“Single Black Female” Tackles Sex & Stereotypes, at Lorraine Hansberry, S.F.
Lisa B. Thompson: New Stories for Black Women
by Jordan Freed
“Single Black Female” is at its strongest and funniest when the two actors, Tanika Baptiste and Paige Mayes, let loose and play off each other. The two women bring the house down, laughing as they dance wildly to passionate gospel music.
In quieter moments, Baptiste and Mayes command our attention with heartfelt petitions for a partner’s love, in this two-woman show.
“SBF” lampoons the trials of single life for black women, but the women offer the most compelling connection in their own friendship. Their mutual abiding love paints a portrait of black femininity that props up strong sisterhood.
It’s refreshing to see the women always in support of each other. Even when they are debating the competing merits of Hegel or Franz Fanon as philosophers of female servitude, they know how to push each other’s buttons.
Lisa B. Thompson’s two-hander presents ten swift scenes, each showing a struggle in the life of an SBF. Computer Love features the two friends crafting an online dating profile, only to be matched with an ex-boyfriend!
Sleeping with the Enemy covers the rocky territory of interracial relationships, with Baptiste and Mayes doing side-splitting, spot on impressions of white women.
Paige Mayes injects the show with infectious high energy and a stylish aesthetic. As soon as her hair is out of place, she’s got a brush out to straighten it. Mayes hilariously advises fending off men on the street by exploding into religious fervor: “Going Evangelic on a man hasn’t failed me yet!”
Baptiste evens out the pair with an intellectual, pragmatic approach, seething with quiet zeal. Underneath the humor, Baptiste reveals pain and heartache, besieged by her family’s probing into her dating life. Baptiste also brilliantly imitates some hysterical characters, like a dopey gynecologist and a loud-mouthed cat-caller.
At times, the 1999 play feels dated. Online dating has skyrocketed in cultural significance—so, watching our SBF’s joke about Match.com feels prehistoric in the age of Tinder. Playwright Lisa B. Thompson shows a noticeable reluctance to offend white people, tiptoeing around sensitive topics, which feels at odds with our present “no holds barred” attitude.
Overall, Thompson’s script is enlightening and sharp, providing a lasting, progressive portrayal of single black women. Baptiste and Mayes’ combined wit and chemistry make “Single Black Female” a great night out to share laughs and insights.
“Single Black Female” by Lisa B. Thompson, directed by Aejay Mitchell, at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco, through Sunday, November 10, 2019. Info: lhtsf.org
Cast: Tanika Baptiste and Paige Mayes.