Play takes racial stereotypes to court

Actress says that the more people know about others, the more they can learn about themselves.
Friday, March 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:57 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

On Wednesday night, the cast of “The Trial of a Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae” debuted to perhaps their toughest critiques: 35 girls from the No Limit Ladies, a support group for young African-American women at Hickman High School.

“I don’t get why the girl is suing the two ladies,” said one student.

“Yeah, and why were people coming from the door with smoke?” another asked during a question-and-answer period following the final dress rehearsal.

Presented by MU Theatre’s World Theatre workshop, the play describes the trial of a 21st century corporate black woman, Victoria Dryer, who is suing two 19th century stereotypes, Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae.

Dryer, played by MU student Lisa Lynch, believes that the images of the two women have hindered her chances to succeed as a black woman in America. Mammy, the sweet, self-sacrificing caretaker with the answers to everything, is played by visiting artist Conni Blair. Safreeta Mae, the beautiful, sassy harlot of the slave yard, is played by MU student Chrishon Terry.

Dryer brings the women from the past into a present-day courtroom. If she wins her case against the women, the images of Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae will disappear from the world.

Deconstructing stereotypes

“It’s deep,” director Clyde Ruffin said of the play. “The play is comical, but it has a twist. You’re dealing with stereotypes created in the antebellum period. What this play does is take those stereotypes and show how they affect our lives today.”

The plot is complicated, Ruffin said, but he hopes that audiences get it. “The play takes it to another level,” he said. “It forces us to look beyond the iconic images of black women and take the time to look into their true stories and the images they represent.”

Many of the young Hickman students not only understood the play, but they also pinpointed multiple underlying messages.

“It lets you know that you can’t believe everything you are told,” said Hickman sophomore Jasmine Coleman. “You have to go out and seek answers.”

Hickman senior Salama Gallimore was also moved. “It was empowering,” she said. “You learn more than what the school tells you. I identify with the fact that you aren’t less black because you talk properly or you do your homework. It’s nice to know that others struggle with the same thing.”

Cast members insist that even though the play is about black women, everyone can take something from it.

“The more you know about other people’s history,” Blair said, “the more you learn about yourself.”

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