Last week, I caught the closing performance of Death of the Diva, a one woman show acted by Amanda Seales, formerly Amanda Diva. You might be thinking, isn’t Amanda the girl from Nickelodeon’s “My Brother and Me,” the VH1 countdown shows or MTVs new “Hip Hop POV” show? Amanda is all of those things but she’s also a thinking black woman in America who’s taken a critical and hilarious perspective in tackling how reality television and contemporary pop culture have changed how black and brown women and teens identify, process and achieve success and celebrity. Simply put, the days of En Vogue and the dream of Whitney Houston as a flawless performer sans cocaine are gone.
Presented at The Helen Mills Theater in New York City, Death of the Diva is a series of vignettes, performed by Seales on a simple stage boasting one chair, one table hosting props like hats and wigs, a rolling rack filled with clothes and a smattering of shoes. Three musicians back the show, which puts forth eleven characters and almost as many musical numbers. It is through these characters, named monikers like MC Checkahoe, Maria Sophia Castillo and Sh’aandreikah Jones, that Seales conveys just how the perception and the actual portrayal of women has shifted from “227″ and “A Different World” to “Basketball Wives” and “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
One of my personal favorite characters was MC Checkahoe, where Seales, dressed in a varsity jacket, sneakers and a baseball cap, tries to make sense of a career built on glorifying drug violence and misogyny and becoming a father to a baby girl. Naturally, the ‘When I say ‘bitch’ I’m not talking about you’ pacification arises but Seales shows Checkahoe’s struggle with the environment he’s helped create and juxtaposes his money-making feelings with his hope that one day there will be a respectable female MC from which his daughter can draw her cues.
Seales’ interpretation of reality television’s effect on teens these days is both comical and terrifying when she becomes Sh’aandreika Jones, the reality tv star-rah hopeful. Donning a ponytail and a backpack, Seales as Jones tells the audience that her dreams don’t include college because her career is going to be becoming a reality tv star like NeNe Leakes or Evelyn Lozada. Jones’ in-depth description of how to cry without looking ugly to capture the drama for her viewers and how she’s been working on perfecting her red carpet walk is too funny, until you realize that she’s really the voice of a lot of kids. Makes you want to pray that Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes’ depiction of a strong and successful black woman in ABC’s “Scandal” makes it through it’s first season, doesn’t it? Or that Maya Rudolph’s talk show czar turn as Ava on NBC’s “Up All Night” keeps rolling on.
Death of the Diva is a great way to digest pop culture, it’s effect and our responsibility to present other examples of successful black and brown women, through mentoring or simply being about your business in your neighborhood. While Seales proves she is a brave master of the stage with her performance, her work encourages us to be better at disproving foolishness as a path to success.
ps. Death of the Diva is no longer showing but maybe it will come back?