“What do they call me?” Nina Simone asked. “What should they call me?” asks Wild Women Theatre in Four Women, their multidisciplinary exploration of black identity and womanhood showing at Studio Theatre.
Four Women takes its name from the eponymous song written by Nina Simone in 1966. Highlighting the ongoing legacy of slavery in black identity, Simone’s song tells the fictional stories of four African American women over a period of time ranging from the days of slavery to the present day. Each allegorical character represents a facet of African American female stereotypes from the hardy and resilient slave to the mixed-race woman between the worlds of black and white to the sexual object and finally the angry black woman.
Inspired by the song, the production of Four Women explores “black womanhood and its many dimensions” through theatre, dance, music, and poetry in a series of vignettes.
Primarily written and entirely performed by four members of the company (Jade Andwele, Marguex Delotte-Bennett, Farah Lawal, and Clarissa McKithen), the vignettes are snack-size riffs on a supremely wide array of issues from societal expectations to family to sex to self-image. This wide-net approach to the show proves for an uneven night of theatre that is saved by beautiful moments of clarity and grace.
by Clarissa McKithen, Farah Lawal, Jade Andwele, Jessica Solomon, margaux delotte-bennett, Nia McLean, Shonda Goward
at Studio Theatre – Stage 4
1501 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20005
Details and tickets
The weakest areas of the show are those that offer dramatic narrative sketches to exemplify a facet of black womanhood or stereotype. These particular pieces feel like a stage-adapted Lifetime movie or after-school special, presentational and overt. The women handle straight satire much more deftly, such as the spot-on and hilarious book-ending News Segments written by Farah Lawal which lampoons the media’s patronizing handling of blacks and minorities as special interest stories.
Ultimately however, Four Women finds its strength in the more subtle and personal moments throughout the night found in the solo performances of several monologue and dance pieces. Margaux Delotte-Bennett provides some especially moving and poignant performances in pieces such as Aunt Sara Baartman and Never-Ending Poem.
Four Women can best be described as an open conversation on the dense topics of black identity and womanhood. Some of the threads of the show are rough and don’t go very far. Others are rich and provide an entryway into many worlds and other conversations. It would be interesting to see these richer threads spin into another more refined and succinct performance art piece or theatre show.
In the meantime, these are conversations worth starting and this is a show worth spending an hour with to start them.