By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

When walking in the theatre for Round House’s “School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play,” audiences suddenly leave an artistic center and are transported to a high school cafeteria and all the entertaining, terrifying, horrifying and sentimental memories connected to that central gathering location.  The cafeteria isn’t just for eating, it’s for catching up on homework, drama, rumors, crushes and everything in between.  

In Jocelyn Bioh’s “School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play,” directed by Nicole A. Watson, audiences are also reminded of the feelings associated with school days, while also educated on the issues of skin complexion in communities of color, an issue also known as colorism.

“School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play,” by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Nicole A. Watson is an electrifying story and conversation of young womanhood, colorism and hope that has been extended at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Md. (Montgomery County). (Courtesy Photo)

Round House’s production of “School Girls” is downright entertaining from start to finish.  An energetic cast. Fun dance and tableau moments. Witty and fast moving text. Talented performers. This show screams “Black Girl Magic,” with a clarion call to action.  

Colorism is a thing.  There’s a reason why Beyoncé had to remind the world, “Brown skin girl, your skin just like pearls.  The best thing in the world. Never trade you for anybody else,” in her recent song “Brown Skin Girl,” featured on the soundtrack  {The Lion King} remake. Beyoncé’s lyrics celebrate the beauty of all brown shades from fair-skinned to rich-chocolate, yet not all of pop culture has celebrated the darker skinned woman.

Lil Wayne sang in his song, “beautiful black woman, I bet that b**ch look better red.”  Weezy is not the only rapper as many rappers laud lighter-skinned women in their music and videos.

Despite social media’s Melanin Mondays, and the United State’s celebration of actresses like Lupita Nyongo and Viola Davis, it’s no wonder that in many ways lighter skin is still lauded as more beautiful.

Set in 1980s Ghana at an all-girls boarding school, “School Girls,” features the six stories of school-aged girls, a headmistress, and a former beauty queen looking to find a fair-skinned beauty to represent Ghana in an international beauty pageant.

A standout student, who is pretty, can sing, and has clothes from her aunt in New York, Paulina Sarpong (Kashayna Johnson), is a shoe-in to represent the all-girls boarding school at the Miss Ghana pageant.  That is until Ericka Boafo (Claire Saunders), a bi-racial Ghanian-American girl from Minnesota, moves to Ghana with her father and enrolls at the school. Ericka happens to be talented and beautiful also. Headmistress Francis (Theresa Cunningham), emphasizes the importance of education as opposed to beauty. However, when Eloise Amponsah (Shrine Babb), the recruiter for the Miss Ghana pageant shows up, Paulina, Ericka and all the schoolgirls–Gifty (Moriama Temidayo Akibo), Mercy (Debora Crabbe), Nana (Jade Jones) and Ama (Awa Sal Secka)– begin competing for the crown. 

Of them all, Paulina plays dirty and hits below the belt. The schoolgirls– and the audience– are hit with a harsh reality about skin complexion, privilege and beauty.

“School Girls” is a play loosely based on a moment in history when Erica Yayro Nego, a former Miss Minnesota USA, was crowned Miss Universe Ghana in 2011.  While her Ghanaian-American heritage ostensibly made her eligible for the crown, her win stirred outrage with many people accusing Nego’s victory as a result of colorism.

With the dialects (Kim James Bey, dialect coach) serving as a form of transportation to Ghana, the performers’ youthful nature and high-energy, and schoolgirl costumes (Ivanka Stack), audiences immediately know they are witnessing high school girls in all their glory.

There drama is loud, gossiping about pop stars is their favorite past time, and they all have high hopes of winning the pageant.

The collaborative acting that happens in this production is apparent.  The actresses listen to another, react accordingly and play off of one another’s energy in a manner that most onlookers would contend that they had truly been in school together.

As the only adults written in the play, Cunningham and Babb are poised when performing and have a groundedness that is beautiful to see on stage. The clashing personalities serve as good entertainment for audiences to witness and the two adults’ conversations become the heavy and meaty components of the show to question how complexion issues are perpetuated.

The other technical components of the play, such as the lights (Martha Mountain) and sound (Tosi Olufolabi, sound designer and Kevin McCallister, music director), were vital contributions to the overall ambiance of the play, becoming somewhat characters in themselves.  With cues perfectly timed and executed audiences were able to stay in the play’s world from start to finish.

Due to popular demand and critical acclaim, “School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play,” has been extended to Oct. 20 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, Md. For more information visit https://www.roundhousetheatre.org/On-Stage/Explore/School-Girls-Or-The-African-Mean-Girls-Play.