“For a Queens girl in the world, 1950 was a very interesting year in which to be born,” notes dramaturg Pancho Savery of Caleen Sinnette Jennings’s 2010 play Queens Girl in the World, now playing at Clackamas Repertory Theatre.
This beautiful, semi-autobiographic play focuses on the young Jacqueline Marie Butler (Lauren Steele), a 13 year old black girl who lives in Queens, New York. At age 13, Jackie’s major focus is Nancy Drew, her sometimes best friend Persephone, and what Persephone is doing with boys–a completely foreign subject for this child of intellectuals who is kept on a short leash.
Short leash notwithstanding, Jackie is a smart and observant young woman. Her mother has a stern view of how young women–young black women–should comport themselves. There are lessons and political statements. Persephone, her lecherous grandfather, and the kids at the fancy white school, in lower Manhattan provide a bounty of confusing life lessons. There’s that first kiss. And, there’s the night Jackie’s mother awakens her and takes her downstairs, where in the living room of their Queens residence Jackie learns the full extent of her parents’ activism.
The times are a’changing, and the front page headlines of the early 1960s along with the stresses of young womanhood are filtered through Jackie’s child’s eyes–fresh, often hilarious, and ultimately scary. This tightly written play provides perfectly timed reveals that keep the audience hooked.
Damaris Webb directs Lauren Steele, who plays 13 characters throughout the play, switching characters as quickly as the dialog allows. You will find yourself immersed in the life of this charming, witty, and thoughtful Queens girl as she walks a tightrope through turbulent times.
Thanks to Christopher D. Whitten, scenic and lighting designer; Pancho Savery, dramaturg and guest lecturer; Alva Bradford, costume designer; Marcus Storey, sound designer; Jayne Stevens, props designer; Haley Hurita, projections designer; and Lorina Alfaro, stage manager. Additional thanks to guest lecturers Dr. Maude Hines and Percy Hampton.
Queens Girl in the World continues at Clackamas Rep through September 29.
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer; inset photo by Travis Nordurft.