In order to understand why Trey Anthony’s remount of ‘da Kink in My Hair is the way it is, you really need to read the press release. I discovered this after perusing the latter’s contents, to find that many of the seemingly rudimentary production choices were part of an attempt to break down the barrier between audience and cast. “My desire is to return to the heart of where it all started,” says Anthony who, unlike most producers, was uncharmed by all the ‘bells and whistles’ of bigger-budget runs of the show as it gained acclaim. That was certainly my experience at ‘da Kink’s opening performance on Saturday night. The show resonated like a diamond in the rough: despite the awkwardly homey and unpolished feeling of the show, I actually found it congenially honest and uplifting.
For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with this Fringe-turned-cult-hit show, ‘da Kink in my Hair brings us to a Caribbean hair salon inToronto, where shopkeeper Novelette unravels more than just the braids. One by one, her clientele share their stories in monologues that reveal the “challenges and triumphs in the lives of contemporary Black women.”
What the synopsis describes as a ‘kaleidoscope’ of singing, drumming and dance felt a little more like an Etch-a-Sketch in practice. The delineation of these forms was at times messy and unclear. The dancing was fluid, the singing—when it happened—was heartfelt, and the occasional drums added a deep, soulful rhythm… but nobody knew when to expect what. For snippets of the performance at sporadic intervals, the actors were accompanying pre-recorded tracks (a new musical score for the show composed by Michael McElroy and Carol Maillard) and could barely be distinguished from the voices on the recording.
This was a very different show from the one I witnessed at New York University just 9 months prior. Anthony and director Michelle Shay brought ‘da Kink in My Hair to the Tisch School of the Arts for the NYU Drama Department’s 2010/2011 Stageworks season. According to Anthony, it was this workshop of ‘da Kink that inspired the remount and many of the members of the NYU cast were picked up for the touring production (Janelle Renee Pearson, Victoria Myrthil, Thais Francis, Naja Selby, Alana Barrette Adkins).
Pearson gives a surprisingly credible performance as the 70-year-old Miss Enid. I say ‘surprisingly’ because she is 20 years old. With Pearson adorned in a silver wig and senior’s garb, my plus-1 at Saturday’s show was astounded by the transformation. “I couldn’t tell at all!” she cried to the actress after the show, tickled at the effectiveness of the guise.
The NYU show was performed in a black-box theatre with fewer seats and a different set/lighting design. Though smaller-scale, there seemed to be a lot more discipline and specificity in that production than this one; so why was I more enamoured with the Enwave Theatre experience? Both my partner in attendance and I could not place our happiness after the show. It was as though we had just been treated to one of Novelette’s salon makeovers: we felt inexplicably changed, less lonely than when we arrived. It seems, in this respect, as though Trey Anthony has achieved exactly what she set out to do with this version of her production. Namely, to go back to the show’s roots and focus on telling “real stories about real people that will resonate with real audiences.”
Anthony came out after the show and it was at that point that I understood what all the fuss was about. Her aura is something else entirely; at 37, she has achieved what many might spend most of their lives working toward, yet she still carries herself with the starry-eyed innocence of a budding young artiste. She is adamantly determined to self-produce, so there was a long list of thank-you’s at the end for all of her supporters along the way. It felt generous and necessary and one-of-a-kind—and that big heart of hers has certainly earned her a cult following wherever she goes.
For a show whose heart more than makes up for the loose ends of the production, ‘da Kink in My Hair runs for a limited engagement at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre from August 11th-21st. Tickets $37-77, discounts available for seniors and students.