Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Women confront their spirits in ‘Da Kink In My Hair

A grieving mother rages at her son's needless death

KINK. In Trey Anthony?s ?Da Kink In My Hair, a startling array of characters let down their inhibitions to tell their own stories. Credit: Paula Wilson

“If you want to know a black woman, you touch her hair,” says Novelette, as she delves into the tresses and stresses of her clients to reveal their hidden stories.

A grieving mother rages at her son’s needless death. A careworn wife watches another woman take her place after a lifetime of sacrifice. A young immigrant fears expulsion if she discloses the terrible family secret she
harbours.

These are the unapologetically intense stories woven into Trey Anthony’s masterpiece ‘Da Kink In My Hair, the Fringe Festival hit that’s been picked up by the Mirvishes and opening Thu, Jan 13 at the Princess Of Wales
Theatre.

“The play, for me, is my life,” says Anthony. “It’s a piece of history that I feel that I’ve left behind.”

The play is set in a laid-back West Indian salon in Toronto, where clients can expect to spend an entire day patiently waiting their turn in the chair while trading good-natured gossip.

The salon is presided over by the languorous Novelette (played by Anthony), who serves as the catalyst for each woman’s disclosure. Patsy (Ordena Stephens) is the epitome of rage and grief as she relives her son’s shooting
at a high-school dance. Her descent into acceptance is a righteous study in unfettered emotion, and the true depths reached by someone in a wholly helpless position. Anthony isn’t after mere sympathy here: The audience is
inescapably immersed as she resolutely leads the way through Patsy’s grief.

Sherelle (Miranda Edwards) is at the top of her game in the financial field, wielding power and influence. But these achievements have taken their toll. Under Sherelle’s confident façade lies a loneliness that consumes her.

Shawnette (Quancetia Hamilton) finds herself incredulously watching her husband and his posh new wife enjoying a luxurious life, after supporting his years of study with double-shifts and uncomplaining toil.

Closeted actress Sharmaine (Raven Dauda) has a stage-mother who’s been behind her every step of the way in a hard-fought march toward artistic achievement. But as Sharmaine finally breaks into the big-time, she finds
herself abandoned by a mother who cannot come to terms with her daughter’s newly revealed sexuality.

Canadian winters are an exciting shock to little Staci-Anne (d’bi young), a newly arrived immigrant from Jamaica. She misses her grandmother back home, but is entranced by her new life, her school and her new winter coat. But
the little girl has a secret to tell, and reveals a harrowing tale of incest as she longs for safety but fears expulsion from the country she has grown to love.

These monologues are the heart of ‘Da Kink. Anthony drew not only on histories from women in her life, but also from her own stories. “It’s the biggest piece of activism that I can do.” And she’s committed to keeping
that activist message. “You cannot walk out of the Kink being ambivalent. I want it to evoke some sort of change, some emotion.”

That resolve hasn’t always been an easy path for Anthony, who found some resistance to her frank and open nature while shopping her play around town.

“When I was first writing the play and sending it out to different producers, they’d say, ‘If you write it, don’t identify as queer, don’t say this or that.’

“The work comes from the time when I felt fear; questioning my identity as a black woman, as a queer. I’d left a seven-year straight relationship, and it came out of that loss – losing friends, family members – so I can’t back
away from it now and say, ‘Oh, I’ll take this out or that out.'”

And that honesty and resolve has been rewarded by the diverse and appreciative crowds who have embraced ‘Da Kink.

“I want audiences to walk away seeing me and part of themselves in it. And that’s what really has been the draw to this play… the rawness, the realness. It all has pieces of my life in it… my family and my friends.

“It’s written by me, a black woman, but I have people relating to it on all levels. I’ve had old little white Jewish women come up to me and say, ‘I so loved your play, and related to the characters!'”

Anthony believes it’s the power found in discussing taboo subjects that helps pull people into the story. “I never saw someone talk about suicide before,” she says. “I never thought anyone else talked about that. Same with incest… we all think it’s dirty laundry that only happens in our family.

We’ve had women weeping in the front row, and we’ve stopped the show and spoken to them, saying it’s okay to do this. I don’t know if the Mirvishes are ready for this, but that’s really the kind of street theatre that we do.”

The most autobiographical monologue in the play is Sharmaine’s, which mirrors Anthony’s close relationship with her grandmother.

“The lesbian piece is very biographical. Out of any piece in the play it is the closest to me. I grew up with my grandmother, and she was always very supportive of my career, pushing me like Sharmaine in the play with her
mother. When I came out to my grandmother… well, she hasn’t spoken to me in two years.

“It’s very ironic for me that something we dreamt of together, of me getting to this level – she’s missing it. It’s sad that it’s her homophobia that prevents her, that she’s missing out on the most important thing in my
life.”

Anthony is fortunate that she enjoys emotional support from her parents and siblings, with some surprising professional support from another family member.

“My grandmother’s younger sister, my aunt Zena Brown, is one of the actors in the play. She says, ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever seen you. This is who and what you are and we’re proud of you.’ It’s wonderful.”

The transition from Fringe Festival darling to a full-fledged force in theatre has been an exciting one for Anthony, though she still finds it difficult to assimilate at times.

“I still feel like an imposter, like they’re going to kick me out soon. I walk by King St to see the posters and I still get emotional.I say, ‘What is this little black girl doing?'”

But its big-time venues and serious budgets for the Kink crew now, and there are some changes evident in the new production, including new monologues and characters. The expanded cast sees all original members returning. “It feels different because there’s more money – we have a choreographer and original music composed. We still try to keep ourselves very centred with where we began… very conscious of where we’re from.”

That awareness also meant special concessions requested by Anthony during negotiations for this production, including 20 budget-priced tickets for each performance, in addition to rush seating.

“I told Mirvish that I want the tickets to be accessible to the community that it was made for, and also that schools were involved in some of the matinee performances. I was adamant about that.”

She was also insistent when it came to choosing the actors for each role.

“The most successful black actresses are the ones that look closest to white,” says Anthony. “I was very specific with the casting director that I want full-figured women… a true representation of black women in size, colour and hair texture. I’m fortunate that I’m in a position of power to do
that.”

Director Weyni Mengesha (who also composed the play’s original music) has been with the Kink since its inception, and believes the show’s appeal lies in its fearless beginnings.

“It was very raw,” Mengesha says. “It was courageous and very honest, and when I heard the monologues being read, I knew this is something that hasn’t been done: the black woman confronting her spirit.

“I think it really comes down to the black woman’s voice being suppressed for so long, and the energy that people are attracted to when they see the show. We’re always talking about our multicultural nation, but we’re not
hearing those voices.”

With ‘Da Kink already adapted as a pilot for Vision TV (starring Sheryl Lee Ralph), and a Kinky Women sequel headed for the stage in the near future, Anthony remains sure of the impact she wants to make, while remaining true to her own sense of identity.

“I’m trying to really be myself, and it took awhile to do that. We all have different aspects of our identities, and I don’t want to be put in a box. Sometimes in my writing the black in me will come out, the queer in me will
come out, the child in me will come out.

“I want to be a woman that does good work, not a queer black woman doing good work.”