LAST YEAR WILL GO DOWN in history for many reasons. For women, it was the year we came together from all walks of life, said #MeToo—and were finally acknowledged and believed by many. There was and still is hope that this grassroots call for women’s rights and dignity will flow into all areas of life and become more than a symbolic action.
A glimpse of that future is taking form off-Broadway. This season three woman-written and -directed plays, performed by entirely female casts, opened to critical acclaim. It’s an exceedingly rare occurrence, as New York theater has endured a century of male dominance in all the related professions except costume design and stage management. In 2015, the League of Professional Theatre Women, as part of a project called Women Count, tracked the number of women working in all aspects of theater in 22 off-Broadway theaters from 2010 to 2015. Only 30 percent of plays premiering in these venues were written by women, with 33 percent being directed by women. So these multiple women-driven plays offer hope for gender equity in the theater world.
School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play , by Jocelyn Bioh, is a dizzying romp through nasty coming-of-age teen dramedy that pays homage to Tina Fey’s classic Mean Girls. Taking place in a Ghanaian girl’s boarding school during the 1980s, Bioh’s first full-length play addresses cruel, clique-ish competition among adolescents using the template of the American genre, yet something fresh emerges. The story follows the queen of the school, Paulina (MaameYaa Boafo), as she vies to be named Miss Ghana and participate in the Miss Universe pageant.
While the comedic ending is not significantly surprising, there is a poignant and timely theme that emerges through the exploration of African beauty.