The Inside, Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre, at Victory Gardens Theater. Playwright Lydia Diamond’s exploration of an African-American college student’s journey from preadolescence to womanhood tackles so many issues of gender, identity, and race in its two hours that it often feels unfocused and irresolute. Diamond places the weight of the world on the shoulders of Emma, the sympathetic heroine that Diamond plays, and at first little separates The Inside from the legion of like-minded, hyperidealistic performance pieces that address alienation in all its forms. Diamond fares much better when she allows Emma to speak only for herself instead of for her race or sex and to respond as an individual to the pressures and prejudices that assault her.

With live jazz/funk musical accompaniment creating a dreamlike atmosphere, Emma struggles to find an identity while being treated as an exotic object. Diamond’s Emma is self-deprecating, grounded, and remarkably human. Despite their committed performances, Sharyn Michele Grose and Carla Stillwell never elevate their multiple roles past the two-dimensional. But Diamond has written those characters solely as devices to help tell Emma’s story, which suggests that The Inside would work better as a solo performance piece.

–Nick Green