In Forty/AM’s world-premiere production of I Love My Hair When It’s Good: & Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive, Durham, NC actress, playwright, director, and teacher Chaunesti Webb entertains, even as she enlightens. She mines the love/hate relationship that she and other African-American women have with their hair for nuggets of humor about “good hair” and nappy hair — and she uses the travails of six members of a close-knit N.C. family to examine the never-ending struggle of many black women to transform their natural curls into silky straight “white” hair, via chemical straighteners (a.k.a. “creamy crack”), hot combs, and other processes and implements that torture tender scalps — all in the name of beauty.
Aurelia Belfield and Lakeisha Coffey are delightful as two young cousins, Genevieve and Moni, who have grown up together in a hard-scrabble community, sharing stories about what they and the other womenfolk go through in their eternal quest to enhance their God-given beauty. The bookish Genevieve grows up and goes off to college — to Columbia University in New York City — while Moni stays behind to lead a life of not-so-quiet desperation.
Yolanda W. Rabun is a caution as the girls’ saucy Grandma and their sassy Aunt Brenda, whose Angela Davis-style Afro sends Grandma into a swivet and opens a chasm between Brenda and her mom. Sherida McMullan gives a heart-wrenching performance as Aunt Evonne, whose man frequently uses her as a human punching bag; and Hazel Edmond adds crowd-pleasing portrayals of Aunt Sandra and Genevieve’s well-meaning but clueless white college roommate Becky.
I Love My Hair When It’s Good …, which takes its name the Zora Neale Hurston line, “I Love Myself When I Am Laughing … and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive,” is provocatively staged by playwright and director Chaunesti Webb and choreographer Aya Shabu, on a minimalist set designed Jewell Green and evocatively lit by Andy Parks.
Costume designer and assistant stage manager Barbette Hunter; video designers and editors Michael Devereaux, Jim Havercamp, and Erica Rothman; and songwriter and sound designer Shana Tucker also make sizable contributions to help Chaunesti Webb’s fresh and funny — and sometimes poignant — look at the steep price that some women pay to alter their natural beauty to fit the societal ideal.
I Love My Hair When It’s Good …, which is being presented as part of Manbites Dog Theater’s “Other Voices Series,” will conclude its two-week run March 14-17. Don’t miss it!
SECOND OPINION: March 12th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jessie Dresser: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5419; March 7th Durham, NC Durham News preview by Tracie Fellers: http://www.thedurhamnews.com/2012/03/07/211542/durham-playwright-explores-black.html; March 7th NewsOne for Black America preview by D.L. Chandler: http://newsone.com/nation/dlchandler/chaunesti-webb-i-love-my-hair-when-it’s-good-then-again-when-it-looks-defiant-and-impressive/; March 7th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC 91.5 FM/North Carolina Public Radio interview with Chaunesti Webb, Yolanda Rabun, Hazel Edmond, and Aurelia Belfield, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/I_Love_My_Hair.mp3/view; and March 5th Durham, NC “Left of Black” interview with Chaunesti Webb, conducted by Mark Anthony Neal: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20906124.
Forty/AM presents I LOVE MY HAIR WHEN IT’S GOOD: & THEN AGAIN WHEN IT LOOKS DEFIANT AND IMPRESSIVE, a world premiere created and directed by Chaunesti Webb, at 8:15 p.m. March 14-16 and 12:15 and 8:15 p.m. March 17 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 Wednesday and Thursday and $17 Friday and Saturday ($10 Wednesday and Thursday and $15 Friday and Saturday seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel), except $5 Student Rush Tickets with current ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. SHOW: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/390/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://theupstager.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/i-heart-my-hair/.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
The Play: http://ilovemyhairtheplay.com/ (official website).
The Playwright: http://chaunestiwebb.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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