How Black Mothers Say I Love You: slowly

publicity photo: How Black Mothers Say I Love You

Kerën Burkett and Alisha Davidson deliver solid performances. (Photo: Kimberly Ho)

Playwright Trey Anthony’s How Black Mothers Say I Love You is about the experiences of three Black women — four if you count the ghost. More specifically, it’s about immigration. I’m a second-generation-Canadian white guy so, in writing this review, I’m speaking from an outside perspective. Although this show mostly didn’t work for me, I have no doubt it will be more meaningful to others.

In Anthony’s story, the mom, Daphne, is dying of cancer. She has quit chemo because it made her feel so rotten and, as her daughter Claudette suggests, Daphne may be eager to join another daughter Cloe, who died of a respiratory illness at a young age.

Cloe is the ghost that haunts the family. She’s also the last-born and only Canadian-born of Daphne’s three girls. When Daphne emigrated to Canada from Jamaica, she left her other two kids behind with their grandma. Claudette was seven and Valerie five. Daphne didn’t send for them for six years, a perceived abandonment from which the adult Claudette has not recovered.

Claudette (aka Claude) is lesbian, which is another source of friction with her mom. Claude hasn’t been home in three years.

On opening night, two huge problems announced themselves in the first scene. As written, Daphne is obviously a Character: a wheedling, commanding, outrageously colourful church lady who loves the biggest hats. Playing her, Celeste Insell barely begins to fill in that outline. Daphne has a lot to say and it should spill out of her, but Insell’s delivery is slow and hesitant. Insell finds some emotional depth later in Act 2 but, for the most part, the dynamics of this frank theatre production are off-kilter.

That first scene is also badly directed. As Daphne stands at the kitchen table and pretends to prepare dinner, director Fay Nass has given Claude (Alisha Davidson) sweet nothing to do so she just stands there and listens to Daphne’s monologue. It’s painfully static. [Read more…]

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!