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Hair’itage the Play talks Black Hair, Love, and Race

Dana Gethers | 7/13/2014, 1:22 p.m.
Niccole Jeanette Nero-Gaines shares everyday salon experiences in her latest work “Hair’itage: The Journey of Sistahs with their Hair,” a ...
Cast of Hair'itage with producer/writer/director Niccole Nero Gaines

Some of the most absurdly entertaining, inspiring, and truly raw stories are shared and expressed in Black hair salons across the nation. So, its no surprise that salon-owner Niccole Jeanette Nero-Gaines found an audience with her play, “Hair’itage: The Journey of Sistahs with their Hair,” a down-to-earth production that explores the inordinate amount of attention placed on Black hair and the challenges Black women face.

The play’s showing at Molloy College in Long Island last Saturday, is the first in a series of sots in the New York State tour. The all-female cast includes choreographer Sherese Parris who plays Loc Sistah, Juanita Frederick who plays Afro Sistah, Isabel Capellan who plays Good Hair Sistah, Maiya Reaves who plays Straight Hair Sistah, Keyanna Murrill who plays Colored Weave Sistah and Bonita C. Jackson who plays Braided Sistah.

“Hair’itage” opens with an unseen slaveholder’s demands addressed to the audience “take away their heritage, starting with their hair.”

People with black hair, which has been objectified, politicized, and de-politicized in a constant cycle throughout the years are ever struggling with its negative connotations.

“It's not about being natural,” said Nero-Gaines. “It's about keeping [our hair] healthy and understanding the history of our hair and how we are sometimes perceived in society by how we choose to wear it.”

Throughout the play, the six sistahs engage in a much-needed dialogue about hair and how it is intertwined with race relations, love, and respect in the Black community. The six talented actresses remained nameless throughout, representing dozens of personas, and Black women generalities who truly embody the masses.

Nero-Gaines effectively incorporates a reasonable dosage of humor into her work. At one point Afro Sistah rightly asks, “The afro isn’t in style? How can natural not be natural?”

Juanita Frederick, who plays Afro Sistah in the production, adopts an Angela Davis Black power persona, but reveals that she identifies with her character in some ways.

“I wear the afro, I think its mighty and great,” she said. “When I look back at the family pictures, my mom has her fro and I feel good about myself because I feel free.”

Frederick’s ability to feel completely comfortable with the style of her hair is what Nero-Gaines intends to make sure Black women as a whole can understand.

“That’s what Hair’itage tells everybody,” continues Frederick. “It’s what you like, we are [representing] the natural, but we’re [representing] straight too. It’s all about you, and how you feel about you when you leave your house.”

Audience members, a mixtures of Nero-Gaines’ family members, friends, and well-wishers were captivated by the play’s message and couldn’t help but to laugh, express outrage, and signal their appreciation for Gaines’ uncensored discussion. During the intermission, theatergoers struck up conversations with their seat-mates, engaging in a variety of conversations from “Isn’t the play beautiful ladies?” to “I’m loving the whole concept of this play, the emphasis on womanhood apart from hair, and the importance we as women place upon our hair, why do we do that?”

Gaines’ impeccable writing and the talent of the actresses more than exceeded expectations, generating a much needed conversation about hair and the division it causes within the Black community.