Finding meaning in life sometimes means finding meaning in love.
Kenya N. Phifer-Jones, a Charlotte playwright, director, and founder of Legacy Theater Production Company, will bring that theme to Duke Energy Theater this week with a production of the play “Single Black Female.”
SBF is a two-woman show that uses comedic vignettes to explore the lives of two best friends on a quest to find love, clothes and social significance in a world that too often deals in racial and gender stereotypes.
Immediately drawn to the play
Phifer-Jones, a married, stay-at-home mom who also writes erotica under an alias she won’t reveal, said she was immediately drawn to the play, in part because of the way it speaks to the lives of black women. But also, she said, because of the way it stretched her artistically.
“It’s a comedic piece, which is something I really, really like,” she said. “In the past, I’ve done a lot of dramas. So this is the first comedic play that I’ve done.”
The production features two Charlotte-based actresses — Kerra Don as Single Black Female 1 and Iris DeWitt as Single Black Female 2. Each has extensive theater experience.
“Single Black Female” was written in the late 1990s by Lisa B. Thompson, a professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. Much of her work explores issues of race, class and sexuality.
On stage, the main characters “talk a lot about dating in this technology-driven world and how hard it is to get to know somebody,” Phifer-Jones said.
Some of the vignettes also take the women out of character to recall men they dated or to reflect on experiences they’ve had, such as going to a gynecologist.
A theater company is born
Phifer-Jones started Legacy Theater Production Company in 2010. The idea, she said, was to showcase black theater productions that were fairly well known. But over time, her focus shifted, and Phifer-Jones began writing her own original pieces.
“Being an actress and being of a particular age, and of course being a black actress, sometimes the parts dry up,” she said. “So that was another reason for me starting it, so that I could control my own destiny.”
Phifer-Jones believes destiny had a hand in this latest production.
With nothing in the works, she learned of an unscheduled opening at Duke Energy Theater, so she went online and typed in the word “two-people plays.” Up popped a snippet of script from “Single Black Female.”
“Within the first page and a half, I knew I wanted to do that play,” she recalled.
With almost no time to prepare, she booked the theater and put out a casting call.
That was late February.
Stepping out on faith
“Sometimes you have to step out on faith,” she said. “Even if you fail…you won’t know until you try. So that’s what I did, and it turned out better than I expected.”
Phifer-Jones said Don and DeWitt have “great chemistry” on stage.
“They have some experience,” she said. “This isn’t their first rodeo. It’s great to be with professional actresses who you don’t have to coach along but already know the game.”
The characters, though friends, are different in many ways.
SBF 1 is androgynous, Afrocentric. She’s a professor who’s comfortable in her skin and unapologetic. And while she would like to get married, she’s ok if it never happens.
SBF 2, meanwhile, is a lawyer…and high maintenance – “very into the hair and the makeup and things of that nature,” Phifer-Jones said. “She’s looking for a husband, and she wants to find someone to marry. But she’s not falling apart at the seams or sacrificing herself or what she wants just to have a man. ”
No man-hating here
Phifer-Jones said she tends to favor plays that speak to the experiences of African American women. The first play she produced — “Here’s a Good Man” by Pamela Smith – was about a stressed-out wife, mother and businesswoman who found herself neglecting her home and family while trying to make it in corporate America. A play she did in 2016 — “Forever For What?” — focused on infidelity and the damage that it does to a women betrayed by someone she loves and trusts.
“It’s really not something that I do on purpose,” she said. “It’s just whatever pieces speaks to me at the moment; that’s what I go with.
Phifer-Jones laughed when asked if she favors plays of the “man-hating” genre.
“I can’t believe you asked me that,” she said. “No, I don’t believe in doing man-hating plays. Actually, it’s about trying to find a real, true, honest love in the day and age when it’s difficult to meet somebody genuine who has your back and who’s going to be there for you through thick and thin.”
“Single Black Female” runs for about 90 minutes and includes profanity. In one scene, one of the characters appears on stage in her underwear. It is not recommended for children.
Dates: April 6-7