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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
And Her Hair Went With Her

We have to be friendly all the time. — Angie
Says who? — Jasmine We do. It's not like we really disagree with our customers. We're supposed to make them feel good about themselves. That's why they come here. We transform them into their ideal personas. — Angie

and her hair went with her
Zina Camblin (front) as Debbie, and MaConnia Chesser as Jasmine in And Her Hair Went With Her
(Photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas)
The scene is a beauty salon in an unspecified locale that caters to an African-American clientele. Based on information later disclosed in the play but not in the program, the time is 2003. Although there are two work stations filled with product, it is the two shelves of wigs of various styles that immediately catch our attention in designer Charles Corcoran's carefully detailed set.

The salon is where the play's author Zina Camblin is about to have herself a grand time as she shares the stage with co-performer MaConnia Chesser playing hairdressers to a steady stream of eccentric and needy clients, all of whom are played by Camblin and Chesser. The message, and there is one ("Self hatred is the black woman's poison") doesn't stand in the way of the more light-hearted approach of these two ingratiating and talented character assassinators. Their purpose appears to be to good-naturedly express and reveal their clients' best, worst and most neurotic natures.

It goes without saying that the client and the hairdresser relationship is as valued and important as that of a patient and a therapist. Essential background: According to the author in an interview, "for a long time in the black community, going to a psychologist, a therapist, was something that black people didn't do."

The petite Camblin, who has recently completed a year-long residency at The Juilliard School as part of a Playwriting Fellowship, shows great promise as a playwright. Immediately evident is her gift for dramatizing the distinguishing quirks and characteristics of a specific ethnic and cultural type, although their subtleties are not the essentials of this play. Her performance while not quite in the same league with that of Chesser, who fuels the play with her dynamic presence and comedic timing, is a hoot as well as a fashion parade of wigs.

Chesser plays Jasmine, the 40-something owner of the salon and the proud holder of a pair of tickets to a concert featuring the high priestess of soul Nina Simone. The salon hasn't yet opened for business and Jasmine is dancing to a Simone recording and teasing Angie (Camblin) to answer trivia questions about Simone's life. Angie,Jasmine's 20-something apprentice, single mom and college graduate with a desire to be a professional writer, has to answer correctly if she expects to get the other ticket.

Under Kamilah Forbes' zippy direction, there is no time lost getting into motivation, relationships, conflict or anything that might typically engine a play with a plot. Instead, and in full view, the actors divvy up who sits in the chair and who fiddles with the hair below. Basically this is a series of skits in which the clients unload bits about their lives and their struggle with racial identity crisis, mostly conceptualized in high comedic relief. "I will never forget the day I became white," recalls a black woman in a state of total denial. An untalented actress named Debbie comes in to get a trim before an audition and makes the mistake of demonstrating her audition piece only to be coached by the more instinctively expressive Jasmine. (But why does the director have Debbie face the audience and not Jasmine?) Other clients include an obsessive compulsive and a delusional woman who yells at invisible people.

The most interesting part of the play finds Angie leaving the salon on two occasions to go to the women's prison to interview a Lesbian sentenced to die for murdering the boyfriend of her former lover. Those scenes are beautifully written and Chesser shows us a different and more candid and insightful portrait of an incarcerated black woman.

Camblin tends to over-use Angie as a preacher and as a purveyor of feminist and social ideals ("Ebonics is the result of a failed educational system,") and her tirades get a bit wearying. Cleverly, however, Camblin allows the character of Jasmine to stand up to Angie's preaching. The big question is whether Angie answers the Nina Simone trivia questions and goes to the concert. Don't be surprised if you guess wrong.

This play will probably be most entertaining for those who will recognize themselves as well as others. But there will also be many more who will just sit back and howl at the way black women relate to hair and to the confidantes holding the hot comb. On a track sponsored by the National New Play Network and involving rolling premieres, And Her Hair Went With Her has been previously produced at the Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis and will be at the Fountain Theater in LA, Horizon Theater in Atlanta and the Bailiwick Theater in Chicago.

And Her Hair Went With Her
By Zina Camblin
Directed by Kamilah Forbes
Cast: Zina Camblin, MaConnia Chesser
Scenic Design: Charles Corcoran
Lighting Design: Jim Nable
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
Sound Design: Jessica Paz
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ (732) 229-3166
Tickets ($35)
Performances: Thursday, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM & 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM
Preview: 01/17/08 Opened 01/19/08; Ends 02/17/08
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/19/08

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