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One reason why I cover regional theater is to see promising shows that I couldn’t shoehorn into my New York schedule. Jocelyn Bioh’s “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” has been at the top of that list since it opened off Broadway in 2017. An African variation on the “Mean Girls”/”Heathers” movie genre, it struck me at the time as a fabulous premise for satirical playmaking, and I’ve been waiting ever since to catch a regional staging. Indeed, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production was one of the first shows closed by COVID-19 to resurface as a theatrical webcast, and I’d have reviewed it had I heard about it soon enough.
Fortunately, a preview of the Goodman Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “School Girls,” which also fell victim to the pandemic, was taped just in time to be turned into a webcast. The difference is that the Goodman plans to put its production onstage when Chicago’s theaters reopen. In the meantime, the video version has been given an online run that ends this weekend, and I recommend it very strongly. Not only is “School Girls” a shiv-sharp piece of social commentary disguised as a comedy, but this staging, directed by Lili-Anne Brown and performed by an ensemble of women actors that I can’t imagine being bettered, is the kind of small-scale ensemble show for which webcasting was made….
At first glance, “School Girls” plays like something not unlike a rewrite of “Mean Girls” moved to Ghana’s Aburi Girls’ Senior High School circa 1986. Therein lies the source of the top layer of humor in the show, which is initially dominated by Paulina (Ciera Dawn), queen bee of the popular-girl clique. When not bossing around her acolytes, Paulina brags about her American cousins, who shop at such “trendy American boutiques” as Wal-Mart and eat at “high-class” restaurants like White Castle (“A castle with food!”). Then Paulina’s reign is threatened by the arrival of Ericka (Kyrie Courter), who has moved to Ghana from America…
This is a first-class production of a first-class play, one that I expect will continue to be staged all over the country after the pandemic relaxes its hold on American theatere, as well it should be….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for “School Girls”: