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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
And Her Hair Went With Her
The play is And Her Hair Went With Her, and don't be put off by that title, even though mention of it causes people to squinch up their faces and begin talking about what they had for dinner. The title, in fact, is the only off-key note in the entire play. Otherwise, playwright Zina Camblin's exploration of the many faces (and hair styles) of African-American women is perceptive, poignant, and powerful. And actresses Tonya Pinkins and Tracie Thoms bring it all to scintillating life.
Pinkins is Jasmine, the prototypical "big mama" owner of a beauty salon; Thoms is her assistant, Angie, a would-be writer, political activist, and single mom. What they share is a devotion to legendary singer Nina Simone, the "High Priestess of Soul," and a sensitivity to the quirks and attitudes of their varied clientele.
In quick succession, with a change of wigs and accents, they become Crystal, the self-negating black woman who revels in her story of "the day I became white." Also a self-styled BOC (Black Obsessive Compulsive) who readily exhibits examples of her manic disorder. Plus a drama queen who involves Jasmine in her preparations for an acting audition, which turns into a hilarious parody of American Idol. And finally, a much-fired secretary with attitude, who answers the phone from her salon chair as if she were in her office, and provides rudely bizarre responses to the callers.
There is serious talk as well about Black Panther intellectual Angela Davis; about the African-American search for individual identity, as expressed by a plethora of explicitly "different" names given to a whole generation of black children; and English as spoken by street- smart African-Americans. ("Ebonics is not our roots," Angie protests.) In a moving subplot, Angie interviews Felicia Miller, a jailed infamous lesbian-murderer (played by a street-tough Pinkins).
All of this is handled with deceptive simplicity by Obie Award-winning director Diane Rodriguez, who has her actresses snatch off each other's wigs, mount them on the mannequin heads scattered on shelves around the stage, and finally don the distinctive wig that will turn them into their next persona.
Conducted in near-blackout conditions, as provided by lighting designer Tony Mulanix, the wig and costume changes are swift and efficient, and startlingly effective in their transition to the introduction of a totally new character. The set by Sandra Burns is a marvel of authenticity, a perfect replica of a beauty salon—from its checker-patterned linoleum to the many spray cans and bottles lining the shelves.
The Fountain Theatre, which has mounted a couple of unexpected clunkers in recent years, has returned to its former glory as one of the best damned intimate theaters in Los Angeles. Congratulations to artistic directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs and producing director Simon Levy.
Editor's note: The play has already had another production in New Jersey. To read that review go here