Shafrika, The White Girl
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
June 19, 2009
It's unfortunate for Anika Larsen that her new musical Shafrika, the White Girl, about a set of parents with a brood of ten children (four born to them, six adopted), is opening at the same time a certain television family with eight children (all born to them) is dominating headlines. To equate Larsen's sweet show with the tabloid realism of Jon & Kate Plus 8 is unfair to her, director April Nickell and the entire Larsen family. Why? Because Shafrika is all that the Gosselins' exploitative television show isn't: charming and genuine.
Shafrika, the White Girl, presented by Larsen and Nickell's Jaradoa (Just A Roomful of Artists Doing Outreach And) Theater, is about Larsen's trying to find a place in the world as a white woman who doesn't think of herself as such. Post-hippie parents in Cambridge, Mass., Mom and Dad Larsen adopted children from all over the world and gave birth to four, giving all of them Nordic names. The first act revolves around the big happy family, living in a sheltered, insular world where race, creed, and color matter not. The second follows the devolution of the family as the kids become people and the parents grow apart. (That Dad had an affair is what reminded me of Jon and Kate to begin with.)
Larsen has carved out a nice little niche for herself in the New York theatre scene; she's going into Avenue Q as Kate/Lucy the week after this closes; she's understudied in Rent and All Shook Up; she's one of the few people—perhaps the only person!—who can say she's been in both Xanadu and Zanna, Don't! Her script and lyrics are witty and sentimental without being sappy. As an actress, she doesn't have much star quality, but she's likeable—and real—enough that we want to listen to her.
As for the show itself, akin to Lisa Kron's Well, it's a one-woman show that's co-opted by other people. There's a sense of community in Nickell's production and everyone gets the chance to shine. There's also a natural spontaneity to the performances of Larsen and the ensemble, despite being written in the script. (For the record, that ensemble includes Chloe Campbell, Chris Harbur, John Harrison, Ricardo Hinoa, Amanda Hunt, Zonya Love, Mario Martinez, Liz Piccoli, Elizabeth Racanelli, Eileen Rivera, Lawrence Stallings, Shelley Thomas, Gregory Treco, Anthony Comis, Stephen Gelpi, and Stephanie Martinez.)
Particularly enjoyable are the choreography by Luis Salgado and vocal arrangement of Paul McCartney's "Ebony and Ivory" by Charlie Alterman.
Shafrika, the White Girl is the portrait of a dysfunctional family that, for all intents and purposes, functions rather well. If the Larsens had their own television show, the media would have a field day about what happened to them all; how Mom and Dad divorced and got remarried; how one of the adopted sons was deported after numerous run-ins with the law and so forth. Of course, there's the less glamorous side, the one the media would be very reluctant to cover. Like the son who became the first African American member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
And the daughter who wrote a loving musical about her family.