After sold-out runs in alternative venues over the past four years, Mirvish Prods. has brought ” ‘Da Kink in My Hair” to its flagship Princess of Wales Theater — but this overblown production does no favors to the dramatic monologues that were the work’s original core.
Author-actor trey anthony came up with a simple concept: Black women come into a West Indian beauty parlor in Toronto and tell their stories to sympathetic hairdresser Novelette. The monologues touch on such predictable but still powerful topics as child abuse, spousal abandonment and confused sexuality.
The speeches are connected by sitcomesque scenes about life in the beauty parlor.
The end result may sound like an uncomfortable marriage of “Steel Magnolias” and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” and on many levels it’s a derivative template. But the individual stories have undeniable power and are generally well performed.
Popular on Variety
In the original small-scale productions, there were some minor connecting musical sequences, performed by the same actors who handled the dramatic duties.
However, for this newly expanded version, director Weyni Mengesha has made several disastrous changes. To begin with, she has enlarged her own musical and lyrical contributions to the point where the show could be considered a musical. Unfortunately, her work has no power or resonance, sounding like rejected numbers from “The Lion King.”
Exacerbating the problem is banal choreography by Fleurette S. Fernando, plus the fact that none of the large company is really good at singing or dancing .
Mengesha has done nothing to help the show’s various elements flow together smoothly. The musical sequences lead awkwardly to the beauty parlor scenes, each of which clunkily winds up with a cue for a speech, at which point the actress in question dutifully marches downstage center to stand and deliver.
The show’s partial salvation remains the strength of those speeches, written with a sense of passion and detail missing from the rest of the work. The subject matter may be predictable, but the execution comes to its rescue every time.
Quancetia Hamilton has been cast aside for another woman; Ordena Stephens-Thompson has lost her son to gang violence; Miranda Edwards has gained business success and lost her soul; Raven Dauda has become a TV star grappling with her homosexuality; Ngozi Paul must struggle against a mother who hated her dark skin; and d’bi.young has to put up a brave front against the stepfather who is sexually abusing her.
They are all brave performers, but Mengesha does them an injustice by allowing their emotional moments to hang on too long, falling into sentimental or melodramatic excess.
The Mirvish org has a strong subscription base of 35,000, which will guarantee full houses for most of the show’s run (which recently extended a week). The company has closed the balconies of the 2,000-seat venue for this run, cutting capacity in half. Despite its obvious appeal to Toronto’s large black community, it’s doubtful this show will emerge as a sizable commercial hit or attract any major interest from U.S. markets, where it will seem decidedly out of date.