’da Kink is a hopeful, generous piece of theatre
Reviewed by Patrick Langston
October 25, 2016 Tuesday at 12:59 pm
’da Kink in my Hair
NAC English Theatre/Theatre Calgary co-production
Everyone should have a Novelette in their life.
A combination of bestie, mother and motivational speaker, plain-spoken Novelette is the Caribbean-Canadian owner of Letty’s Salon of Beauty, the setting for playwright Trey Anthony’s wonderfully resonant musical about the lives of black women.
Beyond that, and the fact that she’s arrived at a point in her life where she’s happy with herself, we don’t know much about Toronto’s Novelette (played with verve by Anthony).
But that’s as it should be. Novelette’s job is not to talk about herself, but to offer a safe place where her clients – we meet seven of them, six black and one white – can open up about their entangled inner lives. In a series of artfully linked vignettes, she strokes each woman’s hair, that mythic symbol of power, persona and self. She then steps back as the women slip into their monologues about family, violence, love, race, sex and all the other factors that make their lives sometimes joyful and sometimes unbearable.
Patsy, for instance, is a proper, middle-aged lady. Played by Tamara Brown, she’s terrified of change, her Bible a shield against a world that has turned on her in the singularly vicious fashion that too many black mothers have experienced. Her challenge is to trust again in the future and in herself, the kind of storyline that could so easily have been cliché, but which Anthony has handled with sensitivity and veracity and which Brown leavens with a touch of welcome playfulness.
Like the other vignettes, Patsy’s includes a song that encapsulates and extends her story. Anthony transformed her original work into a full musical (there are four composers) only after it had been staged multiple times, but the music, narrative and character, which don’t always support each other in musicals, are all integral to her show. Too bad poor sound quality on opening night sometimes impinged on both the singing and especially Anthony’s speaking voice.
In the hands of its no-nonsense proprietor, Novelette’s salon is the great equalizer. All stories are valued, and while overbearing clients must sometimes be put in their place, all women are welcome. That includes Suzy (Rae-Anna Maitland), a white woman with a son whose father is black.
Her presence initially foments resentment among other clients, but Suzy is eventually accepted. It’s a nicely engineered bit of writing by Anthony, who added the character long after the show debuted. Suzy is very much us, the mainly white audience, if we were to suddenly find ourselves in a black world. Our common humanity may connect us all, but whites and blacks, especially black women, also live radically different lives, have drastically divergent hopes and dreads, something Suzy learns most painfully when she takes her young son to visit her racist father.
Letty’s Salon of Beauty, it turns out, may treat all lives as things of equal grace, but that doesn’t erase the reality outside its door. Those mirrors on the salon’s walls (naturalistic set plus costumes by Cory Sincennes), in which we occasionally see the characters reflected, suggest that by reminding us that what we see isn’t necessarily what is.
Anthony’s story, which once or twice veers toward the didactic, includes other rich characters from the frisky, elderly Miss Enid (Brenda Phillips) to the tragic business woman Sherelle (Lennette Randall in a spellbinding portrayal) who’s so entrapped in a world of white, male power and family commitments that she’s vanishing bit by bit. Sherelle’s story of the weight of expectation that all women bear is one scarcely understood by men.
Despite Sherelle’s exceedingly dark story, ’da Kink, which is directed and choreographed by Marion J. Caffey with musical direction by S. Renee Clark, is ultimately a hopeful and generous piece of theatre. As Novelette tells Suzy, “It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.”
Continues until Nov. 5.
Tickets: NAC box office, Ticketmaster outlets, 1-888-991-2787, nac-cna.ca