Actresses Penelope Spencer and Rhoma Spencer in "Jean and Dinah" (Courtesy of Essential Theater)
Actresses Penelope Spencer and Rhoma Spencer in "Jean and Dinah" (Courtesy of Essential Theater)

With its history, impressive storytelling, and authentic acting, “Jean and Dinah” makes for a moving cultural experience and excellent choice to celebrate National Caribbean Heritage Month this June.

From the Lordstreet Theater Company and Essential Theater, writer and director Tony Hall fully immerses the audience into vibrant Trinidadian culture using only storytelling and a one-set bedroom stage.

The play was inspired by two Trinidadian prostitutes named in the Mighty Sparrow’s hit calypso song, “When the Yankees Gone” (1956).

Hall decided to give life to these women who symbolized a once widespread and profitable prostitution industry in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Like many West Indian prostitutes, Jean and Dinah were left desperate when the war ended as very few customers and other means of survival remained when the rich Yankees, or American soldiers, left the town and returned to the U.S.

Jean, a fiery, aging prostitute, and Dinah, an older, now-blind waitress, supported each other through the struggles of West Indian womanhood and the downturn of the industry.

In a nostalgic first act, Jean and Dinah reveal the hilarious and tragic history of two lifelong friends on the morning of Carnival. As they revisit their colorful memories, you quickly adjust to their singsong accents and absorb elements of the society and culture along the way.

For all their vulgar talk, teeth-sucking and Creole slang, Jean and Dinah’s seamless back-and-forth fills the room with a surprising familiarity.

Their easy intimacy rings incredibly authentic, so it was unsurprising to learn that not only have Penelope Spencer (Jean) and Rhoma Spencer (Dinah) played these characters for over 20 years but are sisters as well.

The feisty and opposing personalities of Jean and Dinah fought with and leaned on each other through motherhood, blindness, injury and age.

As a fly on the wall, the audience is pulled into their dynamic relationship and shown a rarely-told story of West Indian life and history.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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