Somewhat reminiscent of Steel Magnolias and Same Time Next Year,Tony Abatemarco's Beautified has an undeniable charm peppered with unforgettable tinges of reality. Like Bernard Slade's STNY (Same Time Next Year) it takes us through several decades from the late 60s to the present, concentrating on the relationships of hairdresser Mike (Rob Brownstein) and a client Candy (Karen Austin) as they each experience a series of crises and personal changes. Unlike STNY,these two people are not lovers, but close friends, and the playhas a third character, Sally (Joanna Strapp) who ironically becomes quite the little observer of inappropriate behavior. Currently onstage at the Skylight Theatre, Beautified, despite its accentuation of the exterior, offers a journey of dynamic interior proportions.
As in Steel Magnolias, the entire action of Beautified takes place in a salon - in this case Mike's, over 40 years. As the times and surroundings change through the curses of Nixon and Reganomics, so do the characters. Candy goes through two marriages, one abusive, a couple of dynamic career changes, and even a bout with cancer. Mike, a married man with children, when we first see him, is a closeted homosexual. His outlandish clothes and hairstyles reflect a flamboyant nature that somehow remains subdued in the presence of Candy, whose high maintenance issues seem to demand priority attention. Mike is the ideal friend, who dotes on others to the exclusion of his own ego. We learn much later just how effective he has also been in Sally's emergence from know nothing hippie to independent business woman. A thought: Sally might make a better narrator for the piece than Candy, if the play reaches a rewriting stage. Her major declaration of what constitutes loyalty at play's end is a revelation that changes Candy forever. However, on second thought, that alteration might take away from the play's consistently natural flow, which has a beauty all its own.
Beautified boasts top notch performances. Austin is so real as Candy, I never caught her acting once. Every emotion is genuine, registering at just the right level. Brownstein retains a mysterious air. He is a completely caring soul, but keeps emotions bottled up. And talk about mystery, Strapp is wondrous, as we see only glimpses of her throughout as she changes set pieces, checks herself out in the mirror and runs errands. Jenny Sullivan has directed sublimely permitting the actors plenty of space in which to grow. The set design by Jeff McLaughlin is modern, cold and clean, looking perfect for the 80s to the present, but needing a simpler, warmer look for the 60s/70s at play's onset.
Beautified, Abatemarco's personal ode to his hairdresser/brother Mike, is a loving tribute to friendship whose direction and acting are so spot-on real and personal, I felt at times I was right there in the salon, another observer of the unpredictable transformations of style and human nature.