Where My Girls At?
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
May 15, 2009
The one-woman show Where My Girls At? somewhat ironically labels itself a black lesbian satire. Presented as part of the 6th annual soloNOVA Arts Festival, Where My Girls At? is less a performance than a glimpse into the lives of four woman who ultimately defy stereotype. Satire it is, but don't let a label like that scare you. It's smart, timely, and also downright hilarious.
The show chronicles four Bay Area women's attempts to join the cast of a reality show called "Black Beauty: America's Next Top Negress." Whichever woman is chosen will be the tenth of a group of beautiful black women living in the same house for a year, and the only lesbian. In addition to live performance the audience is treated to short films on each of the four women as well as asked at the end of the presentations to vote on each woman's blackness, her womanliness, and her lesbian-ness. Whoever scores the most total points wins the spot on "BBANTP."
There's the player; the political ultra-feminist; the earth-mother; and the diva. At first glance each seems to embody a certain stereotype. Slowly, craftily, however, the more time we spend with these women the more we realize how real they are. They player says she's not a player (even though that is her name) but doles out some pretty good tips that apply not just to dating but to life in general. The political ultra-feminist is, refreshingly, an optimist. The earth mother has a sense of humor about herself that matches her vivaciousness. And the diva, well, let's just say she's all about the fabulousness—the external kind and the inside kind. The emcee of "BBANTP" charged with corralling these characters asks the audience to define what it means to be black, what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a lesbian, but what we all realized at the end of the day is that you can't.
The question my companion and I had at the beginning of the piece, which we have at the beginning of every one-person show, is whether or not the actor can carry the show. In this case the answer is a big, beautiful yes.
Micia Mosely is able to embody five separate, distinct characters, who at one point are all on stage together at the same time. Don't ask me how that's possible, and it's definitely not easy, but Mosely makes it look that way, transitioning from one woman to the next without as much as an indication to the audience that she is leaving one being to personify the next. What I appreciated most about Mosely's work is that she wisely chose to move beyond stereotype. Sure, the four lesbians she presented could easily be pigeon-holed and the show could have remained a simple spoof, but, she didn't.
The only question remaining for me at the end of Where My Girls At? was why some of the characters wanted to be on a show called "America's Next Top Negress" in the first place. All four of them seem to be pretty happy with who they are, regardless of the chance of fame. Each is very proud, very confident, and equally deserving of the winning slot. I suppose the answer lies somewhere in showing the world—or at least the Bay Area of San Francisco—what they are able to share with us.
Now, before you get worried that the show is this intense critique of race, gender, and politics, be assured that Mosely and director Tamilla Woodard are also very funny and very good at translating a sense of humor that makes everyone feel welcome. And they do so without compromising on Mosely's excellent writing. They do so without watering down the material to make it more palatable for audiences who aren't exclusively comprised of beautiful black lesbians. Mosely proves once and for all that yes, women can be funny. In fact, they can be hilarious. And thank goodness, because I was beginning to give up hope there were funny women out there.
The format of the process of selection for a reality series is well-crafted by the team of cinematographer/editor Jillian Pelliccio, DVD author Morgan Nichols, voiceover provider Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor, and the folks at RiMarkable Things Music who audio produced. The lighting design by Bruce Steinberg (with assistance from Avery Lewis) lends authenticity to the competition scenario without making it seem too gimmicky. In fact, the production values are so good that at times I forgot I was in a theatre! Additionally, the Q&A session at the end of the performance, where Mosely remains in, er, characters, capitalizes on the "live" part of live theatre by allowing the audience to determine the outcome of the contest. I could tell you who won on the night I attended, but that would take some of the fun out of it. Let's just say she has a very good shot at being America's Next Top Negress.