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And Her Hair Went With her

a American Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Zina Camblin

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 3366

SHOWING : March 27, 2009 - April 26, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Wigs, weaves, and pop culture! Beauty Shop gets a makeover in this hilarious celebration of African-American sisterhood and identity. Two hair stylists, middle-aged Jasmine and radical Angie, dish the dirt on a salon of eccentric clients and discover how self-image affects us all. Get ready for a wild range of women, personalities, hairstyles, and trends in this funny, poignant, and universal tour de force.


CAST & CREW LIST
costume design Moriah curley-clay
costume design Isabel curley-clay
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REVIEWS

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Two by Two
by Dedalus
Thursday, April 16, 2009
3.0
At the Horizon Theatre, you can now see the world premier of Zina Camblin’s “And Her Hair Went With Her,” a portrait of African American Women as reflected through their hair stylists. Two actresses perform all the roles, and, truth to tell, for me it was like two plays in one, the first very very contrived and the second very very good. Unfortunately, the bad parts tended to overwhelm the good parts.

Angie and Jasmine (“Jazz”) work together in a supposedly urban Hair Salon (though I missed any references to an exact location). They are both fans of Nina Simone, and spend a lot of contrived time playing Nina Simone trivia games in anticipation for a local sold-out concert. They are two very different types – Angie is college-educated, and aspires to be a writer; Jazz is up-by-the-bootstraps successful, more involved in “American Idol” than local politics. The two are like oil and water, and, unfortunately, we have to endure a lot of Jazz putting down Angie’s education and aspirations. It’s very much like the “Blue Door” syndrome – a character pontificating that you give up your “blackness” if you become educated. This time, though, at least the playwright occasionally gives Angie some spark, some solid arguments in rebuttal, and even a final victory.

What is truly contrived, though, are the customers we see. Chrystal is a total caricature, a blond-hair woman who insists she is really white. We hear a moving story about a bigoted grade school teacher, that is as appalling as it is believable. What’s NOT so believable is that this would cause Chrystal to go through life with a literal denial of her self. We next see Debbie, a ludicrously bad actress who believes channeling Dell Sarte is the way to get roles. This is a badly written scene that really should be insulting to actresses and women, and, like all the vignettes, it didn’t conclude so much as just end.

In fact, what I didn’t like about the play was that ALL the customers were extremes, even caricatures, pointless grotesques who just gave Angie and Jazz objects to deride. None of the stories provided a basis for any continuity or thematic thread, none were remotely recognizable of actual human activity. They were all playwrights’ constructs. At one point, to make a joke, Jazz pulls out a pair of hedge trimmers to threaten one of her customers. I couldn’t help but think that the ONLY reason a Hair Salon in an urban (or even suburban) setting would stock hedge trimmers at a work station would be to make a cheap joke for that unseen audience that we know lives in every Hair Salon. This scene should be in any playwrighting textbook dealing with Contrivance.

All this being said, what makes this play actually worth a visit is the sub-plot involving Angie’s book. She is documenting the story of Phylicia, a lesbian murderer on Death Row. Through their too-few scenes, we see a logical and credible progression as the two women carefully get to know each other, get to respect each other. It leads to a heartbreaking scene in which Phylicia tells the story of the crime that will lead to her execution. It’s grim and suspenseful, and, unlike all the Hair Salon sequences, entirely credible. It leads to the ending of the play, which actually resolves most of the problems I had with Jazz and her treatment of Angie.

I think the difference is that there was good build-up to the final Phylicia scene – the other “customers’ are only given one scene each, and are given awkward exposition lines that never seem natural. The characters themselves are so over-the-top grotesque that they never connected with me on a believable level (though, I have to admit that the sold-out audience I saw this with seemed to enjoy these scenes a lot more that I did).

I do have to give a lot of credit to the two actresses. Karan Kendrick gives Angie an intelligence and fire that had me on her side throughout (hence my nitpickiness with Jazz). Tonia M. Jackson is good as Jasmine – it’s obviously a character I didn’t like, but she gave her so many likable moments, that I almost forgave her the moments I wanted to throw something soft and smelly in her direction. But it’s Ms. Jackson’s transition to Phylicia that is the star turn of this show. Low-voiced, angry, and flirtatious all at the same time, she wins us to her side even as she wins Angie’s trust, as she gives Angie trust. And to watch her make an instant transformation from Phylicia’s final scene to Jazz’s final scene is an emotional one-two punch that has to be seen to be believed.

On a technical level, I found the color-changing fluorescent lights of the set terribly distracting, and, except for the prison scenes, the overall light scheme was too busy for my tastes. I’ve heard it said that lights can be another character of a play – if that’s true, in this production, they tended to upstage the other characters more often than they should.

Still, the dark and starkly lit prison sequences perfectly underscored their mood, the Nina Simone soundtrack was smooth and smokin’, and the set itself made good use of rolling tables, mirrors, and Hair Salon chairs.

As I’ve been writing this, I can’t help but think what a better play this would have been if it focused more on Angie and Jazz and the Phylicia story, leaving the other characters to live in anecdotes in a “can-you-top-this-crazy-customer” contest. This is one of those rare cases when hearing about eccentric characters would have been more credible than seeing them brought to life. Of course, the play would need a new title – it actually refers to the actresses changing wigs for each character rather than to anything that actually occurs in the plot. And naming the characters Angie (her hero was Angela Davis) and Jazz was just so “Look-at-my-clever-writing” contrived that I wanted to scream.

So, even though the good parts of this play are outnumbered by the contrived, I still have to recommend you see it, just for those parts.

And, of course, anything with a Nina Simone soundtrack can never be too painful to sit through.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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