“I stare hard at the four faces in the New York Times and memorize their names. Denise looked a little like Persephone. Cynthia looked a little like me. I search her eyes for any sign that she knew what was coming. No. She expected to go to school, go to parties and dance. Could this happen in New York City? Could this have been me?” Jacqueline Marie Butler
Caleen Sinnette Jennings’ play Queens Girl in the World, is funny, touching and well written. She captures growing up in the 60’s being a bright-eyed, intelligent, brown-skinned girl full of possibilities.
This one woman/girl show follows Jacqueline Marie Butler (Felicia Curry), as a young teen growing up in East Elmhurst, Queens, New York, blossoming into a woman, receiving her first kiss from Persephone, the annoying best friend (only because she is the only girl on the block) who teaches her about the birds and the bees, her molestation by Persephone’s Grandpa, the Civil Rights movement and what it is like to be caught in-between two worlds.
Her mother whom she calls Grace Lofton Butler has big dreams for Jacqueline Marie and enrolls her into a private Jewish school. There, Jacqueline goes from being the smartest kid at her public school, P.S.143, to needing to be tutored. She befriends a schoolmate from Karen Rubin from Brooklyn, who has a deviated septum. This is her first white friend. She brings her home to Queens. It is here she realizes the two worlds aren’t exactly compatible.
Throughout the production, the songs from the era and Motown figure prominently. When Malcolm X, who came to Jacqueline’s home, is murdered and the four children are blown up in a church, Jacqueline’s dad becomes more and more outraged until by the end he is planning to move the family to Nigeria.
This autobiographical tale is part of a trilogy which includes “Queens Girl in Africa” and “Queens Girl: Black in the Green Mountains.”
Felicia Curry gives a tour de force performance as she channels thirteen distinctly different characters. She moves from puberty to teens, from naive to realizing who and what you are is not determined by your color. Ms. Curry is truly fabulous and I felt privileged to watch her.
The direction by Paige Hernandez is seamless and riveting. Mika Eubanks’s costume design, Daisy Long’s lighting design, Lisa Renkel’s projection design and Teresa Williams’s set design are all simple, but effective in putting us in the era, the mood and the world of Jaqueline Marie Butler.
I can’t wait to follow this journey by Caleen Sinnette Jennings and Ms. Curry’s career.
Queens Girl in the World: Produced by the Abingdon Theatre Company. Opened on Theatre Row on April 10th, 2022. Playing until May 8th.