It is no secret that children learn by watching the world around them. They pick up on everything and soak in all of the information they have gathered from watching their prominent adult figures. “Queens Girl in the World,” written by Caleen Sinnette Jennings and directed by Paige Hernandez, is a play told through the voice of a child. The child speaks about the influences of those around her that are evidently impactful and, if not, sometimes comical when she displays them.
Performed at Everyman Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, this socially relevant play is extremely important for everyone to see. This one-woman show was incredible, paying particular attention to the childlike eyes Jacqueline Marie Butler used to view the world. The audience was taken back to the days of their childhoods when they did not quite understand everything for what it truly was yet. A millennial might even compare the voice of Jacqueline to that of Junie B. Jones due to her childish inflection and sheltered sense of rebellion.
Dawn Ursula dominated this one-woman role down to its very core; not only acting as Jacqueline but also as her mother, father, friends and neighbors. Ursula engulfed the world and displayed it to the audience through the fresh, bright eyes of a young dark skinned child. Each character she played even had their own different way of walking, speaking and holding themselves.
Though Jacqueline led the protected and overly sheltered life of a middle class girl from a family living in Queens, her life in the late 1950s was far from perfect. She, giving some historical context, proudly mentioned that her father was the first black man to buy a house on their row, showing the audience that even though she might not know exactly why this was fantastic, Jacqueline was aware of some animosity surrounding this fact. She struggled to fit in with her neighbor Persephone, a lingo loving girl that called her “Jack,” and later with a schoolmate from her progressive school, where she was one of the only four black students.
Though entertaining and spectacularly well done, this performance subtly shifts from the innocent thoughts and experiences Jacqueline lived to more serious topics, like the racial divide in the 1950s. Beginning with the death of Malcom X, “Queens Girl in the World” displayed Jacqueline in the situation of knowing that this made her father sad while also showing a change in the stasis of the world she had built around herself.
Just as every young girl must go through changes, so must Jackie as she not only experiences physical changes, but also emotional and social ones. As the play progressed, the audience witnessed the growing up of a girl they had all come to feel attached to and invested in. More than anything, this upheaving performance showed the growth of a sweet girl exposed to the evils of the world far faster than she should have.
Tickets for future performances can be purchased at http://everymantheatre.org/queens-girl-repertory.
Dawn Ursula performing as Jacqueline Marie Butler. Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.
This article has been updated.