Somewhere on the Internet I read a quote that says, “Life is a one-man show with a variety of directors.” I believe this is fitting for the play “Queens Girl in the World” now showing at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. I have found one-actor plays either live or die by the encapsulation of its delivery –and this show packs quite a conveyance. The narrative begins in the early 1960s when a very young African-American girl, Jacqueline (played by Dawn Ursula), is 12 years old and innocently saunters into her coming of age during the climactic civil rights movement. Although this performance has the aura of a classic narrative, its sole character is more realistic in that she reacts to events happening around her in real time, as opposed to “driving the action” in more traditional plays. The subtle, but brilliant array of details sets this story into a spiraling motion-rich in “code switching” particulars and even dialogue. Jacqueline has an incredible ability to mimic the people in her life –from her parents to her friends—with such fine and humorous patois, it was hard not to notice the eruption of laughter in sections of the theatre who caught the faint cultural nuances.
I absolutely loved this performance. Jennings’s rich storytelling skills are keenly embodied through the animation and captivating illustration of a truly gifted actor in Dawn Ursula.
At times, I found this play to be quite entertaining and other times it literally left me stunned in a retrospective daze. Playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings uses vivid imagery in the semi-autobiographical articulation of her “Jacqueline” character, who is gripped by the impacting changes happening around her and sudden understandings of certain aspects of sexuality. Not to mention the complex questions that arise with themes entrenched in race, culture and class. In spite of Jacqueline’s shortsighted and limited perspectives, she describes the uprooting changes with amusing articulatory skits of her interactions with people in her neighborhood and school. I especially found her character depictions of her parents and her braces-induced, lisping white-girl friend from Greenwich Village irresistibly funny. Her preteen, over-the-top reactions to basically everything were quite realistic.
I absolutely loved this performance. Jennings’s rich storytelling skills are keenly embodied through the animation and captivating illustration of a truly gifted actor in Dawn Ursula. Though much of the spotlight of this performance is on Ursula, hers is actually not a one-person show – though most of it rests on her shoulders. I give Ursula a tremendous amount of credit for her fabulously rich portrayal of Jacqueline, and also director Paige Hernandez for channeling and utilizing every aspect of Ursula’s on point, masterful performance. Kim James Bey probably had a hand in Ursula’s dialectic fluidity –which made so much of this show feel quite natural. For the stage and ambiance, designer Paige Hathaway and artistic director Vincent Lancisi put together an artfully beautiful set. Lighting and audio were impeccable, as Nancy Schertler and David Lamont Wilson ensured everything illuminated and sounded just right.
One caveat, “Queens Girl in the World” is one of two plays centered on the same character in two different times in her life. The second play, “Queens Girl in Africa,” is a continuation of Jacqueline’s story a little later on in years and plays on different nights during the show run –which is from May 7th through June 23rd.
What’s even more fascinating is Everyman Theatre has commissioned the playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings to write a part 3 to this story titled “Queens Girl: Back in the Green Mountains,” which is set to debut in 2020. Everyone should keep an eye out for it in the very near future. Everyman has done it yet again with another truly fascinating show.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“Queens Girl in the World” runs through June 23. For more information about dates, show times and tickets, click here.