Review: She Mami Wata & The PxssyWitch Hunt

by Lynn on June 3, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on the Soulpepper Theatre website until June 30, 2021:

Written, directed and performed by d’bi.young anitafrika

Sound engineer, Mohammed Rowe

Audio producer, Matt Rideout

The Story and comment. She Mami Wata & The PxssyWitch Hunt by d’bi.young anitafrika is part of Soulpepper Theatre Company’s audio series, Around the World in 80 Plays. This one takes place in three locations in Jamaica, flitting back and forth in time, and deals with the stories of four friends from the time they were young children growing up to adulthood. The play deals with some pretty heavy subjects.

The four friends in the play are: Niki, Michael, Everdon and Kizzy. When Michael was very young his mother died under suspicious circumstances that we find out about late in the play. He was raised by a character known as Auntie Doris, the town dressmaker.  She also raised Everdon. The two boys were very close as they were with the two girls, Niki and Kizzy. A woman name Moddah Terza was very close to all four as children. They always went to her house for a story before school and because of that detour were always late for school.  Moddah Terza is the narrator  and the knower of secrets it seems.

We listen as the four young friends play joyfully, but then they discover their bodies, sexuality and how that awareness does not necessarily conform to their religious upbringing.  As the info on the plays says: “The drama explores the intersection of identity, sexuality, gender, religion, and (de)colonization.”

But in her own note, d’bi.young anitafrika is more direct: “The play centres on gender sexuality and the erotic life of the four friends, growing up in present day Jamaica, who are challenged to renegotiate their complex relationship under the ‘buggery’ laws—a colonial import of the homophobic British Buggery Act of 1533, which criminalized sex between men.”

The four friends had restrictive laws to adhere to as well as the oppressive rule of the church as expressed by the new pastor.  The play opens with a special Sunday service in the Church of the Righteous of Little Rock. (that’s Jamaica not Arkansas.) The new pastor named Paster M is to preach and the whole town of Little Rock is there. Sister Kizzy greets everybody. Brother Everdon is there too—he is described as a man who dresses to impress.  While the congregation is dutifully there, the sermon is fiery. Paster M chides anyone who is late—Everdon was late and Pastor M made a comment about it.  Paster M warns against garish dressing; the shade of shoes one can wear; that piercings are forbidden as are nose rings. (In a wonderful bit of irony, or perhaps a sneer at the church, playwright, d’bi.young anitafrika wears an impressive silver nose ring). So rather than being a stirring, inspiring sermon, it’s one of fire, brimstone and damnation if anyone gets out of line.

As the story progresses, we realize that as the friends grew up relationships changed and friendships were destroyed.  Some of the scenes take place in Kingston, Jamaica at the PxssyWitch, a “women only” club where Niki is the lead stripper.  

The Production. Because the play flits from place to place over various times, keeping track of where we are in the story could possibly be tricky. But director d’bi.young anitafrika has attended to that. There are specific sound cues for the different places and times, thanks to the artistry of Mohammed Rowe, the sound designer for this production. We know we are back in the children’s childhood when the scenes are introduced by the sounds of children laughing. We know we are in the PxssyWitch when we hear garish music and crowd noise. There are all sorts of hymns and music and church noise to place us there in the Church of the Righteous of Little Rock.

d’bi.young anitafrika plays every single part—all four children both as kids and adults; Pastor M; Doris and Moddah Terza. Again, the sound of echoes and different tones establishes if a voice is a woman’s or a man’s.  anitafrika speaks in a crisp, clear distinctive voice for every character and since it takes place in Jamaica the patois is pronounced but not challenging if you listen.

Much of the play is presented as a dub poem—a form of performance poetry that originated from dub music in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1970s.  I was mighty impressed with She Mami Wata & The PxssyWitch Hunt. d’bi.young anitafrika has packed the play with such rich language and expressions that she compels you to listen hard to pick up various turns of phrase.

The play does not unfold linearly but in bits and pieces. I was wondering if Kizzy is called “Sister Kizzy” and Everdon is called “Brother Everdon” early in the play does that mean they went into a religious life? No it doesn’t. “Sister” and “Brother” are expressions used for members of the congregation. As the play goes on the bits and pieces coalesce and the clear picture reveals itself.

anitafrika is a vivid, compelling, joyful performer who never shies away from tough subjects. She Mami Wata & The PxssyWitch Hunt  is part of a trilogy that explores queer black feminism, divinity, political activism and the black diaspora experience.   While I feel that writing, directing and performing the play is a huge accomplishment, I do believe that d’bi.young anitafrika could use an independent director to edit the writing and clarify some of the scenes. Somebody needs to tell the writer to edit and the director to get a stronger control on how it all plays out. An independent set of eyes would have been invaluable there, but I am still impressed with the boldness of the piece.

She Mami Wata & The PxssyWitch Hunt streams on the Soulpepper website until June 30, 2021:

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