It’s fascinating to realize that it took two playwrights to work side by side to present a play about racial attitudes between 1952 and 1992. That Sheri Bailey is black and Dura Temple is white insured that their black, white, and mixed race “girls” were portrayed with an eye to accuracy and an ear to what’s beneath the surface. First produced in Hollywood in 1982, SOUTHERN GIRLS has itself traversed the ever-changing cycles of racial exclusion and acceptance. It has also remained a relevant touchstone for attitudes, values, and actions motivated by race, especially in the Deep South.
Set in a small town in Alabama, SOUTHERN GIRLS opens with six little girls happily playing and enjoying their childish pursuits – even though these color-blind children don’t seem to realize that three of their merry, giggling crew are white, two are black, and one is biracial. But inevitably these youngsters are fated to grow up. As they slowly mature, their attitudes evolve from the innocence of childhood to the racial reflections of their culture and environment. It definitely takes a village to train these kids. They live through the Jim Crow years, enter the Civil Rights Era, and ultimately come to realize that – perhaps – Black is Beautiful after all. The six Southern belles are portrayed by Ash Saunders (Naomi Hurdle), Jessica Sade Ward (Ruth Hurdle), Swisyzinna (Wanda-Sue Johnson), Dolly Granger Jackson (Katie Spokely), Maria Jimena Gastelum (June-Adele Taylor), and Arianna Evangelia (Charlotte Cecil Martin).
Helmed by skilled director Zadia Ife, SOUTHERN GIRLS tells a story whose time has come, a tale of racial evolution in America – but a story that has not yet reached its climax. The cast proves up to the task of growing from kindergarteners to stalwart middle-aged ladies – and they also turn out to have some hidden talents, including some strong vocals and dancing. This is an intriguing and involving piece which lays out details in American history that are often glossed over.
The set is largely made up of Fritz Davis’ projections, with lighting by Derek Jones and costumes by Mylette Nora. This is a chronicle of bits and pieces of American history focused on documenting personal and cultural changes – and some things that may never change. While SOUTHERN GIRLS can be repetitive and maybe a little long, it takes care to project different viewpoints and opinions as time goes on. This is a play which will resonate with audiences looking for racially relevant story-telling. At times it is entertaining – and at times it is disturbing. It is always thought-provoking.
SOUTHERN GIRLS runs through February 26, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Hudson Backstage Theatre is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038. Tickets are $35 ($25 for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more). For information and reservations, go online.