KC Rep presents light look at serious issues


Personal identity comes into finer focus with the KC Rep production of “School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play,” a different perspective of the American movie Mean Girls–only African style.

“School Girls” tells the story of five friends in a public school in Ghana where Paulina reigns supreme as the diva-in-chief. Pretty, shapely, talented, and spoiled, Paulina bullies the other girls to kowtow to her because they want to remain close to her in the top echelon of the school popularity ranks. Each of the girls submit to Paulina’s wishes, and even though they sometimes disagree, their lack of self-worth allows them to comply with Paulina’s wishes.

The story on the surface looks like a black version of Mean Girls, but as it continues, the plot unveils the girls’ insecurities, their hopes, their dreams, and their past. They point out that many African girls use a product to bleach their skin to be lighter and lighter. That alone confirms that the girls value skin tone and a more Western look. These African girls do not see or understand their natural beauty. Color becomes a main, but subtle piece of the show and becomes more apparent after a very light toned girl transfers to the school from America. She represents much of what they want.

“Paulina is the reigning Queen Bee at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school, who has her sights set on the Miss Universe pageant,” according to KC Rep. “But the mid-year addition of Ericka, a student newly-arrived from America with undeniable talent and beauty, captures the attention of both the pageant recruiter and Paulina’s teenage ‘squad.’ Jocelyn Bioh’s hilarious re-imagining of the Mean Girls story is at once joyful and heartbreaking, bitingly funny and poignant – a loving exploration of the real lives of young African women trying to negotiate the confusion of Western beauty ideals.”

Paulina aims at becoming Miss Ghana and to compete for Miss Universe, and she believes she will succeed. But, first, she must claim the title of Miss Ghana. The other girls believe and fortify her goals until a lighter, taller, and even more talented girl arrives as the school.

“Mean Girls” does not stop with just the bullish behavior of Paulina. The show introduces head mistress at the private girls’ school and a former Miss Ghana who travels from school to school, searching for the best candidate for the upcoming pageants. To remain popular and relevant, she needs to find the right girl to win Miss Ghana and to claim the Miss Universe crown. The two adults represent the reality of the present and the hope of the future to put Ghana on the map and raise awareness to their country. The head mistress wants the girls to be well-rounded and educated, and the former Miss Ghana sees beauty as the key to success.

So, the audience sees the importance of beauty to these young women. The girls all want to be beautiful, but they recognize that only Paulina has the beauty, talent and skills to compete for Miss Ghana. The girls want to be recognized as does the country of Ghana. To the girls, winning Miss Universe would put Ghana on the map and make it relevant. Colorism becomes a central point in this African society. As the former Miss Ghana reveals, her time in the spotlight passed she, but she wants to propel Ghana onto the world stage and allow the world to see the beauty of their black goddesses.

Granted, the show is funny, and the characters sound and talk like school girls, but the overall message goes far beyond that. The show never gets hostile, remains light even though it contains some darker elements. “School Girls” is fun and serves up a message without plunging into a darker pit. Audiences will enjoy from beginning to end, and the audience might even stop, think, and look at a map or reconsider pre-conceived ideas about African countries and their populations.

As expected, the KC Rep continues to present important works. “School Girls” is directed by Chip Miller who leaves after this production for his new position in Oregon. “School Girls” serves as his farewell piece as he climbs to bigger position. For this piece, Miller called on the skills of his creative and design team who never fail. The lighting, set design, costumes, sound, props, wigs–all aspects get excellent marks. Miller’s direction makes the show fun and fast moving.

The show will generate audience interest and should attract a large audience throughout the run. Unfortunately, for those who attended Saturday night’s performance, a fire alarm forced the stoppage of the play with immediate evacuation orders. The evacuation came with about three minutes left to the play’s conclusion. As such, that audience does not know the outcome. Also not available for the reviewer is the audience reaction to the piece. “School Girls” is a one-act play with no intermission, running 77 minutes. The fire alarm occurred about 72-73 minutes remaining.

For those who did not see the full production, KC Rep will contact them to offer tickets to a remaining performance of this, according to a KC Rep spokesman. The show is fun, lively and has the bite in its message. The show is very enjoyable and fun.

The cast for “School Girls” is: Chioma Anyanwu, Yetunde Felix-Ukwu, Allison S. Jones, Amber A. McKinnon, Bree Patterson, Shon Ruffin, Morgan Walker. All give strong performances and provide depth to their characters even in the smaller roles. The shows great selection in casting “School Girls.”

The play was written by Jocelyn Bioh and directed for the KC Rep by assistant artistic director Chip Miller. Toward the end of last season, Miller announced his intention to relocate in Oregon. His replacement has not been named.

The production team is: Director, Chip Miller; Production Stage Manager, Tenley Pitonzo; Assistant Stage Manager, Lydia Krause, Assistant Director, Scott Davis; Scenic Design, Brittany Vasta; Costume Design, Dominique Fawn Hill; Lighting Design, Alan Edwards; Sound Design, Lana Palmer, Wig Designer, Cherelle Guyton.
Tags: KC Rep, “School Girls” review, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of KC Re, Cory Weaver/KC Rep and Bob Evans


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