BWW Review: Kennedy Center's BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES Celebrates Community

BWW Review: Kennedy Center's BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES Celebrates Community

Six barber shops, countless haircuts, and one common theme, community, make for the perfect societal tonic. After a divisive election, and with a government shutdown looming next week, it's hard to think about what unites us. That is why Barber Shop Chronicles at the Kennedy Center could not be timelier. Presented as part of World Stages 2018-19 season, this play is like a great haircut, it leaves you feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready to face the world with renewed optimism.

Nigerian writer Inua Ellams' play is structured as a series of vignettes set in 6 barbershops in Africa and London on the day of Chelsea-Barcelona soccer championship game. What ties the whole evening together is the setting, and the commonalities in the customers, conversation topics, and belief that the barber shop is a place where all generations gather together to swap stories, tall tales, and life lessons.

"The Barber Shop is a beacon of light in the community" were told in the second to last scene. While this is an understatement after the previous two hours, the simplicity and vision of such a place is both touching and welcomed. Cynics may deride Ellams' vision as overly idealistic, and they are wrong. Because what Barber Shop Chronicles reveals is that despite our divisions, we all value that place where we can come together.

Ellams has a gift for storytelling, creating vivid characters that stay with you long after the haircut and shave. Each vignette is no more than ten minutes, with some serving as standalone scenes while others are ongoing stories. Through them we see this all-male cast explore deep themes of self-discovery and identity, while wrestling with heavy topics such as homosexuality and a post-apartheid, post-Mandela South Africa.

All of which is done with great reverence and respect for each topic. Ellams' universal humor doesn't hurt either, and is in fact one of Barber Shop Chronicles strong suits. It is as if the playwright is reminding us that laughing together is an essential part of coming together.

Much of the cast of 12 have to double or triple-up on roles, doing so with ease. Anthony Ofoegbu and Elliot Edusah are the standouts as Uncle Emmanuel and Samuel of London's Three Kings Barber Shop. Samuel has taken over his dad's chair. The reason is not clear at first, but his hostility towards Emmanuel is. What unfolds throughout a half dozen scenes is a story of forgiveness, maturity, and family.

Director Bijan Sheibani uses music and movement to transition between scenes, giving the evening style and flair. Many of the scene changes often involve a call and response format; grounding the play in the identity of the next barber shop's setting and nationality.

Set Designer Rae Smith, who won the Tony Award for War Horse, suspends a wire globe above the stage. Rotating between scenes, it lights up with the country of the next scene. The globe is surrounded by signs for the respective barber shops featured. The theme with each sign is simple, the barber is there to make you look good!

The whole play sounds rather simplistic, but it is a wonderful reminder that we have more in common with each other than we think. Even more profound is that continents may separate us, but in the end each community has that place where we come together. This time of year, there is no better message.

Go get a cut, go get a shave, and go see a fantastic play with Barber Shop Chronicles.

Runtime is One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

Barber Shop Chronicles runs thru December 1st at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets please click here.

Photo: Ensemble of Barber Shop Chronicles. Credit: Tim Trumble.

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From This Author Benjamin Tomchik

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