Dallas — Toni Morrison has said “If there is a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” This is exactly what playwright Lisa B. Thompson did.
She had hoped to find representations of contemporary black middle-class women in African-American literature and performance while doing her doctoral research. Thompson was looking for the women she knew, women who were as bold and audacious as they were vulnerable and reflective. Not finding what she was looking for through the academic route, she decided to create characters who are representative of those real, existent yet largely invisible women. Women like Michelle Obama who are not rare but whose character profiles are not largely represented in the literature.
Single Black Female is a two-person dramatic comedy in which two modern women (who are also friends) talk about the romantic areas of their lives. Directed by Renee Miche’al, the Soul Rep Theatre Company production onstage at the South Dallas Cultural Center features Maggie Simmons Ward and Jaquai Wade Pearson in the roles of single black female 1 (SBF1) and SBF 2, respectively. Through them the audience meets an array of profiles who are black, white, young, old, male, female, gay and straight.
Thompson was heavily influenced by the recently deceased Ntozake Shange (with whom she studied at UCLA) and her seminal work for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Thompson’s play does not try to mimic Shange’s work, but the influence is evident in that with each case the women are identifiable by their desires, choices and consequences—and not their names.
Structurally, Thompson’s play consists of 13 standalone scenes across two acts. Each scene’s title describes the issue or action to be observed: “Identity,” “Rappin’,” “Shoppin’,” “Sisterhood,” “Computer Love,” “The Date,” “Sexual Suspect,” “Holiday,” “Why I will Never Marry,” “Malcolm and My Other X’s,” “Sleepin’ with the Enemy,” “Mother Wit,” and “Pops.”
Thompson’s structure is clean and the scenes are distinct. Unfortunately, this is not what the audience sees in this production. Some of the directing choices distract and others confuse, which results in a play which has been curiously shaped. More importantly, some of these choices dull the comedy. What falls flat are literal vaudevillian visual references to funny lines, such as heads following an imaginary meteorite as it lands with a thunk.
The strength of this production resides with the actors who do their best to distinguish the scenes so the audience can know when one scene ends and another begins—but they need support. Sometimes a quick and simple blackout is the best way to go.
SBF2 (Jaquai Wade Pearson) desires everything, the family and career so her experiences and portrayals are opposite from those of SBF1. SBF1 (Maggie Simmons Ward), has ambivalence about anything traditional, especially marriage. Ward is a strong presence onstage, anchoring this production. She plays a wider variety of profiles and works hard to forge the conversation with SBF2. There is a disconnect however, a beat between Ward’s last words of the line and the response from Pearson. Instead of rich conversation, what too often gushes forth is merely an exchange of lines. It is hard for comedy to flourish under those circumstances and some of it does not here. Pearson’s best moments happen during monologues.
What does work well between the two is the sense of the characters’ strong friendship. For the playwright, the tightness between good friends is something too infrequently written for black female characters. Ward and Pearson bring that forward quite effectively.
Tonya Holloway has designed a sleek set which grounds the action socio-economically. Her choices of props and pieces are appropriate to the characters, strengthening the choices for the actors without getting in the way.
There is room for more of M. Scott Tatum’s nuanced lighting as it could be very helpful in separating the scenes in a clarifying way for the audience.
Single Black Female is enjoyable and with some tightening of pace, it could be even more impactful.