'Da Kink In My Hair by Trey Anthony, directed by Weyni Mengesha, with Anthony, Zena Brown, Raven Dauda, Miranda Edwards, Quancetia Hamilton, Ngozi Paul, Ordena Stephens and d'bi.young. Presented by Plaitform Entertainment in association with Theatre Passe Muraille at Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Opens tonight (Thursday June 12) and runs to June 29, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$32, Sunday pwyc, limited same-day rush $15. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
Stop scratching your head, miss Clairol, and take notes, L'Oréal. For black women everywhere, the subject of hair goes beyond fashion. It's political.Just look at Trey Anthony's 'Da Kink In My Hair, an all-black, all-female ensemble comedy drama that runs its fingers through issues like abuse, racial profiling, homosexuality and, of course, hair itself.
"Sometimes I've wanted to get rid of the kink in my hair, and other times I've loved it and felt glad it was there," says Anthony, who plays sassy, no-bull hairdresser Novelette, the one who knows every woman's secrets by the hair she cuts and styles.
"Most black women I know have gone through transformations," says Anthony. "We've had it permed or pressed or shaved or taken back to its original roots. I'm locking mine now in dreadlocks."
"So am I," smiles director Weyni Mengesha. "The kink's the African thing about us you can't deny. If you press it, straighten it, change it - it's a total reflection about how you want to be seen, what you accept about yourself."
With its imagery of roots, locks and tight coils, the subject of hair and black women seems salon-made for the theatre. Not that Anthony planned it that way.
The comedy-trained Anthony, energized by the bitter breakup of a seven-year-relationship, originally wrote a series of monologues for herself. After inviting several actor friends to read the monologues, and encouraged by director Mengesha, she realized she might have not a one-person show but a multi-actor play.
Anthony debuted the play to acclaim at the Fringe Festival in 2001, and a couple of remounts later it's making its mainstage debut tonight (June 12) at Passe Muraille.
Seven women in a hair salon delivering emotionally wrenching stories. Hmm... A black Steel Magnolias? An updated for colored girls who have considered suicide?
"I've never seen Steel Magnolias, and someone lent me the for colored girls script and I only read it after I finished writing this," confesses Anthony.
"Weyni asked me to think of some place where these women would meet. I thought, a bus ride? A party? Then I realized it had to be a hair salon. That's where black women usually gather and tell their stories."
Written in Jamaican patois, the play chronicles lots of specific women's experiences. But except for one story, Anthony says she didn't rely much on research.
"They're all part of me," she says. "The only story I researched was the character of Patsy, who loses her son. One of my brother's friends was beaten up by the police. His mom was crying and told us we didn't know what it was like as a mother to see your son go out and not know if he was going to come back.
"I remember thinking, 'This could have been my brother. This could be any of our sons.'"
Mengesha, who's assistant directing again on the remount of Djanet Sears's Adventures Of A Black Girl In Search Of God, was attracted to the rawness of Anthony's script.
"It's honest, with not a lot of poetry and no huge similes and metaphors," she says. "It comes from the gut. It hit me on that level, and that's a level I like to work on."
While Mengesha is determined to work in theatre, to help tell stories about lesser-heard groups using African theatre techniques, Anthony isn't sure what to call herself. Aspiring playwright?
"Weyni calls us theatre gangsters," laughs Anthony.
"We want to be the new generation of theatre artists. We want people to come to the show wearing jeans and running shoes or a nice dress. Everyone's welcome.
"I feel like the stepchild of theatre - no, not even the stepchild. I'm the kid no one talks about having had," says Anthony.
"I'm that child outside of a marriage whom everyone knows about but doesn't mention. That's Trey Anthony."