Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 20, 2021

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Nina Simone: Four Women

Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA
through September 5, 2021
by Michael J. Moran
This play by Christina Ham imagines a conversation between singer-activist Nina Simone and the four Black women she depicts in one of her best-known songs, “Four Women,” right after a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four Black girls, aged 11 to 14 years old. The text interweaves performances by one or more ensemble members of 12 songs from Simone’s eclectic repertoire.
Felicia Curry
BTG’s powerful production is led by a fiercely committed Felicia Curry as Nina. When her sultry opening rendition (in elegant concert attire) of Simone’s first hit, the Gershwins’ “I Loves You Porgy,” is interrupted by a loud explosion, the set goes dark and shifts to the ruined church, with Nina writing feverishly at a piano. Three other women separately join her there: housekeeper Aunt Sarah (a blazing Darlesia Cearcy); light-skinned Civil Rights activist Sephronia (a fervent Sasha Hutchings); and prostitute Sweet Thing (a spirited Najah Hetsberger).
Through initial misunderstanding of each other’s different life experiences, Simone’s white-hot focus on the power of music to change the world eventually leads them to a measure of common purpose and hope for healing. Director Gerry McIntyre sensitively integrated the musical selections into this conversational journey, from a stirring traditional “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” to Curry’s shattering version of Simone’s anthem “Mississippi Goddam,” and a poignant climactic “Four Women” of almost unbearable intensity by the full company.
Vibrant musical direction by Dante Harrell ranged from delicate snippets of Chopin and Bach, recalling Nina’s training as a classical pianist, to the pounding blues of her “Old Jim Crow” and uplifting exuberance of her “Young, Gifted and Black.” Evocative scenic design by Randall Parsons and choreography by McIntyre, colorful costume design by Sarafina Bush, and haunting lighting design by Matthew E. Adelson and sound design by Kaique DeSouza ensured that everything was seen and heard to optimal effect on the intimate Unicorn stage.
This is must-see theater to understand the “High Priestess of Soul’s” singular role in advancing the status of African-American women artists.

BTG is requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination for this production and masks for all patrons regardless of age.