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‘Queens Girl in the World’ — Black coming-of-age story at Central Square Theater

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Queens Girl in the World’ — Black coming-of-age story at Central Square Theater
Jasmine M. Rush in the debut production of “Queens Girl in the World” at The Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, N.Y. PHOTO: RACHEL PHILIPSON

Jasmine M. Rush is making up for lost pandemic stage time in “Queens Girl in the World,” running at Central Square Theater through October 31. Playing the protagonist, Jacqueline Marie Butler, in the one-woman show, Rush embodies 12 different characters over the course of the two-hour production.

Jasmine M. Rush in “Queens Girl in the World.” PHOTO: RACHEL PHILIPSON

The story introduces the audience to Butler at age 12 and follows her through age 15. While she comes of age in the tumultuous 1960s, she introduces the audience to the people in her life and her community. When Butler begins to journey from her neighborhood to a progressive, predominantly Jewish private school in Greenwich Village, her worldview begins to change even further. Intertwined with the narrative are classic Motown tunes selected to reflect Butler’s emotional journey into her teenage years.

“It’s working on several levels,” says director Dawn M. Simmons. “There’s a coming-of-age story of a young woman, but she’s coming of age in the ’60s, so there’s a lot of political and civil unrest that she herself is internalizing and dealing with. It’s directly impacting the kind of human being she will be, and we watch her wrestle with not just who she will be but who she wants to be.”

From a directorial standpoint this meant a lot of one-on-one work between Simmons and Rush. They spent hours preparing for the show, perfecting dialogues and having Rush walk around as each character, living in that experience to enable easy transitions from story to story. Due to this intensive work, Rush is able to tell not only Butler’s coming-of-age story, but also the story of her neighborhood and the challenges and joys facing the community during this period.

“Queens Girl in the World” is co-produced by The Nora@Central Square Theater, The Front Porch Arts Collective and The Hangar Theatre. It debuted at The Hangar Theater in August with a set design by Diggle that Simmons describes as akin to an art installation. Although the Hangar production was outdoors, the minimalistic white house that served as its backdrop will be translated inside for the Central Square Theatre run.

Though the play is set in the ’60s, the parallels of political and social change mirror the current moment. For audience members who lived through the period, it will be strongly nostalgic; for younger audience members it will feel remarkably similar to today’s world.

“I want folks to feel seen,” says Simmons. “I think it’s a way to illuminate the story of people outside of the perceived predominant lived experience. And to bring those stories into their world, into their home, I think is a good thing.”