Single Black Female
There are glimmers of biting social commentary and genuine insight in Lisa B. Thompson’s Single Black Female, now getting a return engagement at the Duke on 42nd Street after a 2006 Off-Broadway run. Unfortunately, the often zestful delivery of stars Riddick Marie and Soara-Joye Ross and the sharpness of some of Thompson’s writing are not enough to fully galvanize this generally weary comedic look at the lives of middle-class African-American women.
Thompson uses two prototypes for her exploration of everything from home décor, dating and cultural stereotypes. SBF 1 (Marie) is a college professor in her late thirties, who’s attempting to balance her professional and personal lives, while SBF 2 (Ross) is slightly younger and aggressively saucier than her best friend. A majority of the scenes in the first act are devoted to SBF 2’s search for Mr. Right, while other parts of this half explore the women’s use of shopping as an escape and the melancholy that holidays bring on for the single women.
Unfortunately, each titled scene lasts roughly eight minutes — not long enough to fully explore a subject or develop character. So when the characters attempt to decry injustices — such as the financial commitment that a woman must make for a date as compared to a man — the effect can be like watching a rapid-fire marathon of Designing Women.
There are two wonderful exceptions, though. In one blisteringly cutting sequence, in which SBF 2 visits her OB/GYN, Thompson allows us to hear their interior thoughts, revealing the discomfort SBF 2 feels about her physician and the disdain that the physician has for his patient. This is followed by an almost surreal trip back some 150 years to the antebellum south in which Thompson muses on how a female slave might have had to cope with illness on a plantation.
Thompson devotes the second act to more character specific-comedy; for example, SBF 1 relates her list of reasons for not marrying, and SBF 2 revisits her past relationships. Much of this act is more successful than act one. But because Thompson has kept her audience at arm-length from the women until this act, the characters’ feelings never resonate as fully as one expects. In addition, director Colman Domingo’s breakneck pacing contributes to the uneasiness that both Marie and Ross exhibit periodically during the show.