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School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play Plot Synopsis

Compiled by Benjamin Fainstein, Literary Manager

Please note, this synopsis contains spoilers.

Welcome to Aburi boarding school in central Ghana. It’s 1986, and a squad of the most popular girls reigns over the school community while preparing to compete in the Miss Ghana beauty pageant.

They’re that crew — every school has one — the students who use popularity, gossip, and manipulation to exert and maintain power over their less popular classmates. We meet their leader, the Queen Bee Paulina, a domineering alpha who will stop at nothing to become Miss Ghana.

Paulina is flanked by the smart and outspoken Ama, and Nana, the sweet and sensitive one whose love of food makes her an easy target for Paulina’s criticisms. Then there’s Mercy and Gifty, best friends who will do anything Paulina commands as long as it means they get to be members of the cool girls’ club. We learn quickly that while Paulina has the school under her thumb, she is not without enemies, even within her own circle of friends. And then there’s Headmistress Francis, who loves all the girls but is constantly exasperated with the work of reining in their schemes and antics.

The arrival of two strangers to Aburi throws the community into chaos. There’s Eloise Amponsah, a former Miss Ghana and Aburi alum who now recruits young ladies for pageant competitions, and Ericka Boafo, the new transfer student, who is a biracial young woman of Ghanaian descent from the United States. Ericka is wealthy, well-spoken, and much to Paulina’s dismay, was born with a far lighter skin tone.

Eloise soon shifts her attention from Paulina to Ericka as the top contender for the pageant, and the politics of colorism adds another layer to the complex relationships between the students.

As Paulina’s subordinates begin to drift away from her in favor of Ericka’s kinder nature and great stories, Paulina sets a plan in motion to maintain her throne, including going to dangerous lengths to lighten her skin. As her plans backfire, all the girls’ secrets and lies are revealed and they are forced to be honest with each other for the first time. While the girls make some headway toward reconciliation, Eloise returns and names Ericka her chosen contestant. Eloise makes it clear that she’s willing to bend or break the rules find a winning contestant, and despite objections from Headmistress Francis and the rest of the students, Ericka goes off to compete for Miss Ghana.

In a final scene, the girls watc the Miss Universe pageant on television. Ericka has won Miss Ghana and is competing on the global stage. Paulina, devastated from losing, has gone through some very difficult times, and the rest of the girls have done some growing up of their own. The mood at Aburi has changed since the play began, and the squad’s bonds are looser and tinged with wistfulness. The pageant begins, and the school girls are desperately hoping this is the year a Ghanaian woman will take the crown. In the end, Ericka does not even place in the top 10 finalists. The shocked girls are left to contemplate their own sense of invisibility as African women and the daunting challenge of keeping their dreams aloft even when the world stands ready to knock them down.

Portland Center Stage is committed to identifying & interrupting instances of racism & all forms of oppression, through the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, & accessibility (IDEA).

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