Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cuttin' Up (Cleveland Play House)

Play House’s ‘CUTTIN’ UP’ a valiant try, but...

Every once in a while a play has good intentions, but misses the mark. This is the case with ‘CUTTIN’ UP,’ now on stage at the Cleveland Play House

In his book Cuttin' Up: Wit and Wisdom from Black Barbershops, Craig Marberry, who conducted interviews in black barber shops across the country, delves into the world of black men and their relationships. In his research he found that the barber shop is, to many African American males, the place to talk, “solve the world’s problems,” and get a unique haircut which is a significant part of their identity. It is for men what the church is for many Black women.

Charles Randolph-Wright’s script, which is based on Marberry’s book, is set in a barber shop in Cleveland. Unfortunately, rather than having a central theme which follows a logical course, the script jumps around, often not completing one story before it segues into another. The material would have been much better as a series of vignettes that took 60 minutes, rather than an almost two-and-one-half hour production. The intermission

Director Craig Marberry doesn’t help the matter. The pace is slow, the action sparce, and the impact generally missing.

The cast ranges from adequate to excellent. In the latter category is Dorian Logan as the youngest of the barbers. He has a vitality and a “real” quality which is missing in some of the other performers. Darryl Alan Reed (Andre) , as the barber with a past, gives a creditable performance. Adolphus Ward as the wise veteran haircutter fails to project and many of his lines are lost. His character comes and goes, making this a surface level performance. Of the rest of the cast, who often play multi-roles, Bill Grimmette is delightful as the pompous Reverend Jenkins and Don King.

This is an intimate play. The large stage of the Bolton Theatre does not lend itself to a small three-chair barber shop, in spite of a spiffy set design by Michael Carnahan. The poor acoustics of the Bolton cause hearing problems. Many of the lines get lost in the towering ceiling and side balconies. It’s really a shame that the Play House does not have an intimate thrust or black box theatre that lends itself to a play like ‘CUTTIN’ UP.’

Capsule judgement: It’s too bad that “CUTTIN’ UP’ is such a weak script and receives such a weak production because the message it attempts to present is important and could have added significantly to Black History Month.