Nina Simone: Four Women, Christina's Ham hit at Park Square from last season is back again and it is more timely than ever. Whether you saw it last season, or weren't able to make it (like myself), I suggest you rush over to Park Square Theatre and get your tickets now.
Nina Simone: Four Women takes place in the ruins of the 16th Baptist church in Birmingham Alabama, after the bombing that killed four girls. Nina Simone (Regina Marie Williams) has arrived in order to finish her new song Mississippi Goddam, and during her time there meets three other women. Sarah, also known as Auntie (Aimee K. Bryant), is a maid who enters the church to escape the violence outside, Sephronia (Jamila Anderson) is a school teacher, and Sweet Thang (Traci Allen Shannon) is a prostitute, who has some history with Sephronia.
These women come from different places and have different views on, and levels of involvement in the civil rights movement. Although all (with the exception of Nina Simone) are from Birmingham, they differ in class, education and skin tone. I had not previously seen these differences and the conflicts laid out in a story before, but it lead to some very in depth and real conversations about the goals of the civil rights movement, and the different ways to achieve those goals. By the end they do not all agree with one another, but they all see the value in the other's opinion, which is a very valuable thing.
Behind the story and relationship of these four women we have the amazing music of Nina Simone. Many of the songs that were sung were familiar to me such as "Mississippi Goddam", "Sinner Man" and "Young Gifted and Black", but some also I had never heard of. All of the women up on the stage have beautiful voices, but Regina Marie Williams as Nina Simone fully embodies the character, voice and all. She is the backbone of this show, and she supports it with great strength.
This show will make you think about where we are today, how far we have come since 1963 and how far that we have left to go. As someone who pays a lot of attention to both the arts and politics, I have noticed a lot of discussion recently about the role that arts and theater plays in political commentary and protest. Nina Simone is an artist who embodied the overlap between being at artist and being political, and this play takes place when she was becoming an artist who wrote to the times.
This show will keep you fully focused on the stage from the moment the lights go down to the final bow. The music will carry you and the stories will make you think.
Nina Simone Four Women is playing at the Park Square Theater until March 5.
*Photo: Regina Marie Williams, photos by Petronella J. Ytsma