Performing Arts: Theater
December 9, 2019
The house of BAM’s Harvey Theatre is indistinguishable from the stage as patrons flood in and walked around the set. Audience members sit in barber chairs for haircuts while actors introduce themselves and chat them up. From the moment you walk in to The Barbershop Chronicles it is clear that this is not a normal play- this is a community. Set across six different cities (five in Africa and London) on the same day, writer Inua Ellams and director Bijan Sheibani take their audience on a journey through barber shops around the world.

The set, created by Rae Smith, is minimally designed. At the center of the stage hangs an iron, neon globe which is used throughout the play to indicate the traveling shop locations. Transitions from shop to shop are achieved through riveting song and dance breaks which allude to the next setting. Arcing around the Chelsea v Barcelona world cup final, characters from different shops around the world connect through the day by watching the sporting event on TV.

Ellams and Sheibani know the expectations set by society on their black male cast. Instead of ignoring these stereotypes, they make the choice to open a conversation on being a black man in the modern world. On the surface, every shop conversation begins in light hearted, humorous banter. Sometimes there is talk over the game on TV, sometimes jokes break about someone’s appearance. No matter the starting banter, cutting hair becomes the facility for transition into deeper conversation.

Fatherhood is researched in an expression of tenderness that can only come from a place of longing. The barber/customer relationship in turn becomes a therapeutic way for men to speak openly about the complications of this familial relationship. Barbers and customers discuss politics, expectations, race, language, change, immigration, and culture. Other customers act as judge and jury in disputes, so that even when conflict arises, there is also resolution. The actors brilliantly locate fits of rage but also show soft moments of compassion. Old wise men find commonalities with young boisterous boys bridging a generational gap that can only be achieved between those four walls.

They say the barbershop is the place where “men come to be men”, but by the end of The Barbershop Chronicles it is the place where men can simply be.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri

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