Described as an original collaborative theatre project inspired by Nina Simone’s classic song “Four Women,” this piece is a composite of monologs, skits, poetry, songs and dances, with video and audio clips added to the mix. The artists of the Saarjie Project, following their own artistic muses, came up with their own interpretations on Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing and Peaches. The result is a touching reflection of black women’s experiences refracted as shattered bits of Simone’s timeless song. The result is insightful and entertaining enough to make even the legendarily hard-edged Simone smile.
The opening film captured the beauty of the women’s features—lips, hair, limbs moving to a sultry beat. The rest of the program is nicely organized where the actresses move and pose in a “parade” or montage representing each of the temperaments of the women sketched in the song.
Each of the seven writer/performers brings a special flair to the text, performance and roles: Nia McLean identifies herself more as a writer than performer and approaches her parts with a solid, regal bearing; Jessica Solomon is the Executive Artistic Director and brings a fresh and exciting energy to the production ; Margaux Delotte-Bennet continues to make a flash with her one one-woman productions on tour, including the Fringe Festival (Black and Kinky Among Brown Waves); Binahkay Joy exudes a hot sensuality with every move she makes; Clarissa McKithen covers the hip-hop dancing terrain with a pop and snap swagger; Jadeandwele has quietly seething intensity; and Farah Lawal’s writing has a tough authenticity.
Highlights included “The Daydream”, written by McLean which goes into the hidden psyche of a women dealing with class issues during a job interview, and McKithen’s dance montage that included an off-the-hook range of psycho-social issues through sound bites and movement .
The women created the pieces individually and as group exercises with each section offering cultural insights ranging from the Diaspora to slam poetry with in your face intensity and hip-hop jugular rhythms. The abundance of material offered sparkling fresh perspectives, and the inclusion of group montages and movement added an enticing energy. The insights of gifted writers who dug deep to reflect on the issues assured a fresh spin for even the well-worn predictable segments. All together they produced a thoroughly engaging evening.
Initially organized as a weekend project over three years ago, the group held readings, and kept collaborating and writing. Their name honors Saartjie Baartman, a 19th Century South African slave woman who was gawked at and paraded around as a novelty act, kept in a cage and dehumanized. With “For Colored Girls” making a come back as a movie, here’s hoping that the writers of the Saartjie project will continue to explore their cultural roots and build the audience they deserve.
This production of Four Women has closed. It is available for future bookings from Saartjie Project.
Nina Simone singing “Four Women”