Playwright Jessica Hagan (Queens of Sheba) and Nouveau Riche (For Black Boys…) have returned to New Diorama Theatre with a fresh feminist farce, Brenda’s Got a Baby.
At first, this is a story about a couple and then a breakup, but Brenda’s Got a Baby morphs into an exploration of the misogyny and hypocrisy of 21st-century womanhood. Hagan’s script leaves little to the imagination: “Independence is a virtue until you’re thirty.”
Although it’s named after Brenda, this is Ama’s story and Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Ama is wonderful. Despite her nasty flaws, we’re behind her all the way.
Like the 2Pac song of the same name, Brenda is a young mother and when she got pregnant at 15 her classmates judged her but now they are envious of her family. The play holds up the paradox that women are shamed for having a baby before they turn twenty and then shamed for not having one before they turn thirty.
Ama’s mother (a brilliant Michelle Asante) wants her daughter to settle down, but Ama’s successful career and new flat aren’t enough: she wants Ama to marry a Ghanaian man and produce her grandchildren.
However, Hagan’s script stumbles in its pacing, with a protracted preamble that only crystallizes into drama with a digital countdown clock heralding Ama’s thirtieth birthday at the end of act one.
As Ama resolves to embrace motherhood sans a man, the play navigates the pressures of IVF, racialized health systems, and phantom pregnancies, but these explorations feel curtailed amid Ama’s escalating breakdown. Jahmila Heath’s portrayal of Jade, Ama’s sister, hints at depth, yet the script confines her character within the pull of her sister’s orbit.
The male characters, portrayed with comedic finesse by Jordan Duvigneau and Edward Kagutuzi, offer slapstick relief, but director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s handling of transitions oscillates between jumpy and confusing. TK Hay’s set design, resembling a chaotic playroom and Ama’s new apartment, adds to the overall sense of disarray, distracting from the family drama.
However, Khalil Madovi’s exceptional sound design, seamlessly interweaving Kardashian episodes with a compelling soundtrack, heightens tension effectively.
Hagan’s text has strong dialogue but stumbles in its portrayal of action. The play finds redemption in the re-emergence of Michelle Asante’s mother figure, offering heartfelt advice in the denouement.
Brenda’s Got a Baby is at New Diorama Theatre until 2nd December 2023