Review: ‘Queens Girl in Africa’ at Everyman Theatre

As the middle section of Caleen Sinette Jennings’ “Queens Girl Trilogy,” Queens Girl in Africa is presented in rotating rep with the first piece, Queens Girl in the World (read our review by Belle Burr here) at Everyman this month and next. The finale, Queens Girl: Black in the Green Mountains, is scheduled in early 2020 as part of Everyman’s ambitious eight-show season – which will feature the addition of a new 200-seat thrust space upstairs.

Erika Rose in Queens Girl in Africa. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.
Erika Rose in Queens Girl in Africa. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Queens Girl in Africa takes its character, Jacqueline Marie Butler, away from her childhood home of New York through a too-brief stopover in Liverpool, all the way to the site of her coming-of-age exile in Nigeria in the summer of 1965. At curtain, we find Jacqueline pleading with her parents to allow her a pilgrimage to see the Cavern Club and other important sites relating to her one true love, Paul McCartney. They settle instead on a quick visit to the gift shop.

After a grueling 13-day ocean voyage, the girl and her family reach what will be home for the rest of her youth, an expat enclave built around the teaching hospital where her father works and the International School where she studies, makes friends, and attempts to stir consciousness-raising trouble – all while confronting that most universal of struggles, human adolescence. The character mourns the losses of “Queens Jackie” and “Greenwich Village Jackie” while wondering “Who will Africa Jackie be?” Other losses present themselves, as she learns long-distance via BBC News reports of the deaths of Otis Redding and Martin Luther King.

Meanwhile, her new homeland undergoes similar upheaval, through a series of coups d’état, assassinations, and the Biafra secession and ensuing civil war. Jacqueline’s father proudly claims that his family is “living the dream of Marcus Garvey,” yet through it all, we in the audience are treated to a deeply personal story which reminds us that, due to adolescence, we all spend a certain portion of our youth as strangers in a strange land.

Solo performer Erika Rose previously performed the same role with Mosaic Theater Company, winning this year’s Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. Rose commands amazing dexterity, embodying a dizzying number and range of characters along Jacqueline’s travels.

Paige Hernandez provides expertly unobtrusive direction, keeping out of the way of Rose’s fine work. A wonderful combination of Paige Hathaway’s mostly static scenery, Nancy Schertler’s lighting, and Sarah Tundermann’s beautiful projections serve to establish many different settings without the need for cumbersome physical transitions. David Lamont Wilson adds a sound design which is brilliantly executed, understated, yet strong. Ivania Stack provides the costume design.

By itself, this is a gorgeous piece of theater well worthy of one’s time. It is also a highly persuasive argument to see the other plays of the trilogy.

Running Time: 107 minutes, with one intermission.

Queens Girl in Africa by Caleen Sinnette Jennings plays through June 23, 2019, at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette St., Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (410) 752-2208 or purchase online.

Patrons wishing to see both Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa can obtain a 20% discount with this link.