Not all cliques are alike, but they are likely to have at least some similarities.
In other words, cattiness and cruelty are not limited to the suburban United States, as portrayed in the movie “Mean Girls,” written by Tina Fey; they are universal. That is illustrated by “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play,” an off-Broadway hit by Jocelyn Bioh that, critics have said, combines a comedy with a morality tale.
“School Girls,” its abbreviated name, is coming to Round House Theatre’s newly renovated performing space.
“School Girls” treats the topic of cliques differently than Fey’s movie, Round House Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson said. Despite their differences, Watson, who is directing the play, said that they both display common ground interests as well.
In “School Girls,” Bioh addresses how mean girls start and curing them, said Watson.
The setting is unique. It is a prestigious girls’ boarding school in 1980s Ghana, where pretty and popular Paulina (played by Kashayna Johnson) is the queen bee. She shows determination in being named Miss Ghana, which is her key objective.
There is only one obstacle, in the guise of a new girl in town. She is Ericka, an American with beauty and sophisticated beauty products.
The play attempts to deal with the topic of colorism in the community as Ericka is lighter-skinned person than the other young women in the clique.
“It’s a lot of fun to play mean,” said Johnson. “It’s also interesting to try to figure out why the person is that way.”
Johnson’s theory is that something is missing inside the person, something she desires. “We’re looking under the surface to see what issues the person has,” she said. “The playwright wanted to humanize these characters.”
Debora Crabbe plays Mercy, the youngest girl in the group who’s also new to the school and trying to get acclimated to the hierarchy. The actor also happens to be a native of Ghana, living in the area now.
Mercy feels good to be part of the school’s popular group, Crabbe said. Though she does not always know what the group is thinking, belonging to it gives her comfort.
Mercy also has a cousin in the school, so it’s a smooth transition for her and a niche, Crabbe added.
Still, while she goes along with the group most of the time, there are times her values differ from it. Then, she must choose what to do if the group’s behavior seems wrong.
The actor said she was grateful to be able to perform in “School Girls,” since, she explained, “there are not many funny plays in my home country. ‘School Girls’ is so beautifully written and has a positive outlook. It has an open heart and an open mind.”
Watson, who last season directed “A Doll’s House Part 2” at Round House, said it is particularly appealing that “School Girls” has an all-black cast, with all women at that. “And it’s an amazing cast,” she added. “It is also exciting to be the first show at the newly renovated theater, in which we’re getting to know the place.”
Bioh, whose “School Girls” won three Lucile Lotrel Awards and other honors said in a video on Round House’s website that the two aspects of her play fuse. “Comedy is just a funny way of being serious,” she commented.
Express surprise that the Mean Girls-esque phenomenon and a Miss whatever competition exist in another country, and Watson will reply: Why not?
School Girls, or, the African Mean Girls Play runs through Oct. 13 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda. www.roundhousetheatre.org.
Several of the performances have post-show discussions and other enhancement dates, as the theater calls them.