Hairstory

More feel-good fluff from Theatre Rhino, based on interviews with people about their hair

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Through Oct. 5

Tickets are $16-25

861-5079

www.therhino.org

Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (between Mission and South Van Ness), S.F.

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I half expected Theatre Rhino's season opener to be an updated or revisited version of that cool, hippied-out Broadway musical from the 1960s about a group of young people coming of age in an era of war and rebellion. But Hairstory has nil to do with Hair -- or anything else, for that matter, besides the obvious subject of human dermatological outgrowth. At the start, a local barbershop owner named Moxie has just died, and five of his employees have gathered together in his salon to commemorate his passing with an evening of reminiscing and storytelling. There's little plot involved in these proceedings, which include two acts of 17 musical numbers, and the characters are as stereotypical as they get: the flaming young hottie (Jerry Van Carlos Gore), the bleached-hair queen (Trent Morant), the single bartender in a muscle T (Henry Lee), etc. The cast members appear to have been chosen primarily for their vocal strengths, which is OK given that the bulk of the show is song. Unfortunately, most of the songs are unoriginal and poorly written, and the book is no better. The play's supposedly based on interviews with people about their hair -- but writers Johari Jabir and Doug Holsclaw are no Eve Ensler or Anna Deavere Smith when it comes to docudrama. Like the Rhino's typical fare, Hairstory is silly and campy, but that's its genre, not its problem; its real downfall is the mediocrity of the script, which can make it hard to tell when the play's trying to be serious vs. when it's making fun of itself. The show works best when it's delivering flat-out satire, as it does with tunes like "Ontological Afro" (a fun number sung by the entire cast, clad in enormous Afro wigs) and "Fine Tooth Comb" (a melodic worship to woman's most orgasmic beauty tool). Both feature Kathleen Antonio -- as Celeste, the gossiping beauty -- whose strong vocals, stage presence, and nuanced performance make her the highlight of the evening. Antonio does what she can (as do all the cast members) to hold the production together, but the ensemble is up against a lot, not least of which is awkward, inconsistent direction. For some reason, the Rhino's subscriber-based audience seems to enjoy this feel-good fluff. Riveting it's not, but I guess we all need a little silliness sometimes.

 
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