At the Factory Theatre Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.
Written and directed by Trey Anthony
Set, costumes and props by Rachel Forbes
Lighting by Steve Lucas
Composed and sound by Gavin Bradley
Cast: Beryl Bain
Simplistic, superficial writing and a production that is clunky.
The Story. Daphne is the black mother in question. She’s a churchgoing woman who is dying of cancer and she’s refused treatment. She finds comfort and solace in her bible.
Her two daughters, Valerie and Claudette, rally together to be with her. There is also the spectre of Cloe, a daughter who died young and is a ghostly presence to Daphne.
Valerie is a stylish woman, married to a very successful man. She’s devoted to her mother and helps in any way she can. Claudette has returned home from Montreal after being away for three years. Relations between Claudette and Daphne have been strained. Claudette hasn’t kept in touch and no one in her family seems to have reached out to Claudette except to tell her that her mother is sick and she better come home.
Over the course of the play concealed hurts and resentments that have festered without being addressed before, now come tumbling out. Claudette is gay and was in a lesbian relationship and Daphne had a hard time coming to grips with that, citing the bible at how wrong that relationship was.
Valerie has worked hard at her marriage to David her very successful white husband. But there are serious problems. Both sisters have criticisms of the other but one does sense they love each other. The whole family loves each other, concerns notwithstanding.
The Production. Rachel Forbes’s set depicts a cross section of a simple, neat kitchen, with appropriate fridge magnets, collectables etc., and Claudette’s old room. The walls of her room still have the same stuff that was on the walls when she was a teen living at home. There is a stairway that divides the rooms and allows for exits and entrances.
The production begins with the four women; Daphne and her two daughters and the ghost of Cloe following in a line, each carrying a suitcase, swaying to lilting music. It’s buoyant, infectious, and an uplifting way to begin the show. But then that liveliness slowly, methodically deflates as the show continues.
One problem is Trey Anthony’s rather simplistic script. The handling of thorny issues is superficial at best, and might be better suited to television as a sitcom or a soap opera. Conversations that should have taken place years before happen inexplicably without previous reference now. Another problem is that Trey Anthony also directs and it’s pedestrian at best. She moves characters for no reason I guess to make them look less static, or as in the case when Claudette first arrives, she just stands there awkwardly, making it look like the director didn’t know what to do with her.
Ordena Stephens-Thompson as Daphne sashays confidently around the space, putting a spin on the Jamaican lilt. Daphne is the best written of all the parts but there are still moments that make one wince at the lack of depth. Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Claudette portrays a woman, uncomfortable to be there and with reason. Roberts-Abdullah also infuses Claudette with a lot of emotion and passion. Beryl Bain as Cloe is graceful and a youthful presence. One can see the lost promise of this ghost-like character. Finally I can appreciate that Allison Edwards-Crewe plays Valerie as a perky, chirpy, lively character with lots to hide including a sad back story, it’s just that it’s obvious and grating, which defeats the purpose.
Comment. I find playwright Trey Anthony’s work to be slight and superficial. The subject matter appears to be of substance but at best the plays skim the surface and rarely dig deeply. How do black mothers say “I love you?” They say it in the same way every other mother of any race, creed, colour, sexual persuasion etc. says it. Sometimes it’s simple, complicated, vague, direct, off the wall, but it’s the same the world over, I recon.
Da’ Kink in My Hair, her best most notable work, took place in a beauty parlour with characters coming in, telling their story then leaving. It was made into a TV show, and that seems the best venue for this work—television situation comedies or soap opera fare.
With How Black Mothers Say I Love You, we have the daughters accusing each other of transgressions that seem to come from now where. Claudette accuses her mother of loving Cloe, the dead sister, more.
When the girls were younger, Daphne left Jamaica for Canada to find work and send money home. This situation makes the play slightly more unique as a black experience, although other nationalities have the same situation—mothers leave their children to work in another country to earn money and better the lives of their children back home.
Daphne left the girls to be raised by their grandmother, for six years, before they were brought over to Canada. Claudette has harboured bitterness for what she perceives as her mother’s desertion since then. When she was in Canada, Daphne married again and gave birth to Cloe, another reason for Claudette to feel resentful.
Valerie is devoted and defends her mother no matter what. But Valerie too has difficulties in her marriage you can see a mile away because she tries so hard to be perky and upbeat. I don’t buy it.
Conversations that should have happened years before all seem to be dumped in this short time the characters are in the same place. Are we to believe that Claudette and Daphne never had it out before now about Daphne’s perceived desertion? Really? Hard to believe. The same goes for personal secrets and hidden truths—they are all let out now. I don’t buy it.
Everything about How Black Mothers Say I Love You is clunky, superficial and more appropriate for a TV sitcom or a soap opera.
This was also reviewed on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm, Friday, February 10, 2017 between 9 am and 10 am.
Girls in Bow Ties Productions presented by Factory Theatre
Opened: Feb. 9, 2017.
Closes: March 5, 2017.
Cast: 4 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.