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Caleen Jennings' New Play Launches 2018 Women's Voices Theater Festival Critically acclaimed Queens Girl in Africa at Atlas Performing Arts Center

Actress Erika Rose performing in Caleen Jennings' play, Queens Girl in Africa
Photo by Stan Barouh

In 2015, the New York Times described Queens Girl in the World as the breakout hit of DC's Women's Voices Theater Festival. The play, written by playwright and AU Professor of Theatre Caleen Sinette Jennings, was a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a young black girl in New York in the 1960s.

Now, Jennings's follow-up play, Queens Girl in Africa, is premiering at the 2018 Women's Voices festival, this time at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through February 4. The play picks back up with teenager Jacqueline Marie Butler as she and her family spend three years in Nigeria following the assassination of her father's close friend, Malcolm X.

Jacqueline must navigate both personal challenges (fitting in at a new school, applying to college, falling in love) and societal challenges (a civil war in Nigeria and growing racial tension back in the United States). Dozens of characters (and dialects) are performed by Helen Hayes Award-winning actress Erika Rose in this coming-of-age comedy. 

Critical Acclaim

The reviews of Queens Girl in Africa are impressive. "Erika Rose...transitions with ease between numerous characters...Queens Girl is a joyful and engrossing window into a very personal story," writes Missy Frederick in DC Theatre Scene.

"Playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings serves up an ace with the world premiere of Queens Girl in Africa—a riveting, semi-autobiographical account of her experience living in Ibadan, Nigeria, in the 1960s. This production is a one-woman show starring Helen Hayes Award-winner Erika Rose, whose performance displays electrifying energy and range," writes Sherrita Wilkins in DC Metro Theater Arts.

Caleen Sinnette Jennings

Jennings is an actor, director, playwright, and a founding member of The Welders, a DC Playwrights' Collective. 

She received the Heideman Award from Actor's Theatre of Louisville for her play Classyass, which was produced at the 2002 Humana Festival and has been published in five anthologies. She is a two-time Helen Hayes Award nominee for Outstanding New Play. In 2003 she won the award for Outstanding Teaching of Playwriting from the Play Writing Forum of the Association of Theatre in Higher Education. In 1999 she received a grant from the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays for her play Inns & Outs. Her play Playing Juliet/Casting Othello was produced at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. In 2012, Ms. Jennings' play Hair, Nails & Dress, was produced by Uprooted Theatre Company of Milwaukee and by the DC Black Theatre Festival. In 2014 she was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to write a stage adaptation of Walter Dean Myers' novel, Darius & Twig, which was produced at the Kennedy Center Family Theatre and will tour in 2018.

Jennings has been a professor of theatre in AU's Department of Performing Arts since 1989. In 2003, she received Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award. She has also been a faculty member of the Folger Shakespeare Library's Teaching Shakespeare Institute since 1994, and she was project manager on a 2016 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to the Folger titled Crosstalk: DC Reflects on Identity and Difference.

Women's Voices Theater Festival

The Women's Voices Theater Festival highlights both the scope of plays being written by women, and the range of professional theater being produced in and around the nation's capital. Led by the area's premiere theaters, including Arena Stage, Ford's Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, Signature Theatre, Round House Theatre, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, the 2018 Festival will advance this mission with unprecedented collaboration across the DC artistic community, with 30 professional theaters producing plays by some of the nation's most talented and innovative female and female-identifying playwrights.