School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls’ Play (Round House Theatre-Bethesda): SEPT 18-OCT 20

Pretty, popular H.S. senior, Paulina (Kashayna Johnson), longs to become Miss Ghana 1988; she’ll do whatever it takes to win the crown. Suddenly, there is a new student at the Aburi Girls Boarding School, Ericka (Claire Saunders), who arrives from America w/ dresses from Macy’s and the latest beauty products. With humorous lines, deep insight, and timeless themes, Jocelyn Bioh’s award-winning comedy (sold out last year off-Broadway) reveals much about all of us, not just teenage girls.

The teen girls are the focus of the story. Paulina is the “queen bee” who takes charge of her peers, yet carries deep insecurities. Ama (Awa Sal Secka) is a very smart senior looking forward to college w/ a serious boyfriend. All the girls are part of a choir; some ’80s music is featured in the play. Cousins Mercy (Debra Crabbe) and Gifty (Moriamo Temidayo Akibu) provide moments of humor. Mercy’s father is a doctor, but very careful w/ money; the girls want new clothes and shoes. Nana (Jade Jones) is the girl w/ a heart of gold who (eventually) finds a way to stand up for herself. Her stepmother put her on a strict diet, disapproving of her weight.

The adults in the story are former classmates- Headmistress Francis (Theresa Cunningham)- a motherly, no-nonsense woman and self-serving, elegant Miss Ghana 1968- Eloise Amponsah (Shirine Babb, a theater veteran). The headmistress wears traditional clothes, incl. headwraps; Miss Amponsah wears high heels and Western skirt suits. Though all her girls are excited re: the beauty pageant, Headmistress Francis insists that education comes first. Only one girl will be chosen to represent this school- everyone is sure it will be Paulina.

Acceptance, standards of beauty, colorism (experienced outside Africa as well), and pains of growing up are the main themes of this play. It starts out like a broad comedy, then you get to know the girls, and realize just how layered their lives are (as we find in real life). This play is being put on by a team of all women- how rare! Also, Round House Bethesda was renovated recently (w/ a upper level of seats); check it out for yourself if in the DMV area. I went to see this play on one of the PWYC nights and really enjoyed it!

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon) starring John Krasinski

So you MAY have heard that this ain’t your dad’s (or grandpa’s) Jack Ryan! There are MANY negative reviews (bordering on Islamaphobic) to be found re: this new Amazon series. FYI: It has been renewed for S2. I saw the 8 eps over a 3-day weekend soon after its release; I thought it was meh (like some critics I follow). The writing is (mostly) predictable; I wanted to see a LOT more depth. You can check it out; it keeps your attention (w/ its editing/pacing, high production value, and a few unique characterizations). The action (if that’s your thing) is well-done; Michael Bay is one of the executive producers. Carlton Cuse (Lost) is one of the creators.

Jack Ryan (John Krasinksi) is a 30-something former soldier w/ a PhD working as an “analyst” (they don’t say “officer”) for the CIA. He rides his bike to work, dresses preppy (BUT has a V fit body underneath), and works in a (nice/modern) cubicle. One of his young co-workers is played by Mena Massoud (who will be star of the new live action Aladdin); he doesn’t have many scenes. Jack’s direct supervisor, James Greer (Wendell Pierce- one of my fave actors), has been aged down and is a Muslim convert divorced from his Arab-American wife. THIS is one of the points that that die-hard Clancy fans objected to in their reviews. There is a scene early in the series where we get to know a BIT re: Greer’s family life, incl. his conflicted relationship w/ Islam. He meets w/ an older immigrant man at a little cafe who says that he is missed at the mosque (masjid); I haven’t seen a scene like this on ANY (network) show!

In the Harrison Ford helmed movies, Jack is older and has two young kids w/ his eye doctor wife. Here, Jack’s future wife- Dr. Cathy Mueller- is an epidemiologist. Cathy (Aussie actress Abby Cornish) tells a work friend that Jack’s NOT like the guys she usually goes out w/; perhaps he’s more brainy, reserved, and unsure of himself (when in comes to romance). Their paths (work-wise) eventually cross; this is a staple in MANY network TV shows and movies. Some Clancy fans didn’t like this coincidence; I wouldn’t have cared IF Krasinski and Cornish had chemistry onscreen. I’m sure there are MANY other actresses who could’ve done better w/ this role.

