Charles Randolph-Wright's 2005 script adapts Craig Marberry's bestseller, Cuttin' Up: Wit and Wisdom From Black Barber Shops. Randolph-Wright boils interviews with dozens of African-American barbers down to three composite characters of different generations: the dignified, elderly Howard (Adolphus Ward); secretive 40-something Andre (Darryl Alan Reed); and 20-something hip-hopper Rudy (Dorian Logan), still trying to find his identity in the black community and in life.
Into Howard's L.A. barber shop comes a virtual parade of customers — some three dozen or more characters skillfully and often colorfully portrayed by Harvy Blanks, Bill Grimmette, Iona Morris, Maceo Oliver, and Jacques C. Smith. With its mixture of earthy comedy, vocal and dance bits, and self-contained, primarily dramatic vignettes, the text often seems all over the map. Director Israel Hicks, though, helps impose the overarching view that each generation finds its own way, then tries to communicate a form of wisdom to the next. The metaphor of the barbershop as community center — and, with its wide and deep cross-section of demographics, for life in black America itself — is potent. The play's crux is the theme of blacks' self-perception, personified in the tale of a single mom (Morris) who wants her sons to watch a barber at work to give them a positive male role model.
Hicks' lively, often exuberant staging gets even the most serious points across without pedantry. The exposition of Andre's sad history, which Reed's heavy eyelids and smoldering eyes bespeak, is wisely brought out gradually. Ward's muttonchops, deeply lined face, and soft, courtly manner complement Logan as restless Rudy. Blanks scores with several comedic portrayals, balanced by Grimmette's sunny optimism. The cast's only woman, Morris, is astonishing in her ability to delve into 10 dissimilar roles, and Michael Carnahan's intricately detailed scene design is practically a character in itself.
Presented by and at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 4 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Also Wed. 2 p.m. Apr. 4. Dark Wed. 8 p.m. Mar. 28 & Apr. 4.) Mar. 14-Apr. 15. (626) 356-7529. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.