“Your hair is exactly how it’s supposed to be, baby.” Those were Ms. Maggie Brown’s sweet words in primary school. How many of us have heard that before? Maybe it’s those who have that think today’s black hair train is late and would rather catch a plane because it’s not just late, but it’s inefficient for getting as far as we need to go. Not hearing Ms. Maggie Brown’s words when you were growing up is the reason so many of us think that this 21st century hair movement is getting too much press and too much steam, obvious puns intended. For a 60-year old teacher who has had to console many a third grader, black hair movements need to be P&P (Policy and Procedure).
But amid an overabundance of advice, tips, style templates, and must-have products, what can a play about black women’s hair experiences offer?
First, this play gives social commentary that dramatic works usually don’t. I can’t imagine The Color Purple’s Mister breaking character to say that he is trying to take control over what and who he can because he feels so powerless in the white man’s world of capitalism and racism. So, thank God for one-act plays and monologues. There are downsides to these forms, but not many.
The play consists of six women who meet and share stories at a Brooklyn hair workshop hosted by breakout YouTube star, Kee Kee. During the opening of the play, R&B jams play while the women find their seats at the hair event. As the natural-haired women, including a mixed Jewish woman, gradually meet and build rapport, a sultry straight-hair woman enters. The “naturals” stare the “straight” down, and tighten their circle with whispers and exasperated expressions. The “straight” stares back, annoyed by their judgment, yet sitting confidently outside the clique.
Kee Kee begins the play’s first spoken words. She welcomes the crowd to meet her “friends.” In addition to discussing her back story of getting paid to talk to women about hair, she interjects quips like raising prices due to inflation, and amicably sets the scene for each persona. The personas are Dr. Jenkins (historian), Hannah (half-Jewish schoolteacher), Niecey (politician’s assistant with perm), Constance (butch-lesbian writer), Bertina (Jamaican nurse), and Doris (preacher’s wife).
The performances are good. Aside from the music and occasional spot lights, the live action of the play is too scaled down to literally animate the beauty of the written lines. But really, this is a play of monologues and each actress makes some gesture that evokes her character’s whimsy. Dr. Jenkins’ points passionately, speaking as if at a conference; Hannah fingers her loose curls with grief and chutzpah; Niecey wears a tight dress and often cuts her eyes; Constance accents her necktie with a deep, husky voice; Bertina speaks of home with nostalgic smiles; and Doris tears up, quivering as she speaks of her battle with cancer.
The artistic allure of this play is its range of storytelling via crisp characterizations instead of stock and crass caricatures. The characters are seemingly so vivid because the writers show how events in each woman’s life are relevant to understanding her hair journey. This approach to the narrative keeps the monologues authentic—the women laugh, lament, reminisce, and sashay. Ergo, this is not a thorny “b!+ch session” or a melodramatic freedom fight, though Dr. Jenkins’ history lesson edges on sermonizing.
What really makes Supernatural so special is the reversal of weight given to the individual vs. the community. Taking into account gender, this play makes black womanhood a micro space and the life of a black woman a macro space. Yes, both spaces are still in the ultimate time and space of America, but the words of these women are not American pop monologues. And good monologues turn familiar spaces into new worlds right before our eyes. In the play, each woman has to see the next woman’s world. She has to experience a public hair moment within her personal history.
So I am grateful that, for a number of intelligent and creative women, the black hair business is paying the demographic that spends the most. Since the turn of the 21st century, a meaningful crop of hair shows and movies have come along, and that meaningful time stamp alone is cause to take these events as a movement. No matter how small or large, what shape or size, this is a movement.
Supernatural was the final play on the slate of May shows at The Players Theatre. Already another black hair play, Hair’itage, is showing at the historic Off Broadway theatre.
Supernatural: The Play is written by Candace Kelley, Audrey Kelley, and Gilda Rogers.
Cast: Zuri Alexander, Kim Coles, Aaliyah Habeeb, Peres Owino, Brett Ashley Robinson, Lea Robinson, and Sita Young.