Tuesday, 20 September 2011
SISTER, I’M DYING: Emotional Hairpeace weaves strands of sentiment and grit
Although a few of the play’s scenes are terribly overlong, the latest revival of Janice Liddell’s paean to sisterhood, Hairpeace, is a searing effort that sensitively reveals – and forcefully addresses – some harsh personal and political truths facing Black women across generational lines, past and present. What’s more, as directed by Fabian Thomas, the theatre piece showcases some powerful performances while exposing how a close-knit group of girlfriends is impacted by surprisingly profound hair issues – as well as pain and despair in the face of a life-shattering disease.
Set in Atlanta, the play introduces us to the headstrong social worker Deborah (Julene Robinson) and her circle of friends, who go by The Four Musketeers, including Stephanie (Shanique Brown), the revolutionary-minded Ayesha (Veronique Smith) and the ailing Carmen (Noelle Kerr), who is battling a terminal type of cancer. Their 23 years of sisterhood is to be celebrated at a reunion party thrown in honour of Carmen, who has less than a year left.
Under the strain of the circumstances, the friends assemble for what could be their last festive occasion together. But what was intended to be a thoroughly cheerful reunion dissolves into a spectacle where deep-seated anguish and once-repressed secrets are flung into the open.
In spite of the problems with mastering the Southern accent that the younger cast members face, Hairpeace does deliver moments of tenderness, power and revelation. Thomas usually reaps positive results with emerging talent, and for the most part he does the same here, particularly with Robinson, who earns kudos as the play’s riveting anchor.
Robinson, a UWI Mona Chemistry major, is largely convincing, particularly in early scenes where Deborah persuasively defends her decision to settle on a close-cropped canary-yellow hairdo. There’s also that grippingly intense moment in the play’s latter half with her old-fashioned mother (played by the superb Faith Gordon), which allowed the actress to display some vulnerability, but especially when Deborah is called out for her reckless alcoholism. (Personally, I found it puzzling that for such a seemingly enlightened young woman Deborah has been drinking herself half to death. Girl, get it together.)
Rounding out the cast are Marguerite Newland as Carmen’s good-natured mother Catherine, and, as Ayesha’s tetchy mama, the newcomer Kerrie-Ann Cameron, who brings a delightful presence.
As it turns out, a bit of scene editing would have lent the proceedings in Hairpeace a tighter flow. Still, I was deeply moved by the play’s clear-eyed depiction of familial connections, the power of friendship and the freedom some women find in expressing themselves through the medium of their crowning glory. Tyrone’s Verdict: B