It has been written, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflected the real person.” In the story presented in “Queens Girl in Africa,” playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings retells her high school years in Nigeria in an adulteration of fiery conflicts and laments in her new surroundings, while America boiled in ethnic and political strife during the late 1960s.
Credit should also go to the incredibly seasoned director Paige Hernandez for her hand in this outstanding show.
Though this play is a continuation of “Queens Girl in the World,” the two stories are very different in circumstances and message –not to mention different actresses. Erika Rose plays the high school, Jacqueline, arriving wide-eyed and imaginative about “returning to the homeland” of Africa. However, she (and her family) quickly learn life in Nigeria is wildly particular and, in spite of their hope and optimism, the country is hardly an easygoing paradise. With military coups and civil war threatening their intentions of assimilating to Nigerian customs, Jacqueline’s resolve and her family’s are put to the test. They struggle with their realities both in their new home and the civil rights movement back in America –which becomes exacerbated by the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Erika Rose, like Dawn Ursula in “Queens Girl in the World,” illustrates the distinct characteristics of the people in Jacqueline’s life during those years in Nigeria. Their mannerisms, the voice changing, facial expressions, accents and dialects are incredibly impressive. Rose animates and contorts her body to mimic the characters as she is telling the story –even shedding rivers of tears convincingly in moments of deep melancholy. There is much to digest –as in at some point Jacqueline realized who you are is rooted in where you’re from. Although she felt she was returning to her roots, sooner or later she realized she was simply an outsider. However, much was gained and that experience clearly shaped her into a person she eventually became.
As I watched Rose perform this role, I found her projections and movements were quite captivating and delightfully engaging. There is an outthrust of humanity flowing, interwoven in its undercurrent of altruism, which Rose gracefully encapsulated with every hand movement and enunciation. Her impassioned and fluid animation was poetry embodied. This was one of those unique shows where the actor is truly center stage, and the backdrop may well have been a plain white screen and it would still have been strong. Although, it is only appropriate to note the stage was quite charming. Set designer Paige Hathaway put together a set that did not steal any of the attention away from the actor –but added just enough ambiance to the subtle scene changes.
It’s also important to come back around and point out the character “Jacqueline” is the playwright Jennings, and she the character in this play. The temperament, the rage, confusion and fervor coalesce into an intense spur –consuming the heart as reflection and realization of humankind emanates from this one woman on stage. To say I marveled at this performance would be a slight understatement. Erick Rose is a fabulous actress and she plays the role of Jaqueline Marie Butler flawlessly. Credit should also go to the incredibly seasoned director Paige Hernandez for her hand in this outstanding show. Everyman Theatre truly has some gems in its crown.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“Queens Girl in Africa” is now showing at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore until June 23rd. For information and tickets, click here.