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The Broadway Review: In ‘Jaja’s African Hair Braiding,’ micro braids and macro laughs

Jocelyn Bioh’s latest slice-of-African-immigrant-life comedy invites audiences into the glorious maelstrom that is a Black woman’s braiding shop.

(L-R) Kalyne Coleman and Maechi Aharanwa in “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Good morning, and welcome to Broadway News’ Broadway Review by Brittani Samuel — our overview of reactions, recommendations and information tied to last night’s Broadway opening of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding”


(L-R) Brittany Adebumola and Dominique Thorne in “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Imagine both the power and pressure of knowing that your entire livelihood rests on your hands. Hands that must be quick, nimble and adaptive enough to weave mountains and valleys into a human head. African hair braiders show up for this challenge every day — while passing stories, fears and jokes back and forth as often as they do kanekalon. “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” is a refreshing, verbose play, crackling with vibrant characters and culturally-specific comedy — both signatures of playwright Jocelyn Bioh. You almost forget you are watching a show while immersed in David Zinn’s hyper-realistic set (an open-faced shrine of pre-stretched RUWA and hair bobbles) or dancing along to composer and sound designer Justin Ellington’s Afropop selections. That is, until you notice the discrepancies in Jocelyn Bioh’s lovely but elementary script. Her dialogue toggles between effortlessly natural ensemble scenes, but histrionic smaller ones. The show shines in its jovial moments, limps in its solemn ones, and ultimately flails in its hurried, harrowed conclusion — but still deserves to be crowned the theatrical event of the season for Black women.

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