By Victoria L. Dammer
The life of Jaqueline Marie Butler (Felicia Curry), a.k.a. Jackie or Jack, is presented from the stoop of her house at 2933 Erickson Street, Queens, from pre-puberty through adolescence into adulthood in the exceptional one-person monologue Queens Girl in the World. Set to the music of Motown, the audience was mesmerized while Curry transformed herself into a litany of characters, taking on mannerisms and voices of people who influenced and shaped her life from the early 1960s to the civil rights movement during that decade.
Jackie reads Nancy Drew mysteries, wishing she was the popular teen detective. Thanks to her friend Persephone Wilson, she gets her first education on boobs, boys, and “The Grind,” which is Persephone’s word for the sex acts she lures Jackie to witness in the neighborhood basement. The audience bursts out in a roar when Jackie imitates the heavy Queens accent along with the body movements of her best friend and educator.
Jackie mimics the soft, melodious voice of her mother, Grace Lofton Butler, who reminds her daughter of the doos and don’ts she should adhere to in her life and the trials and tribulations of growing up. But Grace also brings Jackie’s attention to the innocence and beauty of the world around her.
“Ain’t is not in the dictionary, Jaqueline Marie.” “You’re growing into a beautiful young Negro lady and a lady must know certain things.” “How vast and beautiful the world is, Jaqueline Marie.”
Jackie’s mother wants her to get a better education than the one offered at PS 143. So she ships her off via train, bus, and subway to The Irwin School, an all-white pre-college institution in Greenwich Village. Here she befriends Karen Rubin, mouth full of braces, and Jackie again provides the audience with her best parroting of the spittle and sounds heavy metal in one’s mouth can cause. The impersonation brings a round of tremendous applause.
Even when Jackie is close to adulthood, struggling with church bombings and the death of girls her age in Birmingham, Grace is ever the protective mother. When her West Indian father, Dr. Charles Norman Butler, entertains the well-known civil rights activist Malcolm X in their home, Grace replies, “We’re living in dangerous times. I’m going to ask you not to tell anyone that he was here.”
The dangers of being involved in the civil rights movement don’t prevent Jackie from volunteering for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), thanks to the influence of her “special” Jewish friend Nate Zimmer, whom she has a crush. But her father reminds her Jewish parents won’t allow a boy like Nate to bring home a nice Black girl like Jackie. Still innocent of the realities in the world, it’s an eye-opening experience for Jackie to come to terms with.
The Irwan School has empowered Jackie to think independently, become a better writer, and consider being an actress. But a phone call from her English teacher, Leah Hoffman, is a startling wake-up call to her parents. Jackie has written an essay about a young girl ordered to burn down buildings and kill white people. In her best West Indian accent emulating her father, Jackie speaks her father’s reaction, “Take care you don’t bring the FBI to our door!”
That evening, Jackie’s parents inform her the family is moving to Nigeria. Goodbye to The Irwin School, Persephone, Karen. Goodbye to the activism Jackie is drawn to. Hello to a strange new life in a foreign country.
Yet Grace is compassionate and intimate towards her daughter as they sail to Africa, just like she was when she entered adolescence.
“Come here, Jaqueline Marie. Look at these stars. How vast the world is. This is quite an adventure.”
Jackie asks what we all ask in life.
“Where will I find my place in the world?”
QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD, starring Felicia Curry, was written by Caleen Sinnette Jennings in association with Amy E. Gewirtz & Elizabeth & Scott Coplan; directed by Paige Hernandez; scenic design by Teresa L. Williams; costume, hair & makeup design by Mika Eubanks; lighting design by Daisy Long; sound design by David Lamont Wilson; projection design by Lisa Renkel; production manager is Rebecca Schafer; casting by Koppel Casting; press representative is Skollar PR; assistant stage manager is Abbey Howard; production stage manager is Allison Hohman.
TICKET INFORMATION: Tickets are on sale for Queens Girl in the World at Queens Girl In The World – Building for the Arts (bfany.org), now playing for a limited engagement at Theatre 5 at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York 10036.
Running time is approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. Extended through May 8th.