25 Jan 2018

Arts & Entertainment:

Lessons in History and Hope from Queens Girl in Africa

Mosaic Theater has given us a few memorable one-person shows and Queens Girl in Africa carries that tradition proudly from beginning to end. Queens Girl is part of the Women’s Voices Festival and will be playing at the Lang Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through February 4.

Erika Rose stars in the world premiere production of Queens Girl in Africa at the Atlas. Photo courtesy of Mosaic Theater

Queens Girl is a one-woman play based on playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings’s own childhood experiences in Nigeria during the period of 1965 to 1968. The one-woman show, directed with verve by Paige Hernandez, centers around a teen girl and her experiences traveling from the United States to Nigeria, as well as her years there.

Erika Rose’s range as an actress is formidable: She is all ingénue as the delightful title character of Jacqueline; but she is also a great character actress, lending depth, range, basso honeyed tones, and a gaggle of varied accents to the supporting cast of characters that Jacqueline encounters as the heroine of this beautiful coming-of-age story and crash course in Nigerian history. Seeing and hearing Rose deliver the father character’s gravelly voiced chiding and then piling on Jacqueline as a silky-voiced mother is truly delightful. Rose’s vocal agility delivers accents from different parts of Africa with effortless ability. She is a joy to watch.

From the outset, it is hard not to love every quirk and bit about this play: From the 60s soundtrack to the seamless aural cues that transport us from Queens to Liverpool to Lagos and finally to Ibadan– the college town where Jacqueline’s father will work as a physician.

Jacqueline’s family felt unsafe after the assassination of Malcolm X and decided to emigrate. Little did we all know that their journey would be a little like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, as Nigeria –a newly-established country at that point– is about to enter a civil war of its own. A delightful performance, a great story and a novelesque twist make Queens Girl in Africa some of the more enjoyable theater coming your way this winter.

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