Transracial adoption – the musical

'Shafrika, the White Girl'
Anika Larsen of 'Shafrika, the White Girl.'

Thanks to a tip from Laura, I found out about a musical currently playing off-broadway about a woman who grew up in a transracial adoptive family. Shafrika, the White Girl is the white, biological child in the family. Written and starring Anika Larsen about her own multi-racial family.

Neil Genzlinger from the New York Times takes the typical description of the topic of transracial adoption:

There are a number of things to admire in “Shafrika, the White Girl,”
an autobiographical musical by Anika Larsen at the Vineyard Theater,
and foremost among them are Ms. Larsen’s parents, who in the portrayal
here embody a quiet heroism that isn’t seen much in this age of
perfectly planned families (full review here).

Marilyn Stasio from Variety goes further in her praise of the play:

Larsen tells her own story of growing up in Cambridge, Mass., with nine
brothers and sisters, several of them adopted from war-wrecked
countries like Vietnam and Cambodia and a few of them deeply troubled,
indeed.  Even if you take into account that her hippie parents were
trust-fund babies, their idealistic vision of creating "a microcosm of
the world" — and fixing its troubles in the cradle — is as sweet and
unselfish as it gets (the entire review is here).

Reviewer Adam Perlman at Theater Mania wrote:

The main problem is that Larsen doesn't know how to handle the
contradictions inherent in family life; for example, how can people
love and yet hurt each other or how you can be on the inside and
outside at once? Larsen's confusion has led to a show that's not so
much about this legitimately unique family as about her processing it.
We watch as she relives her memories and thinks aloud about them…A large multi-racial cast, clad in brightly colored sweatshirts out
of a 1970s kids show, plays the Larsen family with warm, convivial
sportsmanship. Every re-enacted reminiscence seems selected because of
how it made Larsen feel as a child, yet they have been reconstructed
with the clear eyes of an adult — one who seems terrified of offending
anyone. The sharp and scary edges of the memories are dulled to the
point they all register as a big "so what?" Surely, Larsen must have
had memories more fraught than solving the mystery of who wrote on the
living room wall (click here for the entire review).

Honestly a few things stand out to me. Why is the title character's name "Shafrika?" Am I supposed to be amused that the white girl has an ethnic/African sounding name? Should I be impressed that one of the musical numbers is, as Stasio describes,

raising the rafters with
that gospel-inflected voice of hers in "Glory, Glory," or
enthusiastically shaking her booty — appropriately enough, in the
well-executed schoolyard chant, "Shake Ya Booty."

Maybe it was the producing theater's tease of "With a name like Shafrika, it's gotta be a blonde girl from Cambridge, Massachusetts, right?" Oh, ha ha. I GET THE IRONY!!

What about the play's poster ad?

Shafrika, The White Girl

or their YouTube promo:

Or maybe, once again, it's not the adoptee's point of view that is central to the story, that I find problematic.

Nah. I think there's plenty other reasons to be cynical of this play.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

One thought

  1. It just doesn’t sound that interesting or well thought out. Once again I think the writer has gone for inherent drama rather than earned drama. It’s almost a gag reel, rather than a real introspective look. However, I’d like to at least see the whole thing to get a feel for what it really is like. The name as a joke is just that, a joke, which reduces the whole thing to a joke rather than anything serious. Sure, the musical is a comedy of sorts, and humor does allow us to see faults in the world, but reducing it only to joke, blankets the rest of what is going on in it.

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