When’s the last time you emerged from a morality play grinning like a fool? You’re likely to come away both chastened and cheered by this exuberant exegesis on the perils of the beauty trap, particularly as it affects young black women. Neophyte playwright Tori Sampson (this is her New York City debut) based her core story on a Nigerian fable and set it in a contemporary “Affreakah Amirrorikah” in which girlish rivalry proves potentially fatal.
Unassailably lovely in form if not always spirit (she can be unintentionally snotty), Akim – graceful Níke Uche Kadri – inspires envy among a trio of her classmates, each of whom is appealing in her own right (they all get to monologize about their particular assets) but none quite so superficially perfect as her. They’re oblivious to the fact that, as the virtual prisoner of overprotective parents (while also the beneficiary of their particular gene mix), Akim might have problems of her own. In truth, she has only one real friend, “Chorus,” a snarky, sashaying cellphone (Rotimi Agbabiaka) who “dies” dramatically – i.e., loses juice – at a key juncture in the plot.
It would be uncouth to reveal much more, except to note that a magical river goddess will come into play (stirringly embodied by gospel singer Carla R. Stewart) and that in a Huis Clos-like coda the worst offender will get her comeuppance. Or is this closing scene – in which the meanest girl, Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), painstakingly applies makeup while giving herself a pep talk – meant as a flashback, a preventative? Interpret it how you will: This is a play that every pre- and adolescent girl would benefit from seeing, as would every adult woman ruefully re-viewing her youth.