Two of our reviewers checked out ‘da Kink in My Hair. Click here for our other review, by Greg Guevara.
From the first scene, ‘da Kink in My Hair demonstrates that it will be capital “E” Entertaining with:
- eye-popping, big, red-light-accented set,
- brightly coloured costumes,
- strong voices in beautifully blended harmonies,
- knife-sharp and street-smart dance choreography (by director Marion J. Caffey).
The first number has seven of the eight-woman cast bemoaning, “What am I going to do about my hair?” Don’t be fooled by the title. ‘da Kink in My Hair isn’t just about hair, just as Barber of Seville isn’t just about shaving. Like Figaro, hairdresser Novelette (playwright Trey Anthony) is “always working, working, working.” Everyone wants her. But it’s not just their hair that needs work. Novelette runs and owns Letty’s Salon of Beauty. Her clients are desperate, but Letty won’t be rushed. She’s not just there to do their hair. She listens, not just to their words, but to their body language… and to their hair. “You get to know everybody’s business. If you want to know about a woman, touch her hair.”
The chorus reiterates this in song, “Tell the story of my hair.” And what stories they are! Stories to make you laugh, loudly and heartily. Stories to bring tears to your eyes and a lump to your throat. Stories of sparkling humour, or great joy, or deep sorrow.
We the audience look at the clientele and see stereotypes:
- Sister Patsy, Evangelical church-goer,
- Charmaine, Hollywood celebrity,
- Nia, hip young woman in cornrows,
- Stacey-Anne, Jamaican immigrant child,
- Suzy, fair-skinned, blonde fangirl,
- Miss Enid, memory-challenged widow,
- Sherelle, power-suited business woman.
But Letty sees hidden depths. She listens. She draws out their stories the way her strong fingers draw the tension from their scalps and their bodies. She trusts her intuition. She can tell “when a woman is cheating on her husband… with her best friend’s husband.”
What depths! Sister Patsy (Tamara Brown) is not just a Bible wielding pamphleteer. Brown sympathetically portrays her as a loving mother who dotes on her son, but also faces great loss.
Letty senses that something more than celebrity worship has drawn Suzy (Rae-Anna Maitland) to the shop. Suzy has crossed boundaries with her marriage, her son, her immigration to Canada. Maitland weaves a detailed picture of the contradictions in her life that are threatening to overwhelm her.
Sherelle (Lennette Randall), Ph.D. in Economics from Yale, demands that everyone adjust their schedule to fit her frenetic life. Letty lays down the law and schedules Sherelle for the morrow. Randall gives a heart-rending vision of the price she’s paying for success.
Letty does shift her schedule for long-time client Miss Enid (Brenda Phillips). Enid hasn’t been in the shop for months, but now she’s all a-tingle. Her memory may be failing, but she remembers how to flirt. She titillates the younger clients with stories of her new beau. Philips had the opening night audience in stitches with her double entendres. Her dance number with the ensemble is a real barn-burning close to the first half.
Former client Charmaine (Krystle Chance) returns from Hollywood to her hometown and Letty. But Charmaine needs more than a do. She owes her career to her mother, but a new love in Charmaine’s life has come between them. Chance presents a nuanced portrait of how joy and rejection battle for Charmaine’s emotional compass.
Hip young Nia (Allison Edwards-Crewe) has been waiting impatiently for her turn. When Letty broaches the subject of Nia’s mother’s funeral, Nia is cool and detached. But Edwards-Crewe reveals how deep scars from racism tear at her.
Last is eleven-year-old Stacy-Anne (Virgilia Griffith), recently reunited with her mother after six years of living with her sister and grandmother in Jamaica. Cheerful Stacey-Anne, in awe of her new-found good fortune (her own room and TV!) has the darkest story of the evening. Griffith’s performance drew audible cries of empathy from the opening night audience. How Letty and her clients bring Stacey-Anne’s story to resolution is touching.
The audience was abuzz at intermission and after the show. I haven’t seen such excitement and so many smiles in the NAC Theatre audience for many a moon.
Such stories! As contemporary as Black Lives Matter. As old as love and desire. As distressing as racism and sexism. As uplifting as community.
This is not merely a sequence of episodes. Three threads tie these stories together. The first is commonality of black female experience, with particular emphasis on Canada. The second is Novelette herself who brings an understanding of the common needs of these diverse women. The third is their mutual support. While they wait for Letty’s attention, they hear each other’s stories. They empathize with and affirm their acceptance of each other.
The audience was abuzz at intermission and after the show. I haven’t seen such excitement and so many smiles in the NAC Theatre audience for many a moon. ‘da Kink in My Hair has variety, breadth and depth that entertains greatly, while giving human faces to many of the issues facing black women today. An enriching experience and an exciting start to the new season at NAC’s English Theatre.
‘da Kink in My Hair (produced by NAC English Theatre and Theatre Calgary) is playing at the National Arts Centre Theatre (53 Elgin St) from October 19 to November 5. Tickets are available at the NAC Box Office and online at www.nac-cna.ca for $25, $49, $65 and $75. Student discounts and $15 rush tickets are available.