The villains of this story are NOT cartoonish stereotypes; Suleiman (Ali Suliman), is a former banker who grew up partly in the ghettos of France w/ his artistic younger brother, Ali (Haaz Sleiman from The Visitor). As kids, they survived the bombing of their hometown in Libya. Suleiman has a young/beautiful/clever wife, Hanin (Dina Shihabi), as well as three children who live in a spacious compound in Syria. Shihabi grew up in Saudi Arabia and (quite naturally) portrays a woman who would do anything to protect her kids. I hope this actress gets more roles! There is great (familial) chemistry between the actors, making them believable as brothers. How did they become terrorists? We get to see the backstory (also unusual in a typical network show). As some viewers noted, these characters are MORE interesting than the Westerns who are on their trail.

Below are excerpts from some IMDB reviews:

The writing is far from great. This could’ve been an amazing series, but instead the writing is very TV. Also, I can’t with the love interest. Her acting is terrible and there is zero chemistry between them.

If you are new to Clancy, or the action spy drama all together, you will probably enjoy this. The acting, action, and production value will carry it a long way.

…it doesn’t break any new ground. But it provided a season of tense, tight entertainment, if this is a genre that you find appealing. There, of course, is lots of violence, some of it graphic… but I thought all of the particulars of good visual storytelling were present.

Beautiful Boy (NOW PLAYING) starring Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, & Amy Ryan

Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years. -Film Synopsis

The title of this film (and the book) comes from John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”. David Sheff, a successful freelance writer, interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980. This emotional, sensitive, and timely film (opioid addiction is a VERY serious/common issue today) is a BIT more from the viewpoint of the father, Dave (Carell), than his teen son, Nic (Chalamet- now 22 y.o.) I would’ve liked to see more of the mom, Vicki (Ryan); there are a few nice scenes w/ the stepmom, Karen (Tierney). Nic’s parents divorced when he was quite young; every Summer, he traveled from San Francisco to LA to spend time w/ Vicki. (We don’t know what her career is, BUT are lead to believe that she’s quite busy and also successful.)

As Nic got into his high school years, he became more withdrawn (spending a LOT of time alone, writing and drawing). Dave didn’t realize that his son was ALSO getting into hard drugs; he assumed that it was only marijuana that Nic was experimenting w/ (like MANY teens/college students). There was something missing w/in Nic which he couldn’t explain; drugs filled that void. Dave thought that he and Nic were closer than most fathers and sons. When Nic runs away from a rehab facility (for the second time), Dave sets out to learn exactly what kind of damage could be happening to his child. (Timothy Hutton has a cameo as an M.D. who specializes in addiction.) There are some fine, nuanced performances here, esp. from Carell (aging quite well/stretching his dramatic muscles) and Chalamet (who lost 25 lbs. for his role). There is more to this story, so check it out yourself! 

The Hate U Give (NOW PLAYING) starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae & Common

It’s not everyday that you watch a film re: the development of an individual’s race consciousness! This isn’t just for fans of the YA book (which many adults also read); it’s for anyone who has had to  deal w/ unfairness, violence, and/or navigate two worlds (cultures, languages, etc.) and come out resilient on the other side. In my audience a week ago, there were viewers of ALL ages, incl. several families (black, Latino, Asian) w/ pre-teens and teens. It’s realistic, emotional, intelligent, and still hopeful re: our future (and that of the protagonist- Starr). Like ALL good films, it takes the viewer on a journey (BUT this time it’s through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive, and curious 16 y.o. black girl). After the film ended, a black woman in her 50s commented (in a pleasantly surprised tone) to her gal pal: “This is what happens when there’s a black writer, producer, and director.” You don’t need to be black (or in a minority group) to appreciate this film (of course), BUT it does speak esp. to a modern, American, black audience. 

I was impressed by all the actors, esp. Stenberg (who is already quite experienced for a 20 y.o. in Hollywood) and Hornsby (who I saw on Broadway several years ago in Fences). The Carter family (which is blended) is such a strong and loving unit- this is VERY rare to see in modern film! Hall gets a few moments to shine; she’s NOT just the one-note wife/mom. Common (known for his music) does pretty well w/ his role as Starr’s uncle (and cop). It’s good to see Issa Rae getting more exposure (on big screen). The chemistry between the kids and parents was really good. The costumes, music, settings, and extras ALL contribute to giving this film its authenticity. Don’t miss this film- it has its pulse on what’s (sadly) going on now in our society!