Brown Girl in the Ring: Huh? Guest Review by Rachel Scott
Brown Girl in the Ring
Performer/Playwright: Valerie Mason-John
Director: Linette Smith
Presented by Queenie Productions
at the Vancouver Fringe Festival
Guest review by Rachel Scott
I love the idea of this play: what happens with the black baby descendent of the royal British family suddenly crops up? Inspired by the African-German queen who married George III and the rumors of a black baby offspring to Louis XIV, “Brown Girl in the Ring” has all the makings of a wild ride and hilarious satire.
However, the execution of this marvelous idea is disappointing. Written by and starring Valerie Mason-John and directed by Linette Smith, BGITR just seems like one strange misfired vignette after another. Mason-John plays three different characters, whose identities weren’t at all clear until I read the Facebook notes later.
Even then, there is no central idea to contextualize the characters or give them purpose.
The problem lies more in the text than the execution; the script is wandering, indulgent, and has very little structure. Mason-John says, “Brown Girl is a satirical production, mixing fact, fiction and experiences from my own life to tell the story of the Black woman who was Queen.” However, there’s very little actual story in the offering. What’s the point? Aside from the blunt criticism that England has “swept [its racial past] under the carpet,” there is no bite to the show. And frankly, we get that lesson from the liner notes.
As a performer, Mason-John can be fun to watch, and she’s clearly a creative fun bucket. She makes bold choices and her text is peppered with popular references designed to titillate. She’s a brave performer and I’d like to see her do work that has more dramatic conflict. As for Smith’s directing, it’s hard to know what to think when the script is such a mess, but I did love the musical choices and the audience participation.
Brown Girl in the Ring has a great premise, but comes across like a fever dream: random, bewildering, and occasionally compelling. Mason-John has indulged too much in creative outbursts, and invested too little in the tantalizing historical accuracy of her story. I’d love to see this piece re-visited with more backbone and less fluff.