“School Girls,” or the African Mean Girls play, is here in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre for one last weekend until Sept. 30.
The play centers around six high school girls in Ghana who want to compete in the Miss Ghana pageant of 1986. It is full of humor with the girls gushing over Bobby Brown and make over parties, but there is also a lot of depth and serious issues addressed. The main character, Paulina, is the queen of her school and she is certain that she will be Miss Ghana. That is, however, until a new girl, Ericka, comes into town from Ohio. Ericka has a nice, humble personality while Paulina is rude and mean to the other girls. Even though Ericka seems like a good choice for her inner-qualities, the only aspect that the pageant recruiters see is her skin. She is fair-skinned, while Paulina is brown-skinned. School Girls delves into colorism, the dangers of skin bleaching, and struggles on both ends of the spectrum.
“Even though this play is set in 1986, it’s timely and a conversation that we’re still having today. What’s so special about this play is every character has an arc and we get to see their journey.” said MaameYaa Boafo, who plays Paulina. “This play sends a message to love who you are, it’s thought provoking, and a play that is 100 percent women of color in all different shades being proud of who they are.”
Jocelyn Bioh, the playwright, set the play in the boarding school that her mom went to in Ghana. The story, however, was inspired by the 2011 Miss Ghana pageant where an American, biracial woman won and represented Ghana in the Miss Universe pageant. Bioh worked on writing the play for nearly two years and late last year it was performed for the first time at the MCC Theater in New York. It received great reviews and three 2018 Lucille Lortel Awards, including one for Outstanding Play.
“It was a wonderful experience because I didn’t really know about the culture in Ghana, but you see that the relationship between girls is pretty much the same across different countries,” said Marie Burgos, one of the audience members. “The story is wonderful, the characters are great and your emotions really rise, I almost cried at one point. It was also great to see a twist of humor.”
Bioh’s goal was to create a story that people would relate to. Even though it is set in Ghana, colorism and the desire to look perfect spans across the world. Each character embodies a different personality. There are characters who are very bothered by their weight, skin or hair, and there are also characters who could care less and are focused on getting into college. Throughout the play, we get a glimpse of the girls’ thought process and in the end, it is about giving love and acceptance.
“I always hope that people relate to the characters in the show. That they see facets of themselves in each one of them and empathize with them,” said Bioh. “If someone comes to see the show and connects with an African girl in the 1980’s Ghana, then hopefully they’ll understand that we’re much more alike than different.”
“School Girls” will be returning to New York for an encore run at the MCC Theater in October but is here in Los Angeles for six more shows at the Kirk Douglas Theatre throughout the weekend. The final Los Angeles show will be Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets, visit www.centertheatregroup.org.