By R.L Bartholomew
Wednesday, September 19, 2012.
Debbie Tracey’s side shaking one-woman show is a comic riff on the Arthur Miller’s masterpiece Death of a Salesman. Miller’s great tragedy shows the consequences of a failure to achieve the American Dream. Debbie Tracey’s anti-heroine dies from the shock of losing the fruits of her dreams.
Written and performed by Tracey, Death of a Beauty Saleswoman is a brilliant first effort by the Birmingham-born writer. A former saleslady turned actor, Tracey successfully mined her experiences on high-end beauty counters to give us this familiar stereotype – the ridiculously haughty self-made business owner.
Mouthy, opinionated and proud, Jacqueline Jones is a saleswoman at the top of her game. She has the mansion, the wealthy husband, the million pounds banked, and the servile, put-upon maid. But all is not well in her Thatcherite paradise. Jaqueline Jones is also a woman on the edge, a pulsating bundle of paranoia and prejudice.
But it wasn’t always like this. As a teen she used to be as chirpy as a sparrow - a rising child star in the Jamaica Disney Club - until her parents looked towards England for a better life. Here she experienced at first penury and racism, and found herself the put upon, lone black girl at her school. That early ego-crushing experience spurred her to reject the philosophy that black is beautiful – “when your hair is relaxed, people relax,” she later decides. “If you hair is nappy, people are not happy.” Clever, conscience-less and driven, she makes her fortune selling hair straighteners and skin lightening potions - after having dumped her feckless, workless boyfriend and later, taking up with the first millionaire who asks for her hand. “If a millionaire asks you to marry him always say yes – and think about the details later.” She quips.
Indeed, much of the fun in this well written comedy derives from Jacqueline thinking about details. She is concerned about her secret stash, worried about her husband’s business dealings, lives in fear of her over worked Nigerian maid and in mortal dread of being poor- and black- again.
Directed by Steven Luckie (Talking about Men, Junior’s Story) Debbie Tracey’s bravura performance never dips into the sentimental, even when her character claims to just want to be loved. And along the way we are treated with a gallery of comic grotesques – notably Jacqueline’s crooked husband Barry and her crafty maid Yotunde, who later runs off with Barry and all Jacqueline’s cash.
With Death of a Beauty Saleswoman, Debbie Tracey says she wanted to present us with a different black voice – the aggressive, successful, conservative, non-PC individualists who are out there, making it big. She also wanted to describe how easy it is to lose your soul if cash replaces your conscience. With this little gem of a play, she succeeds on both counts.
Death of a Beauty Saleswoman is on tour:
13 October @ 8PM – Solihull Arts Complex, Homer Road, B91 3RG
0121 704 6962
20 October@7.30pm – Artrix, Slideshow Drive, Bromsgrove B60 1PQ
R. Leonard Bartholomew (pictured below) is the Birmingham Editor for Thenewblackmagazine.com. He is also a freelance marketer and a private English tutor. R.L can be reached on Bartholomew1@blueyonder.co.uk