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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

An Entertaining Lesson in African-American Sisterhood

A Christmas Carol
Zina Camblin (front) and MaConnia Chesser
New playwright Zina Camblin's And Her Hair Went With Her is providing New Jersey Repertory audiences with delightful entertainment underpinned with thought-provoking ideas.  Although the characters and subject matter will have particularly strong resonance with African-American women,  And Hair Went With Her is high level popular entertainment that will appeal to all audiences.

The setting is an urban beauty parlor in 2003.  There are two hairdressers:  One is the owner, Jasmine, a middle aged black woman with mainstream attitudes who seems content with her place in the societal scheme; working for and with her is Angie, a young black woman who majors in women's studies and is raising a five year old daughter by herself.  Angie, inspired by her studies (particularly those of Angela Davis), expresses radical fervor and regards the seemingly apolitical Jasmine as ignorant.  She and we should know better.

This deft two-hander features MaConnia Chesser as Jasmine and author-actor Zina Camblin as Angie.  Additionally, each of the two limns three additional black women.  Five are customers of the beauty shop, and the sixth is a convict on death row whom Angie visits and interviews for a book project.  The persona and music of jazz singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone plays a major role in the discussions and events depicted by the author (a scheduled Nina Simone concert central to the plot is an authorial invention).

MaConnia Chesser is a joy as the sassy and happy to be alive Jasmine.    Her other portrayals are Miss Bernadette, an acting teacher whose once promising stage and screen career has gone south apparently along with her sanity; Chrystal, the blonde who has considered herself white since a sadly believable behavior by her third grade teacher; and, most tellingly, Phylicia, a dominant, mannish lesbian on death row, who has much to teach Angie about racial sisterhood both on the inside and outside.

Camblin delights and charms us by portraying Angie with the bouncy enthusiasm and surety of youth.  There is much humor and truth in her portrayals of Debbie, an aspiring actress, who lacks any depth or insight; Keisha, a germ phobic crazy lady; and, most cuttingly, Denise, a lazy, uncommitted worker who does not see the link between her poor work ethic and her inability to keep a job.  Very funny stuff (particularly the latter) redeemed from caricature by the realization that these ladies are really out and about in the world.

While there is much here that we have seen portrayed in plays, movies and stand up comedy venues, Camblin has arranged her materials in such a coherent and entertaining fashion as to give the material new life.  Additionally, you may well find yourself wanting to find out more about Nina Simone and her music, and the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange.

Kamilah Forbes has directed with energy and insight.  Some climactic moments are overemphatic for the intimate space, but this is a mere quibble.  An excellent touch is having Jasmine and Angie performing various salon chores between scenes.  Credit Charles Corcoran with the excellent, evocative black and white set with professional beauty salon chairs, large, artfully designed lightbulb-surrounded mirrors, a tiled black and white floor, and white side walls into which are built display cases in which wigs have been placed.  Corcoran (with the assistance of lighting designer Jill Nagle) has artfully designed the display cases to appear to be closed in by glass.  When Chesser and Camblin begin to don the wigs that they wear for their multiple roles, they reach directly into the display case delightfully breaking the illusion.

Notably, And Her Hair Came With Her kicks off New Jersey Repertory's 10th season.  It is its 60 production, and 55th new play.  It is also an initiative of the National New Play Network, a consortium of theatres in which member theatres produce their own productions of new work in "rolling world premiere" productions.

And Her Hair Went With Her deftly combines light entertainment with heart warming lessons in African-American sisterhood.

And Her Hair Went With Her continues performances (Eves: Thurs.-Sat. 8p.m./ Mats. Sat. 3 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.) through February 17, 2008 at the Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J. 07740.  Box Office: 732-229-3166 ; online: www.njrep.org.

And Her Hair Came With Her by Zina Camblin; directed by Kamilah Forbes

Cast:
Jasmine………….Maconnia Chesser
Angie…………………....Zina Camblin  


Photo: SuzAnne Barabas


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- Bob Rendell



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