KPBS AIRDATE: September 23, 2005
Every woman knows that ‘Bad Hair Day’ is more than just an expression. The affliction affects how you look, feel, dress and act. That’s why a hair salon can be such a satisfying center of commiseration. Growing up in her aunt’s Toronto hair place, writer/comedian trey anthony knew just how healing that kind of spot could be. So, honoring her Jamaican heritage, she set her very first musical-dramatic effort in a Caribbean-flavored Toronto salon where a diverse group of women come to get fixed up, inside and out.
“Da Kink in My Hair” started off small in 2001, and went on to hit status at a major Toronto theater. Now, trimmed and reconfigured, with four members of its original cast intact, the musical play is making its U.S. debut at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, kicking off the 30th anniversary season. “Kink” is a magnificent showcase for some megawatt talent. Anthony herself plays Novelette, the hairdresser who claims that black women “store all their joy, pain, hurt and dreams in their hair.” ‘Why do you think it’s kinky?’ she asks. As she touches each customer’s hair, they’re set free to tell their stories – most of them rather dark, some of them fairly predictable. Of men who leave or abuse them, mothers who ignore them, family and friends who don’t accept them. It’s a cross between “Steel Magnolias” and “Crowns,” but both of those plays have a through-line, a narrative arc that unites the disparate and often despairing tales.
You’d like Novelette to help her struggling charges to change and move on. If their hopes and dreams are in their hair, then she should give them a new ‘do before she sends them on their way. Her sassy advice is brusque or affectionately teasing. But it doesn’t always help them to get on with their lives. The women come together for mutual support, mostly in chorus numbers, and these provide powerful or amusing moments, from the upbeat opener, “What to Do with My Hair?” to the bluesy, R&B paean to senior sex, “Sweet Potato Pie.”
There are many potent elements here: the snappy direction and choreography of Marion J. Caffey; the musical compositions and arrangements of e’Marcus Harper, with rockin’ keyboard and African drumming as backup; the colorful costumes of Ruth Carter, and a knockout 8-member, all-female cast. But the show still needs some work, some unifying theme beyond just.. hair. Anthony has created some gut-wrenching monologues, which are marvelously delivered. The universal stories evoke our sympathy and empathy. But there’s little real character development, so we don’t really come to care about these women as individuals, only as prototypes. Still, it’s an entertaining, emotionally-charged evening, just the thing if you want to let your own hair down.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.