‘We are the new Negro African-American Black Colored Girls who only consider therapy. And even though nobody wants to hear us — we are tired of being ignored! We will no longer be quiet!”
The above quote is spoken by a character we know only as the Attorney (played by Stephanie J. Weeks). It is one of the many flippant but funnily intended remarks that fly like self-congratulatory boomerangs through the air, but that most often ricochet between her and her best friend — and alter ego — designated in the program as the Professor (Daphne Gaines) in the (almost a) play “Single Black Female” by Lisa B. Thompson.
Thompson, a professor/writer of satirical plays about “the travails of being black and middle class in urban contexts,” has delivered a generally amusing, occasionally nerve-hitting, but mainly conscientiously targeted serio-comical rant for two black women.
Although I did not see this well-reviewed 1999 play during either of its 2006 or 2008 Off-Broadway productions, I am glad, as you may also be, for the opportunity to see it at the Crossroads Theater.
True, the largely engaging time we spend with two 30-something “sistas” who talk, bitch and moan, hang out and hang loose, and shop in a number of New York City’s better boutiques is, as was “Sex in the City,” generally frisky and often funny, except that there is no sex, only lots of city shopping and plenty of wishful thinking.
However, were it not for the absolutely terrific performances by Gaines and Weeks, the play could also easily grow a bit wearisome in its relentless, if otherwise purposeful, pursuit of a point or perspective.
In this furiously paced 90-minute duet in which the characters share disillusions and disappointments, we are kept amused hearing about the sorry state of their love lives, their futile quest to land a proper and respectable romantic partner — i.e. smart, sexy, and good-looking — as well as their unending search, at least true for the Attorney, to find the right dress and shoes for a date.
At its best, the play is a brittle discursive rebuttal to the bad images of black women that have prevailed for so long on television and in the movies.
As the more glamorous and clothes-conscious Attorney, the shapely Weeks keeps her foot on the throttle throughout and uses the multi-location and multi-level setting (credibly designed by Yee Eun Nam) as a fashion runway. There is the sheer pleasure of seeing Weeks sashay, pose, and assume prototypical postures while also spewing out invectives, such as “the marriage rate for women is 76 percent higher than the rate for black women.”
Hardly inclined to take a back seat, Gaines holds her own, if less provocative positions, as the more determinedly plain-clothed Professor whose possible sexual preference may be as up for grabs as are her options as a highly intelligent, educated, middle-class black woman. “People, before Ms. Oprah Winfrey became a media icon, the image of black womanhood was a bit stale and not very complex.” If Weeks is the more saucy then let’s give it to Gaines for being more sassy. And both traverse the stage with unalloyed vim and vigor and play well off each other’s snips and snipes.
The audience at the performance I attended was, if not constantly in stitches, noticeably empathetic. If one can sense pretty quickly the lack of a dramatic thread, the play is, nevertheless, tied together by these women’s common goal: to snare — or is it ensnare? — a man. This, as they shoulder visits to a gynecologist, attempt online dating, and even ponder the possibilities of connecting with white guys like Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt.
Thompson’s text seems to cover all the bases and then some when it comes to exposing the issues that black women face in finding a suitable partner. However, as the lawyer says, “If 50 percent of all marriages fail, why are so many of us anxiously waiting to play that game?”
“Single Black Female,” under the robust direction of Shirley Jo Finney, may run out of steam before the end, but it never runs out of the strikingly conventional sentiments that are somehow destined to prevail.
Single Black Female, Crossroads Theater Company, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Through Sunday, October 23, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.; Wednesdays at 10 a.m. $25 to $45. 732-545-8100 or www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org.