EmptyPasadena Playhouse, Pasadena
Through April 15
The West Coast premiere of "Cuttin' Up," based on the best-selling book by Craig Marberry and a co-production with the Cleveland Play House, is not only a rewarding night out at the theater, but it also has the dramatic integrity and good-natured humor to carry it forward as a possible minor classic.
Initially, Israel Hicks' directing seems to impose too much discipline on the performance. However, the talented cast gradually loosens up and expands into their roles as the night wears on. The result has enough of a hint of Eugene O'Neill to absorb the audience in the lives of Randolph-Wright's memorable characters, with or without their abundant repertoire of aphorisms, anecdotes and one-liners. The story line might be relatively uneventful, and the denouement not much more than an emotional sigh, but the interaction of the actors, the structured direction and the knife-edged timing make the evening a genuinely rewarding theatrical experience that has little in common with recent black barbershop movies.
Randolph-Wright deftly balances the usual philosophizing about the role of barbershops in the specifically black social and cultural fabric with extremely well-crafted dialogue that smoothly and unobtrusively propels the story forward. The occasional cliches are far outweighed by the many funny lines. One sequence in particular, with Harvy Blanks and Bill Grimmette (who also nearly steals the show as Oprah Winfrey's barber father) as dueling preachers hilariously strutting their verbal and physical stuff, is priceless. Throughout, the humanity, dignity and quality of both the solo and the ensemble work, deflecting occasional potential stereotypes as if brushing off flies, amply compensates for the "lessons in life."
The cast itself doesn't boast any star names, only star performances. Dorian Logan's Rudy is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with an underlying seriousness that makes the audience care. Darryl Alan Reed's Andre, the play's central character and a figure of real substance, wields a complex command and restraint that gives the play a moving, occasionally tragic cast. And Adolphus Ward's Howard is a wonderfully colorful and wise portrayal, with just a subtle touch of W.C. Fields.
As the three women in Andre's life, Iona Morris does an amazing job, each characterization as different as it could be in terms of appearance, audience response and sympathy, and stage presence. And the rest of the cast is by turns brilliant and resourceful in handling their multiple roles.
Michael Carnahan's set is a magnificent tribute to Marberry's boyhood barbershops in South Side Chicago, where he grew up. Three rich red leather barber chairs rest like coronation thrones upon the mirrored stage. The wings are used for cameos and flashbacks exits and entrances. There is a great variety and range of costumes by David Kay Mickelsen, too. But though the well-chosen music on the radio (sold in the lobby afterward as a CD), used to identify the personalities of the three main characters (smooth jazz, cool rhythm and blues and hip-hop), is useful and at times illuminating, initial sound levels verge on covering the voices.
Presented by the Pasadena Playhouse
Playwright: Charles Randolph-Wright
Based on the book by: Craig Marberry
Director: Israel Hicks
Set designer: Michael Carnahan
Costume designer: David Kay Mickelsen
Lighting designer: Phil Monat
Sound designer: James C. Swonger
Casting: Michael Donovan, Elissa Myers, Paul Fouquet
Production stage manager: Jill Gold
Assistant stage manager: Lea Chazin
Rudy: Dorian Logan
Andre: Darryl Alan Reed
Howard: Adolphus Ward
Kenny, Rev. Carson, Bernard: Harvy Blanks
Rev. Jenkins, Uncle, Don King: Bill Grimmette
Karen, Yvette, Sandra: Iona Morris
John, Jermaine, Wheeler: Maceo Oliver
Howard Jr., Willy, Lou: Jacques C. Smith