The radiant performer Felicia Curry portrays a 12-year-old Black girl, her mother, her West Indian father, her best friend and an assortment of other lively characters in author Caleen Sinnette Jennings’ lovely solo play, Queens Girl in the World.
I sit under the sharp little roof that goes out over the stoop of my house: 29-33 Erickson Street. This morning the rain splashes the blue hydrangeas and their big wide leaves in June 1962 in East Elmhurst, Queens, New York.
Ms. Jennings offers a well-constructed and pleasing 90-minute adolescent’s journey during the tumultuous 1960’s that leads to a satisfying conclusion. The Birmingham church bombing, JFK’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, Beatlemania and other personal and historical events are depicted through observations and vignettes such as Malcom X paying a visit. The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Seasons and other era artists’ songs accompany the incidents.
Whether frenetically dancing, rhapsodizing over Nancy Drew, fretting about when she’ll wear a bra or reacting horrified upon learning about sex, Ms. Curry performs with the verve of Lily Tomlin in her prime. Curry’s rich portrayal of Jaqueline Marie Butler captures the wonderment of childhood amidst harsh realities and the physical and emotional upheavals of adolescence. A matter-of-fact confession that Jaqueline has been molested is a chilling highlight. With her wide-eyes, expressive facial features, limber physicality and vocal prowess, Curry often rapidly achieves distinctive characterizations of the dozen other figures in the play. The wizardry of Mika Eubanks’ costume, hair and makeup design all visually enhance Curry’s performance.
Director Paige Hernandez’ staging is crisp, emphasizing movement and action whenever possible while being true to the piece’s sensitiveness. Scenic designer Teresa L. Williams provides a handsome exterior configuration picturesquely depicting the Butler house with pieces that break away to convey other settings. This is framed by Lisa Renkel’s artistic projection design that includes abstract imagery and an alluring take on Manhattan’s skyline in the background. Lighting designer Daisy Long creates a subtle vintage dimension through hazy brightness and varied dimness during fantastical portions. Historical clips, effects and the pop songs are all vividly rendered by sound designer David Lamont Wilson.
This accomplished production of Queens Girl in the World is a thoughtfully entertaining showcase for Caleen Sinnette Jennings’ affective writing and Felicia Curry’s acting talents.
I pack my skate key and Nancy Drew’s in a box and take them down to the basement. I start working on a short story, trying to put the puzzle pieces of me together while the world falls apart. If I can’t do anything about all the injustice, at least the protagonist in my story can.
Queens Girl in the World (April 9 – May 8, 2022)
Abingdon Theatre Company
Theatre 5 at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.abingdontheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission