How many plays have you seen that have a sequel? That was the question my daughter and I pondered as we left Everyman Theatre on Sunday after having seen “Queens Girl in Africa.”
It’s the second play from Caleen Sinnette Jennings about Jacqueline Marie Butler, an African American teenager coming of age in the ’60s — first in Queens, New York, which is detailed in “Queens Girl in the World,” and then in Nigeria with “Queens Girl in Africa.” Both plays are currently at Everyman, so theater goers and lovers of a good story can catch both in the same weekend.
Erika Rose plays Jacqueline in “Queens Girl in Africa, ” a role she originated at the Mosaic Theatre in Washington, D.C. and which earned her a Helen Hayes Award this month.
The play starts where the first one ends, with the Butler family arriving in Nigeria after the death of Malcolm X to seek a more peaceful life for their family as the Civil Rights movement plays out in the U.S. Jacqueline must navigate a new school, a new culture and a world that is changing both at home and in Africa. The character is a quizzical teenager in a time of questioning, and Rose fully embodies her, most memorably as she encounters a gecko for the first time, but also as she falls in love and when she challenges a teacher in her school.
Like “Queens Girl in the World,” this plays is also a one-woman show, which means Rose assumes a great variety of roles — Americans, Nigerians, students, teachers, Jacqueline’s Caribbean father and others. The physicality she shows as she moves from one character to another is exciting to watch. It can bring levity to the play’s more serious moments, particularly as teenage Jacqueline reacts in full body excitement to Paul McCartney. But it can also bring beauty as she performs in a village dance circle or when the boy she loves reads her journal.
It is a lot of fun to follow a character into a sequel. It’s the same joy we have when the sequel to a favorite movie comes out, or more precisely, when we finish a book and discover to much delight that there is a follow-up. Like a book, the story of Jacqueline Marie Butler continues because there is so much more to tell.
Sinnette Jennings is working on a third part to the series, “Queens Girl Black in the Green Mountains,” which will debut at Everyman in 2020. My daughter and I already know we want to see it. She is too young to remember life before streaming, when America watched “Seinfeld” together on Thursday nights, for example. For that reason, a “Queens Girl” trilogy really appeals to her. It’s community building as well as story-telling.
I do remember life before Netflix. But I want to know what happens next. After seeing the first two plays, I can say that I’m there for all of it.
“Queens Girl in the World” and “Queens Girl in Africa” run through June 23 at Everyman Theatre. everymantheatre.org