Claudette (Khadijah Roberts- Abdullah) has just returned home from Montreal after 3 years; she heard her mother, Daphne (Ordena Stephens- Thompson), was sick.
She scolded her sister, Valerie (Allison Edwards- Crewe), for not telling her sooner because she would’ve been there for her, even to cook. Daphne likes her rice and peas traditionally made.
Valerie, the middle child who lives closer to home and to their mother, tries to be the glue in the family though her life is unraveling.
In a nutshell: Daphne leaves to secure a better life abroad and the children are left with the mother’s mother in Jamaica. They reunite years later but not before Daphne marries and has a third daughter, whom they think the mother prefers but it’s not so.
The play’s theme digs in the issues of abandonment, felt by the two girls when they were left behind at ages 5 and 7; Claudette being a lesbian daughter to a mom who is grounded in the church, plus she is childless, a situation that is remedied later in the show; Valerie, who is living the ‘dream’ life with a white ‘workaholic’ husband and is childless too; teenage pregnancy and a dead sibling, Cloe (Beryl Bain), who is visible to the audience but not to her family.
The story line, beautifully written by Canadian playwright Trey Anthony, is compelling and the drama played out poignantly by the entire cast. So, bring your tissues to see, How Black Mothers Say I Love You, for it’s going to be worth you getting tickets but good luck with that, as it’s constantly sold-out, even this second time around at the Factory Theater, in Toronto.
It will leave you weeping because the script is all too familiar, especially in the Caribbean Diaspora, where many can relate to being left behind while their mothers pursue a “better” life for them. The nostalgia is sharp and biting, even the set is reminiscing of Grandma’s kitchen, which includes the refrigerator magnets, wall plaques and wooden furniture.
According to Trey Anthony, whose mother left her to come to Canada from England; they were reunited when she was 12 years old, her grandmother inspired the story. In her Director’s note she talks of being armed with just an iPhone and pen and paper to capture her memoir.
She states: “I come from a legacy of black mothers who left their children. My grandmother left her children in Jamaica and went to England and was separated from them for 6 years. My paternal grandmother also left her children in search of a better life. Both of my grandmothers were poor women mothering in less than ideal situations.”
Also, not to be missed is Daphne’s hilarious quest to find the perfect hat to wear in her coffin, once she has passed.