School Girls at the Lucille Lortel Theater: What Price Beauty?

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The Lucille Lortel Theater has been sold out for weeks, ever since the MCCproduction of School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play arrived with its stellar cast of young women. Set in 1986 Ghana, Jocelyn Bioh’s play can be seen as an African variation of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, with the action unfolding in a school cafeteria. A group of girls are abuzz, anticipating the arrival of a representative of a global beauty competition, clearly a way out of the provincial town. But just as Paulina (Maameyaa Boafo), the class bully with cocky self-absorption takes her candidacy for granted, Ericka (Nabiyah Be), a new girl arrives. The light skinned daughter of a local cocoa tycoon, Ericka grew up in the States. Light skinned, of course, equates with beauty, and when the rep, Eloise (Zainab Jah), arrives, Miss Ghana of 1966, as she repeats endlessly lest you forget this woman’s climb, she sees her own ticket to promotion in the new girl.

On the night I attended, whooping and uh-huhing rang loud in the audience. Under Rebecca Taichman’s fine direction, the comedy of mean-spirited banter hits home. A particularly hilarious moment is an intentionally bad chorus of “The Greatest Love of All,” meant to impress Eloise, a former school girl herself. While the crowds for this play are specific, the story is as resonant as any fairy tale you’ve ever heard about the real nature of looks, competition, and opportunity.

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