In Play Reviews

Middle schools and high schools are notorious for their sub-cultures of nasty, mean girls. This phenomenon is not unique to the United States, as we learn in Jocelyn Bioh‘s breakout hit School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play.

Tonea Lolin, Kayla Kelly, and Andrea Vernae in School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play. Photo by Russell J. Young.

Presented by Artists Repertory Theatre and Portland Center Stage, this joint production is offered on the Main Stage at The Armory and is part of Artist Rep’s ART on Tour while it rebuilds its permanent home at SW 15th and Morrison.

The play is set at Aburi Girls Senior High School, an exclusive Ghana boarding school, where the intelligent and beautiful Paulina (Andrea Vernae) holds sway over her perceived underlings–Mercy (Kayla Kelly), Gifty (Tonea Lolin), Nana (Treasure Lunan), and Ama (Tamera Lyn). And good luck to the headmistress (Kisha Jarrett) who tries to keep them in line.

Select cast members in School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play. Russell J. Young photo.

Paulina has nasty comments for every girl within range. They bow and scrape. Paulina is right. Paulina is determined to be the next Miss Ghana. Every girl is agog about the upcoming beauty pageant and the pageant recruiter, Eloise Amponsah (Sara Williams), who will soon visit the school. Then the new girl, Ericka (Morgan Walker) arrives at the school. She’s beautiful, smart, and several shades lighter in skin tone than her peers. Nasty gets nastier.

While Paulina feels threatened by Ericka, there is much more going on in this play than school girl rivalries. School Girls is presented with humor, biting wit, and a deft sense for how teenage girls talk and interact with each other. It moves from funny to vicious in seconds, and the stakes are high. This is a story about how the world works.

Kisha Jarrett, Morgan Walker, and Andrea Vernae. Photo by Russell J. Young.

Lava Alapai directs the show, with costume design by Wanda Walden, scenic design by Lex Marcos, lighting design by Marika Kent, and sound design by Phil Johnson. Other creative team members include Kristen Mun, stage manager; Macarena Subiabre, production assistant; and Yetunde Felix-Ukwu, dialect coach.

School Girls plays at Portland Center Stage at the Armory through February 16.



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