Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Susan's review of Cats


Debora Crabbe, Awa Sal Secka, Jade Jones,
Kashayna Johnson, and Moriamo Temidayo Akibu

Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Round House Theatre has opened its sumptuously renovated theater in Bethesda, Maryland, with a smart and funny production of School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, powered by a dynamic ensemble cast and Nicole A. Watson's closely observed direction.

Playwright Jocelyn Bioh takes on both the apparently universal issue of the power dynamics among teenage girls (with her title reference to Tina Fey's movie and musical Mean Girls) and specifics of how these pressures manifest themselves in a culture unfamiliar to most U.S. audiences. The setting is a girls' boarding school in Ghana (the playwright's ancestral home) in 1986, depicted with economy on Paige Hathaway's set and with humor in Ivania Stack's costumes.

As the 85-minute play begins, Paulina Sarpong (Kashayna Johnson) dominates her clique with vicious personal insults and emotional manipulation. "I have a reputation to maintain," she tells Nana (Jade Jones) while insisting she lose weight; the others, cousins Mercy (Debora Crabbe) and Gifty (Moriamo Temidayo Akibu) and sensible Ama (Awa Sal Secka), just keep their heads down and try to keep from upsetting Paulina.

The girls at the school are all preparing for tryouts for a nationwide beauty contest, with the winner going on to the (fictitious) Miss Global Universe pageant. Paulina is sure she's going to be chosen to compete, with Headmistress Francis (Theresa Cunningham) in her corner, but things change when Ericka Boafo (Claire Saunders)—light-skinned, long-haired, raised in the U.S.—enrolls in the school.

Watson has obviously worked with her actors, also including Shirine Babb as a graduate of the school and former Miss Ghana who now works for the pageant organization, to bring out their individual quirks and clarify the emotional back and forth among the characters. The students have moments of joy, as in the musical number they perform to audition for Babb (music direction by prominent Washington actor Kevin McAllister), along with the anguish that comes from attacking others to overcome feelings of self-hatred.

Regarding the changes to the theater itself: where the original Round House stage was very wide and a bit distant from the audience, the new version brings the action closer to the seats with a rounded thrust stage. The balcony seems a bit more intimate as well, while the lobby now offers a restaurant and bar area and additional seating.

Round House Theatre
School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play
September 18th - October 13th, 2019
By Jocelyn Bioh
Paulina Sarpong: Kashayna Johnson
Mercy: Debora Crabbe
Nana: Jade Jones
Gifty: Moriamo Temidayo Akibu
Ama: Awa Sal Secka
Headmistress Francis: Theresa Cunningham
Ericka Boafo: Claire Saunders
Eloise Amponsah: Shirine Babb
Directed by Nicole A. Watson
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-564-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org


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