In 1983 in New York's Harlem, single mother Roanetta (Yvonne Farrow), a light-skinned black, argues with best friend Johnnie Mae (Dee Freeman), who has darker skin, over the meaning of Vanessa Williams being crowned the first black Miss America. "She looks white," says Johnnie Mae, deeming Williams another version of a Barbie doll.

In 1983 in New York’s Harlem, single mother Roanetta (Yvonne Farrow), a light-skinned black, argues with best friend Johnnie Mae (Dee Freeman), who has darker skin, over the meaning of Vanessa Williams being crowned the first black Miss America. “She looks white,” says Johnnie Mae, deeming Williams another version of a Barbie doll.

TX: TX:Twinbiz presents a drama in two acts, written and directed by Yvette Heyliger. Ex-husband Craig (Stogie Kenyatta), shows up with his white fiancee Barbara (Freddie Simpson) to take his and Roanetta’s 7-year-old daughter, Belinda (Leah Smith), for a picnic. Roanetta clashes with Craig over their past, and she explores race and culture with the help of her childhood dolls.

As playwright, Heyliger’s honest intentions, humor and passion fuel much of the play, since there is not much action. As director, she gives the actors things to do, but not enough to make up for the lack of story movement.

Even so, Yvonne Farrow, as Roanetta, effuses such fire and a need to understand that the speech-making is forgivable. As Johnnie Mae, “3rd Rock From the Sun” regular Dee Freeman becomes the bookend to Roanetta’s debates, acting as a vigorous opposing point of view. Leah Smith is charming in a demanding role for a young actor.

Kenyatta brings a genial personality to Craig, a character who discovers self-worth and responsibility. Randall England, as several white males, and Freddie Simpson as a white bimbo, also raise their characters above their representations and lend humor.

The living room/kitchen set by Alex Grayman fits the shallow stage well, and Larry Farrow’s sound design extends the environment. Joe Morrissey’s lighting design and Amanda Brinsmade’s costume design are appropriate; her costume for a burned Barbie doll allows the play to end on the right note.

Homegirl

Production

Homegirl (Hollywood Court Theatre 70 seats; $ 10 top)

Crew

Set design, Alex Grayman; light design, Joe Morrissey; costume design, Amanda Brinsmade; sound design, Larry Farrow. Opened Feb. 1, 1996; reviewed Feb. 3, closes Feb. 25.

With

Cast: Yvonne Farrow (Roanetta), Dee Freeman (Johnnie Mae), Leah Smith (Belinda), Randall England (Randy, others), Stogie Kenyatta (Craig), Freddie Simpson (Barbara). Often engaging and sometimes didactic, Yvette Heyliger's "Homegirl" explores inter- and intra-cultural racism in an absorbing way. Though it lacks subtlety, the play raises interesting questions about race and roles in society, bringing enough humor to satisfy.
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