Staged reading explores complicated emotions of family life

Community members will perform How Black Mothers Say I Love You on Friday and Saturday in Iqaluit

Pictured from left are Joan Wamiti, Jalene Manderson, Krystal Mattews and Jennifer Lane, at rehearsal earlier this week. The four women will perform a reading of the play How Black Mothers Say I Love You at the Black Heart Cafe in Iqaluit Friday and Saturday. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

By Meral Jamal

It’s a story set in the Caribbean and the U.S. but it resonates in Nunavut, according to the players who will act it out in Iqaluit this weekend.

The Nunavut Theatre Company and the African and Caribbean Association of Nunavut will host a staged reading of How Black Mothers Say I Love You, on Friday and Saturday at the Black Heart Café.

It’s based on the 2017 book and play by Canadian playwright Trey Anthony.

How Black Mothers Say I Love You shares the story of two sisters — Claudette and Valerie — who were left behind in Jamaica by their mother, Daphne, while she tried to build a new life for her family in the United States.

In the time she is away from her daughters, however, Daphne remarries and has a third daughter.

The book and play tell the story of Daphne, Claudette and Valerie as they live apart, reconcile and come together over time.

Adrian Allder, a representative and producer at the African and Caribbean Association of Nunavut, said Trey Anthony’s play titled How Black Mothers Say I Love You reflects the experience of immigrant families in Nunavut and beyond. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

Producer Adrian Allder, who is also a representative of the African and Caribbean association, said Anthony’s  writing reflects the challenges immigrant families face — an experience many in Nunavut also know all too well themselves.

“I know in my own extended family, there were cases where a parent had to leave their children behind to go to be in London or the United States or another country for job opportunities and to make a better life … which is never an easy thing to do,” he said.

“I think within the community here a lot of people can relate to that.… It’s very common for people from the Philippines, from China, from India [too] — it’s the immigrant story, really.”

Jalane Manderson, who plays Daphne, said along with reflecting the story of immigrants, what drew her to How Black Mothers Say I Love You is the way it reflects the story of immigrant mothers like her own.

“It’s just like my mother’s words coming out of my mouth,” Manderson said.

“There are different things [in the story] that I know that my mother would have handled in the exact same way.”

A significant part of the reading involves the way Daphne responds to her daughter’s queer identity.

For Manderson, the way her character behaves is the way her own mother would, too.

“I’m a pretty liberal person, so it’s not who I am. But it’s exactly who my mom is,” she said.

“I couldn’t tell my mom I was gay — I’d have to go to my grave with that.”

For Jennifer Lane, who plays daughter Claudette, and like her character is queer herself, the hope is that for those attending the reading “there’s more of an acceptance for people’s personal choices.”

“The struggles that you see Claudette go through with her mother are very similar to my own with my mother after my coming out journey,” she said.

“I really do hope that whoever comes to this reading walks away with a bit more of a profound understanding for the people that are in this community right now.”

Both Manderson and Lane said they hope those who attend the reading leave with a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience and, in particular, the challenges immigrant mothers face in trying to build a better life for their children while often being away from them.

Krystal Mattews, who plays Valerie, said she hopes “that mothers like Daphne — be they Jamaican, Inuit, Ethiopian or Newfie — gain some understanding in regards to their children not conforming to what their parents think they should be.”

She added, “I hope children like Valerie and Claudette understand that love is shown in many ways besides actually saying it, even though that would be nice, too.

“And the importance of forgiveness — not only for the person forgiving but also for your own mental wellness …. I hope people find the reading not only thought-provoking but also funny, and hopefully they shed a couple tears because I know we did.”

The stage reading of How Black Mothers Say I Love You will take place at the Black Heart Cafe in Iqaluit on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

A link to the Eventbrite ticket sales site can be found on the Nunavut Theatre Company’s Facebook page.

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