Shafrika, The White Girl
Anika Larsen's autobiographical musical about growing up in a multi-racial family turns out to be surprisingly colorless.
The main problem is that Larsen doesn't know how to handle the contradictions inherent in family life; for example, how can people love and yet hurt each other or how you can be on the inside and outside at once? Larsen's confusion has led to a show that's not so much about this legitimately unique family as about her processing it. We watch as she relives her memories and thinks aloud about them.
True, Larsen and director April Nickell stage those recollections with what they think is vibrancy. A large multi-racial cast, clad in brightly colored sweatshirts out of a 1970s kids show, plays the Larsen family with warm, convivial sportsmanship. Every re-enacted reminiscence seems selected because of how it made Larsen feel as a child, yet they have been reconstructed with the clear eyes of an adult -- one who seems terrified of offending anyone. The sharp and scary edges of the memories are dulled to the point they all register as a big "so what?" Surely, Larsen must have had memories more fraught than solving the mystery of who wrote on the living room wall.
The cast -- most of whom perform with an intentionally amateurish edge -- slips in and out of their family roles to argue with Larsen about what material should be presented. This meta-theatre back-and-forth underlines the piece's dramatic struggles while further leaching life from the underlying drama. Rather than hear Larsen scream about not wanting to deal with the few dark spots of her childhood, it would be more engaging to see her engage.