The upcoming Nina Simone biopic has drawn criticism due to its casting of Zoe Saldana, who many have complained was the wrong choice for the role from the start. The criticisms have only grown louder with the release of images showing the fair skinned actress in “Blackface.” What better way to continue the conversation about Simone’s rich legacy than going to see to see the play Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theater in St Paul?
The play, written by Christina Ham, directed by Faye M. Price, with musical direction by Sanford Moore, has been a popular draw, with limited seats available until its close March 26. The play’s setting is in the Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church that was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan leaving four girls dead.
Regina Marie Williams plays Nina Simone/Peaches. Williams, known for her work at the Park Square such as The Color Purple, brings an unmatched honesty and sincerity to the role. Her raw vocals and acting is riveting.
Simone finds herself at 16th Street Baptist Church staring at the remains of the bombing. As a woman at the height of her career, she is now realizing that she is performing for audiences that can in no way shape or form relate to her experiences. Now confronted with this truth, her life is changed forever. So begins the journey from an artist to activist. As she takes it all in Sarah/Auntie enters the church.
Aimee K. Bryant plays Auntie and is simply brilliant, with a voice to match. As Auntie reflects on the damages in the church, she is now faced with the reality that the four girls are gone and church is no more. A selfless woman, Auntie gives her all to everyone, but still sees herself as nothing more than a dark skin housekeeper who will always be looked down on in society. As she converses with Simone about her challenges, her reality becomes harsher when she meets a character named Saffronia.
Thomasina Petrus plays Saffronia and her passion for the truth was felt in her performance. Saffronia enters the church very flustered but she holds it all together as she focuses on the disaster around her. Her fair skin and long hair does not sit well with Auntie either. As Saffronia, slowly takes in the reality of the loss Birmingham has just faced and her past and present truth, the character Sweet Thing joins the group.
Traci Allen Shannon plays Sweet Thing, bringing a youthful spirit to the role. Sweet Thing enters the church and she is very angry with Saffronia, for reasons that aren’t apparent. She is now stuck with two women she barely knows and one that she appears to dislike to the core.
‘Four Women’ does a great job of showcasing how different yet similar all these women are, and the complexities and struggles of Black woman are told in its purest form. The recurring truth is, no matter how different they all are, the journey is the same: learning self-love, overcoming self-hate, and the realization of unity. Simone can see herself in each woman, and her birth as an activist is beautifully captured throughout this play.
Nina Simone: Four Women runs at Park Theatre until March 26. For ticket availability go here http://parksquaretheatre.org.
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