The Nunavut Theatre Company hosted two readings of How Black Mothers Say I Love You at Iqaluit’s Black Heart Cafe on Feb. 24 and 25, bringing a modern classic to the Northern stage.
The story features a Jamaican immigrant family, with mother Daphne, who left Claudette and Valerie for six years of their childhood to pursue a better life in the United States, remarrying and having another daughter during that time.
Later on in life, with Daphne dying, Claudette confronts her mother about her anger and abandonment issues in life.
Both nights of the play were a resounding success, according to the team, with both shows selling out their 50 seats on both nights.
“When we did it the first night, I forgot the play was actually very funny, people were laughing,” said Alexandre Michaud, the director of How Black Mothers Say I Love You.
The smaller, more intimate setting of Black Heart Cafe as well as the stage reading format lent itself well to the play.
“I really feel like it brought a quality of acting for the actors,” said Murielle Jassinthe, production member and creative consultant for the play. She added the intimate setting helped the actresses zero in and focus on their voices, facial expressions and how they express emotions.
The audience also really helped bring their performances to life, said the actress who played Daphne.
“Whenever the audience reacted, it just made us play the part better, even stronger for us. We were nervous going in but they made us all calm down,” said Jalane Manderson.
The story, with themes of the immigration, LGBTQ and black experience also resonated with audiences as well as the cast and crew.
“For me personally, I really identified with the themes of queer and LGBTQ side because I am married to a woman,” said Jennifer Lane, who played Claudette in the play. “My mother’s family comes from Barbados so my mother also had very similar lived experiences to my character.”
Lane, coming from a mixed-race family, with a black family on her mother’s side, said she felt her character to the point where she didn’t need to act at times.
“It wasn’t acting. When I was crying I felt it, you feel that character,” said Lane.
Jassinthe added the play presents a partial lived experience for most people representing themes that many can relate to, at least a little bit.
“People really felt for the topic and the cast, female, afro-descent, LGBTQ, etcetera. People felt so compelled,” she said.
“To be represented in our realities, that was so important, I think that’s why it was so powerful. To see these women on stage, bring it, the wider public was like wow. It was like finally being seen.”
“We had such a great showing in the black community at this play, you could feel it in the laughter, the sadness and the mmhmms you could hear in the audience,” added Lane.
What stuck out to Michaud was how relatable it was overall.
“What spoke to me as well is there’s no perfect ending, it’s not a beautiful, amazing, everything is perfect ending, it’s still a little bit messy. That to me, so close to reality, drew me to it.”
The director added everyone was very much excited to be a part of the play.
“Everyone wanted to be a part of it so much, everyone was very careful and cautious and tuned the material very carefully with all the attention that it needed because it’s such a precious play in itself,” said Michaud.
While the intention was to have the play during February, Black History Month, Michaud said “the play would still be as relevant as it is now regardless of whatever time you did it. I think the themes resonate with not only black people but anyone.”
Manderson said she didn’t have any intentions or ambitions of becoming an actor before taking part in this play, but now it’s all she can think about.
Lane also said she has changed over the course of doing this play.
“It was life-changing for me especially, it made me feel like a part of a community that I’m a part of but kind of on the outside.”
“My family is black, my mother’s family is black. I just am white, it’s common for people to cast you as the qallunaat,” she added.
“It’s been a privilege to direct a play with four amazing black women and it was great to see the community showing up for it,” Michaud said.
“As someone said to me, always go for painting a picture. Not to give it to you but to tell a story that would draw you in because you had to pay attention because it was nothing but four amazing actors saying lines.”
Why wasn’t it directed by a black woman? How would a non-black man have any idea how to direct black women in a play about black mothers?