“Nina Simone: Four Women” – Review by Rick & Brenda McCain

Nina
Musician and Civil Rights activist Nina Simone

Christina Ham brings a profound story to the Northlight Theatre stage about the most honest woman in America during the Civil Rights Movement era with Nina Simone: Four Women.

The play is based in part on the title of the song written by Nina Simone about four different African-American women with varying skin tones ranging from light to dark, and how each one represents an African-American stereotype in society.

That is the framework for the play, which explores the woman behind the music and is set in the immediate aftermath of the church bombing by white supremacist terrorists that took place on Sunday, September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, and killed four little Black girls.

Fourteen-year-old Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, and 11-year-old Carol Denise McNair lost their lives at 16th Street Baptist Church that day.

Nina Simone: Four Women
Written by Christina Ham
Directed by Kenneth Roberson
Starring Sydney Charles, Melanie Brezill, Deanna Reed-Foster, Ariel Richardson, and Daniel Riley
Through March 2

Tuesdays: 7:30pm
Wednesdays: 1:00pm & 7:30pm
Thursdays: 7:30pm
Fridays: 8:00pm
Saturdays: 2:30pm & 8:00pm
Sundays: 2:30pm & 7:30pm

Price: $30-$88
Box Office: 847/673-6300
Running Time: 1hr, 40 minutes (no intermission)

Leading the play’s powerful cast of Black Girl Magic is award-winning actress Sydney Charles (Flyin’ West, Father Comes Home From The War, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner), who portrays influential recording artist Nina Simone. Charles is phenomenal in the role as she nails the mannerism and style of Simone. When awards are given out, Charles deserves top honors for this performance.

The cast is rounded out by Melanie Brezill, Deanna Reed-Foster, Ariel Richardson, and Daniel Riley, who are all exceptional and make Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight Theatre a four-star play.

Nina Simone, an independent soul who wore many hats in her lifetime, was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933. She was a pianist, musician, singer, author, and an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.

Eunice Waymon changed her name to Nina Simone when she became a singer, hoping this career would not offend her mother, who was a Methodist minister. Her primary function as an artist was to make people feel on a deeper level her ability to grasp the poignant merits of life and channel it into song.

Nina used her adenoidal voice as her way of being very instrumental and influential during the Civil Rights Movement by singing about love, loss, and fighting for equality. Assisting her in this provocative and personal musical journey was her pianist and brother Sam Waymon (portrayed by Daniel Riley in Four Women).

Throughout the play, different women of diverse complexions and backgrounds come into the church to seek refuge from the terrorism going on outside.

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The play’s four church ladies: actresses Melanie Brazil, Ariel Richardson, Deanna Reed-Foster, and Sydney Charles

Sarah/Auntie, played by Deanna Reed-Foster, who is of darker hue, is a maid on her way to her job and takes pride in never having missed work in over 10 years. She is the first to encounter Nina. Not knowing the company that she has stumbled across and who this well-to-do colored lady with the pretty dress, expensive shoes and permed hair is, Sarah nevertheless is still intrigued and yet also disturbed by her demeanor.

Then there’s Sephronia (Ariel Richardson), the activist who fights for justice on the front line. She is of mix breeding and is ashamed of how she came by her light complexion. Her father raped her mother and threatened to kill her if she told anyone that she was his daughter. To Sephronia, her light hue is nothing but a curse that enslaves her from her blackness and she resents anyone that looks at her as being favored.

Lastly, there’s “Sweet Thing” (Melanie Brezill), a sultry, sexy woman of caramel complexion who is a hooker. She comes into the church seeking out her arch enemy Sephronia to give her some news that she just recently discovered. She fights with Simone and calls her an uppity Negro, but deep within, she only cares about her surroundings and stealing what she can steal in the aftermath of the bombing.

However, all of that changes after Sweet Thing discovers that the ladies within the church are the true light she’s needed to bring her out of her dark past.

In a profound segment of this play, the ladies in the church speak the four little murdered angels’ souls back to life, as they proudly echo their names so history will never forget them.

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“Nina Simone: Four Women” playwright Christina Ham

The inspired and very talented writing of Christina Ham and her collaboration with director Kenneth Robertson allows us the privilege of seeing the shift of the undeniably ingenious Nina Simone from being an artist to being an activist after the bombing.

This awe inspiring production that deals with segregation between whites and Blacks, also shines a light on the segregated behavior within the Black race and how women of color need to learn to accept their differences and unite, despite how society negatively pits them to view one another.

Through her courageous and fierce music, Nina created powerful anthem songs that made you feel her anger over the bombing and segregation, such as Mississippi Goddam, Old Jim Crow, and To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which made her an essential voice in the Civil Rights movement.

Nina Simone: Four Women is one of the best performances in 2019 and sets the bar for all the other plays taking the stage this year. The actresses in the play are magnificent. Though distraught and in despair, they proudly show the strength of Black women and the power they possess to change humanity’s view of their Blackness.

Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight Theatre is “highly recommended.”

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