In Conversation with Trey Anthony, playwright of “How Black Mothers Say I Love You”
by Bailey Green
NB: Trey uses the spelling of “womyn” when referring to black women in her director’s note, so we have respected that in this piece within her quotes.
Trey Anthony was inspired to write How Black Mothers Say I Love You when she read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. During that time, Anthony’s grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Anthony decided to interview her grandmother and when she asked her if she had any regrets, she said her biggest regret was leaving her children behind in Jamaica when she moved to England to seek a better life for her family. She believed that her daughter, Anthony’s mother, had never forgiven her for that decision. “The more research I did, I realized there were so many womyn who were affected by those decisions – by womyn leaving third world countries and migrating to first world countries,” Trey Anthony explains. “There was a history of a lot of Caribbean families, a sister, mother, aunt leaving and I wanted to explore what happened to these families after they reunite. No one talks about the damage being done to these families – to my mother and grandmother’s relationships.” These relationships live at the centre of How Black Mothers Say I Love You.
Anthony’s mother left England to live in Canada when Anthony was 9. Anthony and her brother remained behind in England, while her sister travelled to Canada with their mother. “We always had a level of distance. We struggled to connect emotionally,” Anthony says of her relationship with her mother. “And I feel it was because I was left from ages 9-12, during very formative years, that I struggled to develop that relationship. And for my sister, who was never separated from my mother, there is a closeness in their bond that my mother and I were never able to build.” Anthony discusses how her research speaking to daughters of women and women who had left brought about a new healing and a shift in her perception. Her mother became more than just a family member, but a woman who made choices to better herself. “It helped me heal from some of the anger and what I thought I missed out on. It is still a journey and it can trigger me but I am a lot more forgiving of her. The first time my mother saw the piece she broke down crying.”
How Black Mothers Say I Love You focuses on three daughters returning home to their mother, Daphne, after receiving news of a ‘devastating diagnosis’. The reunion forces them to confront the past. “The heartbeat of this play is really the story of these women trying to love each other,” Anthony says. The main character, Claudette (played by Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah), is the daughter who was left behind. Anthony says that creating nuance in the character of Claudette and revealing the deep feelings of abandonment behind her bitterness and anger was a challenge. “You see some forgiving and redeeming qualities instead of just a womyn who is angry at her dying mother.”
How Black Mothers Say I Love You has returned to Factory Theatre as part of the 16/17 season for an extended run after the show sold out last May. When asked about how the show has changed this time around, Anthony says: “having the luxury to tweak the various scenes and have some more dramaturgical work, and to have the support of a producing team, has made me able to focus more on the creatives. Having two new actors in the roles [Beryl Bain as Cloe and Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Claudette] has helped it have a new dynamic and energy.” Anthony also praises collaborating director Nisha Ahuja for her creativity, specifically noting her work on the transitions and making the piece more movement oriented.
For Anthony, one of the greatest joys of this piece has been telling a Caribbean-rooted story in a mainstream space and to give voice to those women. “Many people who have seen this play have talked about never seeing their families onstage,” Anthony says. “And for friends who are white, they take it for granted that they can see their lives in some way in any theatre across the city and that is not a luxury that people of colour have.” How Black Mothers Say I Love You speaks across race and class, says Anthony, because at the heart of the piece is a story of a family who is trying to love and is dysfunctional in that love. “As black womyn we don’t get that opportunity to be well-rounded characters with layers,” Anthony says of wanting to focus on black women in black storytelling. “We can be the angry black womyn, or the sassy one, or the one on welfare… I want all of these womyn to go on this roller coaster of emotions and be well faceted, be loving, crying, jealous. So you can see the anger, joy and abandonment […] For me, to hire womyn who look like these womyn onstage and get to be these full characters, that’s groundbreaking and what I want to see.”
How Black Mothers Say I Love You
A Trey Anthony and Girls in Bow Ties Production
Presented by Factory Theatre
Written by Trey Anthony
A devastating diagnosis brings Daphne’s daughters home where they are forced to confront a traumatic six year separation in their past and their individual quests for love, reconciliation, and forgiveness. How Black Mothers Say I Love You is a poignant and hilarious examination of our desire for truth and understanding from what has been left unsaid. Featuring an original score by Juno Award-winning composer Gavin Bradley and a thought provoking and deeply personal script from ‘da Kink in my Hair creator Trey Anthony, How Black Mothers Say I Love You returns to Factory after being the hottest ticket in town last May.
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst St.
February 9 – March 5