccer-playing boyfriend and how she is a shoo-in to be named Miss Ghana while brazenly putting down the rest of her crew, which consists of the tall, bright Ama (originally Níkẹ Kadri, now Latoya Edwards), the innocent, overweight Nana (Abena Mensah-Bonsu), and the twinlike duo of Gifty (Paige Gilbert) and Mercy (Mirirai Sithole). The power dynamic immediately shifts when headmistress Francis (Myra Lucretia Taylor) introduces a new student, Ericka Boafo (previously Nabiyah Be, now Joanna A. Jones), a beautiful, talented, and bold young woman who quickly challenges Paulina’s authority. Of course, putting Paulina on the defensive is not something you want to do, unless you’re ready for the barrage that will follow. So when Miss Ghana 1966, Eloise Amponsah (originated by Zainab Jah, now Zenzi Williams), whom Francis knows all too well, arrives to select one of the girls to compete in the pageant, the gloves are off and sides are chosen in a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy. “Headmistress likes to make everyone feel like they have a fair chance,” Paulina declares, “but we all know I’m the best.”
School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play was inspired by the true story of Yayra Erica Nego, the 2009 Miss Minnesota who went on to be named Miss Ghana 2011, a controversial decision for several reasons, including her fair skin, as well as by Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes. In the seventy-five-minute play, Bioh, a first-generation Ghanaian American who went to boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania, explores such issues as body image and colorism, beauty and friendship, and race and class in this microcosmic Lord of the Flies scenario. Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic design is simple but effective, a few tables in the school cafeteria, while Dede M. Ayite’s costumes change from the standard green-and-white school uniform to fancy dresses for the competition, giving each character a moment to shine. Tony-winning director Rebecca Taichman (Indecent, Familiar) keeps it all in check, never letting things get out of hand or become too clichéd. School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play is no mere African American version of Mean Girls; instead, it is as smart and entertaining, as sweet and honest, its characters as obnoxious and horrible and lovable and vulnerable, as teen girls themselves. The encore engagement will feature a series of special postshow events, including audience conversations on November 14 and 18 and a talkback on November 19.