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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Single Black Female
Thompson, a professor/writer of satirical plays about "the travails of being black and middle class in urban contexts," has delivered a generally amusing, occasionally nerve-hitting but mainly conscientiously targeted serio-comical rant for two black women. Although I did not see this well-reviewed 1999 play during either of its 2006 or 2008 Off Broadway productions, I am glad, as you may also be, for the opportunity to see it at the Crossroads Theater.
True, the largely engaging time that we spend with two chicks — oops sorry, two thirty-something "sistas" — who talk, bitch and moan, hang out and hang loose and otherwise shop together in a number of New York City's better boutiques and stores is, as was Sex in the City, is generally frisky and often funny — except that there is no sex, only lots of city shopping and plenty of wishful thinking. However, were it not for absolutely terrific performances by Gaines and Weeks (or hopefully any two actors who undertake the roles in future productions) the play could also easily grow a bit wearisome in its relentless, if otherwise purposeful, pursuit of a point or perspective.
In this fast and furiously paced ninety-minute duet in which the Attorney, and the Professor share their disillusions and disappointments, we are kept amused hearing about the sorry state of their love lives, their apparently futile quest to land a proper and respectable romantic partner i.e. smart, sexy and good-looking, as well as their unending search, at least true for the Attorney, to find the right dress and shoes for a date. At its best, the play is a brittle discursive rebuttal to the bad images of black women that have prevailed for so long on TV and in the movies.
As the more glamorous and clothes-conscious Attorney, the shapely Weeks keeps her foot on the throttle throughout the play and uses the multi-location, multi-level setting (credibly designed by Yee Eun Nam) as a fashion runway. There is the sheer pleasure in seeing Weeks sashay, pose and assume prototypical postures while also spewing out invectives. "The marriage rate for women is 76 percent higher than the rate for black women."
Hardly inclined to take a back seat, Gaines holds her own, if less provocative positions, as the more determinedly plain-clothed Professor whose possible sexual preference may be as up for grabs as are her options as a highly intelligent, educated, middle-class black woman. "People, Before Ms. Oprah Winfrey, became a media icon, the image of black womanhood was a bit stale and not very complex." If Weeks is the more saucy then let's give it Gaines for being more sassy. Both Gaines and Weeks traverse the stage with unalloyed vim and vigor and play well off each other's snips and snipes.
The audience at the performance I attended was, if not constantly in stitches, noticeably empathetic. Though one can sense pretty quickly the lack of a dramatic thread, the play is, nevertheless, tied together by these women's common goal: to snare. . . or is it ensnare a man. This, as they shoulder visits to a gynecologist, attempt on-line dating and even ponder the possibilities of connecting with white guys like Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt.
Thompson's text seems to cover all the bases and then some when it comes to exposing the issues that black women face in finding a suitable partner. However, as the lawyer says, "If fifty percent of all marriages fail, why are so many of us anxiously waiting to play THAT game."
Single Black Female, under the robust direction of Shirley Jo Finney, may run out of steam before the end, but it never runs out of the strikingly conventional sentiments that are somehow destined to prevail.
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Single Black Female by Lisa B. Thompson
Directed by Shirley Jo Finney
Cast: Daphne Gaines (Professor), Stephanie J. Weeks (Attorney)
Scenic Design: Yee Eun Nam
Costume Design: Dana Rebecca Woods
Lighting Design: Victor En You Tan
Sound Design: David Wright
Projection Design: Yee Eun Nam
Production Stage Manager: Brian Westmorland
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
Crossroads Theatre Company, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, N.J. (732) 545-8100
Tickets: $25, $35, $45.
Performances: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. (except Oct. 8); Wednesdays at 10 a.m. From 10/06/16 Opened 10/08/16 Ends 10/23/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on preview performance 10/07/16
NJ Theatre Alliance
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