Facing the stresses of tresses
By Jane Horwitz
Friday, July 20, 2012
Three grad school friends -- all young women of color -- stress over tresses and the maintenance thereof in “The Hair Chronicles,” upstairs at the Goethe Institute for two more performances Friday and Sunday.
Well acted and engaging under Nicole Brewer’s direction, the piece still risks lapsing into readers’ theater, as each character repeatedly steps out of the conversation to deliver a soliloquy to the audience. The conceit gets old fast. It’s more fun when the three engage with one another. But the trio of writers behind “The Hair Chronicles” -- Nileah Bell, Mary Nyingi and Michelle Whittaker -- are on to something worth polishing and pursuing, because the ideas in the play reach far beyond the difficulty of finding a stylist you can trust.
Faced with research paper assignments, and happy to procrastinate, the three talk about hair issues that have plagued them since childhood. Whether to straighten, go natural, braid, weave or hot comb -- such seemingly mundane choices reveal cultural and racial points of pride and even shame that gradually give the young women a portal into their academic assignment -- the social psychology of hair.
Seated at a long table, hitting the books and laptops as they converse, the three tease out the aesthetics and politics of hair. They go nameless except for their contrasting backgrounds: “African girl” (Courtney Ferguson) likes to wear her hair naturally, no muss, no fuss. “Mixed girl” (Te’La Curtis Lee) has longer, “tossable” hair and is tired of all the nosy questions she gets from people of color and others about her origins. “Black girl” (Narlyia Sterling) has proudly gone with various styles and is keenly aware of the statement each choice makes.
At 75 minutes, the show is a strand too long. The playwrights could write another one-act and pair it with “The Hair Chronicles” for a fascinating evening about female racial identity. Whatever your hair history, you’ll leave with new understanding of a knotty issue.