American culture exist everywhere, the good and the bad, so it is no surprise that the School Girls: or the African Mean Girls play showcase girls attending a private boarding school in Ghana fantasizing over fancy dress clothes and dates with pop stars. But as with most things not experienced first hand, they got it wrong as they were excited about Walmart, China Town, Bobby Brown (now him I understand) and White Castle. The play also touches on bullying and colorism.
The story is based in 1986 as an aspiring group of girls have dreams of seeing a Ghanese in the Global Miss Universe pageant. The high school girls are led by Paulina (Morgan Charéce Hall), the self-proclaimed top talent of the entire boarding school. Her main ambition is to represent Ghana on a global stage. The only issue is she doesn't care what it costs to get there.
In typical mean girl fashion we witness Nana (Arielle Faye Telemaco-Beane) being fat shamed, demeaned and even pressured to do things that are against the rules and her better judgement. At one point, Paulina asks her “Are you determined to look like a cow?” and she shrinks as the other girls giggle to remain on her good side, but later apologize in private.
Paulina's worse fears came to life with the arrival of a new student from America. Ericka (Cheyenne Parks) was everything Paulina wanted to be without even trying. Although Paulins's closest friend Ama (Imani Moss) knew of Pauline's secrets, she allowed Pauline to remain the Queen Bee. Without a single bit of fear Erika refused to be subject to Paulina's constant bullying, and instead started to expose each one of her weaknesses.
Paulina, desperate to maintain her hold, not only wanted to be Miss. Ghana, she was desperate to prevent anyone else from even having a chance. Pauline started to feel her reign coming to an end when Gifty (Adaeze Nwoko) and Mercy (Jessica Money) no longer had any interest in following their fraudulent leader.
This scene reminded me of my high school experience. I attended Overbrook High School in Philadelphia which was known throughout the city as a fashion Mecca. Here we all wanted to wear the latest fashions and would constantly discussed it during homeroom. In hindsight, I have to wonder how many of us needed this items for our own insecurities. Despite being fashion driven, the school produced some truly talented people besides Will Smith.
One of Overbrooks' talented alumnae artists, Ontaria Kim Wilson portrays Headmistress Francis. The Headmistress put her heart and soul into the school to keep it going and to provide a means for those girls. The Headmistress faces her greatest moral challenge when her old classmate and pageant recruiter Eloise Amponsah (Danielle Leneé) approaches her about deciding who should have a chance to be Miss Ghana. Paulina, the girl she raises as her own, or the newcomer Ericka, that no one really knows.
We witness the ugly eye of internalized racism as colorism makes this decision for the Headmistress. The recruiter urges her to “more universal and commercial look” as Paulina looks on defeated.
This play is a must see!
The Arden production features Morgan Charece Hall as Paulina Sarpong, Cheyenne Parks as Ericka Boafo, Imani Moss a Ama, Arielle Faye Telemaco-Beane as Nana, Jessica Money as Mercy, Adaeze Nwoko as Gifty, Ontaria Kim Wilson as Headmistress Francis, and Danielle Lenee as Eloise Amponsah.
Tickets for School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play are now available for purchase online at ardentheatre.org.
In person: Now – June 12, 2022
Streaming: June 13-26, 2022
Please visit ardentheatre.org for more details and the theatre’s current COVID safety policies.
Morgan Charéce Hall (Paulina Sarpong)
Danielle Leneé (Eloise Amponsah)
Jessica Money (Mercy)
Imani Moss (Ama)
Adaeze Nwoko (Gifty)
Cheyenne Parks (Erika Boafo)
Arielle Faye Telemaco-Beane (Nana)
Ontaria Kim Wilson (Headmistress Francis)
Assistant Set Designer