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Cuttin' Up

a Drama
by Charles Randolph-Wright (Based on the Book by Craig Marberry)

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 2269

SHOWING : April 11, 2007 - May 13, 2007



Howard's Barbershop is where everyone goes to talk, hide, and preen. Even Oprah's Daddy makes a stop (sort of). "All My Children" star Keith Hamilton Cobb is a wandering barber who finds a home here. Based on a book of interviews by "Crowns" author Craig Marberry. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll touch up your fade in this highly theatrical journey.

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Sense and Sensibility
by Dedalus
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Sometimes, your reasoning faculties, your sense (if you will), take a back seat to your gut reactions to a show, your sensibility (as it were). Such is the case with Charles Randolph-Wright’s “Cuttin’ Up,” now on the Alliance’s Main Stage.

Everything in my experience tells me this is a play that should not work. Set in a barber shop frequented mostly by African-American men, it purports to celebrate both the individuality and community of African-American men, much as “Crowns” celebrated the individuality and community of African-American women. My first reaction is, “How shallow – to reduce an entire group of people to what they wear on top of their heads.” The fact that both “Cuttin’ Up” and “Crowns” are both based on books by the same writer (Craig Marberry), and both try to make dramatic gold out of the spun-hay of short interviews did not help my preconceptions.

True to what I expected, “Cuttin’ Up” presents a plethora of “walk-on” characters who go no deeper than what they wear, switches from folksy story-telling to strident politicizing to too-pointed name-dropping (Emmett Till! Oprah Winfrey! Yada Yada!) at the drop of a leather strop, and focuses on a seemingly underdeveloped, been-everywhere-seen-it-all character who should strain credibility. The script is rife with local and topical allusions that feel artificial, and there’s even an “All my Children” in-joke (a quite good one, actually) that capitalizes on star Keith Hamilton Cobb’s fan base. There are two gratuitous “dance” sequences that come from nowhere, and there’s a plot device / character reversal at the very end that should require maximum suspension of disbelief.

All that being said, this play snuck up on me, and had me literally in tears by the end.

This is essentially a three-character play with extras. Literally dozens of “walk-ons” are played by four men and one woman in a dizzying parade of costume, hair-style, and even race changes. That I lost count of the characters and was surprised at the small number of folks in the curtain call speaks volumes about their abilities to disappear into characters, people who must impress us in seconds and keep out of the caricature-pit with only minutes of stage time. If an ensemble award is ever given, Duane Boutté, Carl Cofield, Donald Griffin, E. Roger Mitchell, and Marva Hicks ought to be first in line. I can’t tell you who plays which ensemble role, their submergence into character is that complete.

The three leads are Andre, Howard, and Rudy (no relation). Andre (Mr. Cobb) is a forty-something itinerant barber who has a thousand reasons for moving on, but not a single one for running away. Howard (Helmar Augustus Cooper) is the old-school owner of the barber shop, a man who likes to write things down, and who sees the good in the sorriest of specimans. He is a story-teller, a father figure, and the glue that holds this community together. Finally, Rudy (Eugene H. Russell IV) is the “kid,” the perpetually late up-and-comer with the taste for hip hop and loud shirts.

The play sets forth on an essentially impossible trek -- celebrating individuality and community at the same time. The strength of the play is that it succeeds. Their individuality empower these characters, but it’s the community that gives them wings. Any sensible boss would fire Rudy in less than a week – that Howard embraces him and encourages him is a testament to the man’s sensibility and to his sensitivity to what lies at the core of a person. Likewise, his appreciation of Andre, his willingness to give Andre the space to discover his own needs and wants, is another key to this play.

Yes, good common-sense reasons can be found for why this play, this structure, these characters should strain credibility. But they are so well-written and well-acted that all the “shoulds” and “common sense nitpicks” disappear in cloud of cut hair. Andre is not “underdeveloped” as I wrote above, but is crafted free for the actor to discover the base, his root, his driving-force. And Mr. Cobb does so. Supremely. The play, like this analysis, is, at root, all about the conflict and complementing between seeming opposites – self and community, victimhood and empowerment, history and heritage, Sense and Sensibility.

And the play, as well as this pseudo-review, take the unprecedented (and underappreciated) attitude that Sensibility can (and sometimes should) whoop Sense’s butt!

-- Brad Rudy (



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