Fort Worth — When a single black woman is the total package—educated, successful, and possessed of the highly coveted combination of a “New York mind, L.A. face, Oakland booty, Vineyard trust fund” — why then is Tiger Woods marrying the nanny? This is the question posed by Lisa B. Thompson’s Single Black Female, a collection of vignettes whose tone ranges from an anthropology lecture on the cultural signifiers of the Single Black Female (SBF for short) to a particularly woke episode of Sex in the City. Jubilee Theatre’s current production, directed by prolific local director vickie washington, is funny and fast-paced, and an excellent showcase for the comedic talents of its two actresses.
Never identified beyond Single Black Female #1 (Cherie Williams) and Single Black Female #2 (Naeaidria M. Callihan), the titular SBFs are both highly successful, and extremely single, women of a certain age living in New York City. SBF#1 is a college professor (like playwright Thompson herself, who is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin) who shares a passion for shopping with her bestie SBF#2, but has a less traditional outlook on relationships. SBF#2 is a successful attorney looking for the white picket fence of it all. Neither woman can seem to find any candidates for a serious relationship and, though that may be a universal refrain among all single women in New York, their pursuit of romance is further complicated by their race. Of middle class black women in today’s America, SBF#1 says tartly, “We are not in style.” The collection of scenes follows the women through college reunions, rehashing failed relationships, visits to the gynecologist, and more, all through the lens of black womanhood.
Williams and Callihan are a treat to watch. Williams’ character is cooler, more analytical, providing a strong contrast with Callihan’s earthier character. Director washington keeps the action moving swiftly, as both women slip in and out of other roles — elderly relatives, catcalling men, and passive aggressive doctors — without missing a beat. I particularly enjoyed Williams playing various smooth-talking men with a charming swagger, while Callihan had several ad-libbed moments on the performance reviewed that proves she’s an actress who can think on her feet.
The set, designed by Kenneth Ellis, is perhaps a little basic given the level of glam these two women are operating at, but incorporates some nice small touches — art with African themes, Kente cloth throws, and books that speak to both women’s interests (books on literature and writing, the Bible, Little Women, biographies of Oprah and Obama, etc.) Gelacio Eric Gibson’s costumes are, on the whole, nicely done; I especially like SBF#2’s magenta blazer, though SBF#1’s initial mustard jumpsuit is ill-fitting.
Through online dating, family pressure to marry, and that ever-present ticking biological clock, the play grapples (sometimes comedically, sometimes seriously) with the conundrum of why two such paragons can’t find love. Thompson leaves it to the audience to decide whether we’re meant to wholly rely on the women’s view of their own lives, or whether some of their affectations are being gently mocked (the obsession with shopping, and some over-the-top descriptions of the finer foods the women enjoy in contrast to their more plebeian partner’s tastes, seem ripe for a little mild ribbing). And it remains an open question whether some of the women’s romantic difficulties are due to self-sabotage (SBF#2 describes a wonderful past partner, then says she rejected him simply for being “too nice”).
But the revelation of the piece is seeing these issues discussed through the prism of the single black female experience of the world, which is not a voice that gets a lot of play in the theatrical world, even now. These women are bold, vulnerable, funny, complex, irreverent— and Black. They’re not meant to be perfect; they’re meant to be human. Here’s hoping we see more women like them onstage now and in the future.