Review: ‘Single Black Female’

Lisa B. Thompson's hilarious list of grievances and hopes in "Single Black Female" may not amount to a play, exactly, but it makes for hugely entertaining theater in the capable hands of thesps Riddick Marie and Soara-Joy Ross.

Lisa B. Thompson’s hilarious list of grievances and hopes in “Single Black Female” may not amount to a play, exactly, but it makes for hugely entertaining theater in the capable hands of thesps Riddick Marie and Soara-Joy Ross. Moonlighting from his regular job as a cast member of “Passing Strange,” Colman Domingo directs the piece as if it were a socially conscious episode of “Sex and the City.” But the fashion fetishism and self-love are nicely offset by outrageously un-PC jokes and by characters with problems bigger than the high cost of shoes.

“Who can forget the long reign of Aunt Jemima, Sapphire and Jezebel?” asks a woebegone Ross. She’s got a point: The 20th century was distinctly unkind to African-American women, ending (in her memory) with “the supreme ghetto ringmaster, Jerry Springer.” With all that shoe-hurling and cat-fighting still tainting the image of black womanhood, what’s a sister to do?

That is the question, and the tone of voice, that runs through “Single Black Female.” It’s less a story than the articulation of a thorny problem, but Thompson knows that an aud won’t sit still just to hear her complain.

With Domingo’s intimate staging, Marie and Ross give the show’s simple construction some much-needed texture, running through the staccato one-liners with an appealing combination of rudeness and self-deprecation. A couple of the actors’ impressions are almost offensive enough to make you wish you could stop laughing, such as when the girl at a foreign call center contacts her supervisor over Ross’ zip code (“Call security! This negress is telling me she lives in Harlem!”).

More specifically, though, the overarching problem in “Single Black Female” is how to net a suitable partner — something that seems to give all Gothamites considerable grief. Black women, we are told, have it considerably tougher. Hip-hop video tramps disgrace them, Condi Rice is their international representative, and the most eligible bachelor available is Flavor Flav.

After about 45 minutes of “Single Black Female,” it becomes apparent that this show isn’t really taking its cues from any mainstream theater influences. No wonder it seems fresh: The voice of an upper-middle-class urban black woman isn’t often heard in a theatrical comedy. But why on earth not? It’s not easy to make men laugh at yeast infection jokes, but we now know it’s possible — the show’s funniest moment comes when Ross wonders how her ancestors would have handled that particular discomfort and Marie obliges with an unprintable answer.

Though she’s zeroing in on a very specific experience, Thompson’s scenarios at times cross ethnic and sexual lines into more universal territory. The play doesn’t quite sustain its momentum all the way through, and the final few moments are marred by easy sentiment as the writer tries to scrape together a moral from the wreckage of all the cultural institutions she’s been firebombing so entertainingly.

Still, the show’s bite easily survives this inadvertent blunting, and its final effect is to leave the audience both amused and slightly unsettled by the experience of something new.

Single Black Female

The Duke on 42nd Street; 200 seats; $30 top


A New Professional Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Lisa B. Thompson. Directed by Colman Domingo.


Set, Tim Mackabee; costumes, Raul Aktanov; lighting, Russel Drapkin; sound, DJ Crystal Clear. Opened June 12, 2008. Reviewed June 10. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.


SBF 1 - Riddick Marie SBF 2 - Soara-Joy Ross

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