Review: ‘da Kink in my Hair

by Lynn on December 18, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until Dec. 23, 2022. Produced by TOLive and Soulpepper.

Written by Trey Anthony

Directed by Weyni Menesha

Choreographer, Jaz’ Fairy J’ Simone

Set by Joanna Yu

Costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Music director and composer, Corey Butler

Cast: Olunike Adeliyi

d’bi.young anitafrika

Alana Bridgewater

Tamara Brown

Tiffany Deriveau

Shakura Dickson

Miranda Edwards

Chelsea Russell

Satori Shakoor

Ordena Stephens-Thompson

Playwright Trey Anthony’s buoyant, bristling play has not diminished in its relevance over the last 20 years. Weyni Mengesha and her gifted cast have produced a joyous production that is also sobering and moving.

The Story. Novelette is the proprietor and chief hairdresser in her hair salon in “Little Jamaica” in Toronto that caters to the hair dressing needs of her clientele of Black women. Each woman, both young and older, are strong, fierce, independent, loving and keeping a secret or two. But Novelette knows their secrets through their hair. According to Novelette, Black women keep their secrets in their hair, and Novelette can feel these secrets when she tenderly, respectfully tends to their hair. She knows one woman is pregnant by the touch of her hair. She knows that another is having an affair. Ditto. She feels the joy and sadness of her clients through their stories and their hair. 

The Production. It’s a given that women go to the hairdresser and confide all sorts of personal information to the person who is working with their hair. But Trey Anthony in ‘da King in my Hair shows us that what goes on in a hair salon that caters to Black women is different, apart, almost spiritual. Black hair is regarded as sacred. One rule is: ‘you don’t touch a Black woman’s hair without permission.’ (or a Black man’s hair for that matter—for ideas on what goes on in a Black barbershop, I suggest The Barbershop Chronicles by Inua Ellams). Perhaps the reason for the special bond between the Black client and the hairdresser is that the client spends hours in the hair dresser’s salon getting their hair styled.

Trey Anthony has updated the play to reflect our changing world. There is a reference to Kanye West and his display of insensitive, antisemitic behaviour. One of the characters says that what he needs is a strong Black woman to set him right.

Alas, some stories don’t change over time. There is the mother mourning her innocent son, shot while with friends. There is the overachiever executive who is always the one people go to for help, but is overwhelmed herself and can’t tell anyone. There is the story of the woman who has found love and sexual activity in later life. There is the gut-twisting story about sexual abuse in children.

In Weyni Mengesha’s exuberant, detailed production, each woman has her moment to come forward and tell their story to their captivated audience, illuminated by Kimberly Purtell’s warm light. There is humour in the telling—one of the many gifts of playwright Trey Anthony’s abilities to weave a harrowing story with humour threaded through it. These are stories that are embraced by every woman in the place, no matter how different—they are all bonded by a knowledge that we know these women and may even identify with them.

Corey Butler is the music director and composer of the vibrant, uplifting music, sung by a trio of vocalists lead by Alana Bridgewater.  Jaz’ Fairy J’ Simone choreographs the joy of these women that is free, open and totally unselfconscious.

Hearing the secrets and offering gentle advice is Novelette played with a watchful, compassion by Ordena Stephens-Thompson. Her sense of humour and her impeccable timing has Novelette flip the laugh lines with ease.

Tamara Brown as Patsy is a prim, proper woman who seeks solace and comfort in the church and from the women in the hair salon She is hurting from the loss of her son but the pain of it slowly shows itself in Tamara Brown’s graceful, heart-squeezing performance. She is every grieving mother and she is totally individually herself.

As various characters, (Stacey-Anne/Claudette/Fitzroy) d’bi.young anitafrika brings her arsenal of acting gifts, her sense of the popping patois of Jamaica, the fluid body-language of characters at home in their world, and makes each one distinct, separate and always compelling.

The whole cast is exceptional.

Comment. This is the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of ‘da Kink in my Hair. It speaks for all Black women, and any woman for that matter. Trey Anthony celebrates the resilience, resolve and tenacity of every woman in that play and beyond. And to end with a recording of Lizzo, who makes every song seem like an anthem of empowerment for Black women, is just inspired and rocking.

TOLIVE and Soulpepper present:

Playing until: Dec. 23, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)

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