“Barber Shop Chronicles” cuts both ways

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Raider Times photo / Cortesy Ryan Hartford

Elliot Edusah in "Barber Shop Chronicles," playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through Jan. 5, 2019

Leyla Mandel and Lana Taffel

It is truly impressive how one show manages to string together serious issues through a concept as simple as cutting hair.

“Barber Shop Chronicles,”now running at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through Jan. 4, 2019,  reflects on African cultures across the globe, incorporating themes through several scenarios in barber shops. The plot goes from Johannesburg to Lagos and Peckham, all conveying similar cultures and problems. From the issues of race to politics, “Barber Shop Chronicles” does a fantastic job in relating smaller conversations and interactions to a greater picture of African cultural trends and conflicts. Masterfully crafted characters, and dynamics between these characters, contribute valuable personal meaning to political and social issues.

This play has all the right intentions of what to portray, however; all in all it is difficult to follow. 

The dialogue is made up of phrases hard to understand in an American audience, as were the accents and fast pace of the speaking. (Of course, we aren’t suggesting they should change this, just simply that if you have a hard time comprehending other accents, this may not be the show for you.)

With the plot moving so quickly, as points are made and discussed, it is sometimes hard to keep up and understand what is going on. The play tries its best to emulate an authentic African barber shop experience, however much of the audience is not as familiar with this setting. Although it’s wonderful to try to expose an audience to something new, it is important the audience members understand what exactly they are being shown.

The show only played music during scene changes and was not a moving force in the plot or show. Walking out of the theater, we were confused as to why the music had even been there in the first place, and questioned what it specifically symbolized or represented. The short pop-ups of singing and dance, although containing beautiful harmonies, felt strange and didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the show.

Our verdict in reflection is that “Barber Shop Chronicles” is not something to go watch when you don’t have the energy to pay very close attention. You must be able to make key connections yourself, rather than relying on the plot to explain these ideas.

The show is in essence, providing several pieces of a puzzle, however “Barber Shop Chronicles” seems to want the audience to put together what the show should mean in unison by themselves.

Regardless, the ideas themselves are still great, and if you indeed have that energy, get yourself ready for a trip to the barber shop.

(“Barber Shop Chronicles” is playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through Jan. 5, 2019. For tickets and more information, go to https://americanrepertorytheater.org/.)

–Dec. 11, 2018–