Photo by Matthew Murphy

An exemplary script, unbelievable wigs, stunning set, expert direction and skilled troupe of actors, many making their Broadway debuts, have all come together in Jaja’s African Hair Braiding to create a hilarious and heartfelt production. Whether a the braiding salon is a space you know intimately, or one you’re entering for the first time, Jocelyn Bioh’s play will have you feeling all the feels and fully invested in the people there. Critics are raving, so get yourself to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre to catch it before it closes!

Variety Review of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

The beauty of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” is the play’s ability to bring life to a seemingly mundane space. … Still, the play moves beyond the intricate hairstyles…to highlight the women at the heart of these shops. … Director Whitney White presents the ecosystem of the braiding shop without extensive explanation. … Though the rapid changes in tone often feel jarring, the realism that bursts through these scenes gives “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” its vibrancy. … The actresses are excellent, including Thorne, who portrays a young woman desperate to make her mother proud despite their differences. The trifecta of Adebumola, Mensah and Williams ground the play in the cadence and rhythms of West African womanhood and customs. 

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New York Times Review of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

A kind of “Cheers” or “Steel Magnolias” for today, “Jaja’s” is so successful at selling the upbeat pluck and sharp-tongued sisterhood of its West African immigrants that the hasty dramatization of their collateral sacrifice feels a bit like a spinach dessert. No matter: The first 80 minutes of the 90-minute play, which opened on Tuesday in a Manhattan Theater Club production, are a buffet of delights. … Bioh makes comic music of [character bits], sometimes with the set-it-up-now, pay-it-off-later approach and sometimes with a scrapper’s punch-feint-return. Without White’s orchestration of the rhythm — and the perfect timing of the cast, most of them making Broadway debuts — I can’t imagine this working. Nor would it be as enjoyable without Dede Ayite’s sociologically meticulous costumes or the brilliance of the title characters. And by “title characters” I of course mean the hairstyles, rendered in before, during and after incarnations by Nikiya Mathis’s wigs, which seem to be holding a conversation of their own.

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Vulture Review of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

But how many times have you heard the house brought down by a wig? Or, for that matter, by the entrance of a minor character selling socks? At Jocelyn Bioh’s Jaja’s African Hair Braiding, which follows a day in the life of braiders and customers at the eponymous (fictional) shop in Harlem, waves of glee roll through the audience on the regular. People are cackling, downright screaming with delight — the man in the couple next to me kept covering his face as he cracked up, shaking his head and repeating to his girlfriend, “I can’t.” Bioh is a muscular, funny writer, and Jaja’s, especially once it gets going, is a very funny show. But it’s not just that. The screams, the cheers, the “I can’t”s — they’re about recognition. … The whole ensemble of Jaja’s is strong, but the play really finds its punch when the two veterans roll up. … Mensah is elegant, playful, and grounded; Williams is bossy, brassy, explosive, defensive, and, through it all, extremely lovable. 

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Daily Beast Review of Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

It is promising when a theater set gets its own round of applause, and David Zinn’s vibrant and ingenious imagining for Jaja’s African Hair Braiding…deservedly gets just that when the full interior glory of the imagined hair braiding shop…reveals itself. … Bioh, director Whitney White, costume designer Dede Ayite, and lighting designer Jiyoun Chang animate a wonderfully bristling canvas. … What lands, over and over again (going by the gasps and responses of the audience), is Bioh’s dialog as expertly, relishingly delivered by her actors. Bioh is not just adept at writing the wit and vim of the conflicts and rivalries at the store, but also the deep friendships and loyalties within it too. 

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