Hair is a form of expression and individuality. It can reflect our personalities, our struggles, our successes and our culture. This metaphor is extended throughout Keli Goff‘s play The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls, which Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective is currently producing at the Tina McGuire Theatre through Sunday, Feb. 18.
The play premiered at Baltimore Center Stage in 2021. Its structure embraces the popular vignette format with intimate scenes delivered through monologues and soliloquies by strong Black female characters. Zakiya Bell-Rogers, Naimah Coleman and Kirby Gibson tackle numerous roles.
As with most plays of this type, some moments are stronger than others. The show opens with “The Audition.” An actor (Coleman) stands before the audience auditioning for a sought-after part. Before leaving, they’re told by the casting director that they stand a better chance in landing the role by changing their hairstyle. The actor is daunted by the suggestion.
In “Office Politics,” Ally (Coleman) is excited to take a much-needed vacation. On the day of her trip, she stops by her office for a quick meeting, luggage and all, sporting braids. Her boss, Sharon (Bell-Rogers), criticizes her unprofessional appearance. This vignette, a standout, highlights tensions between generations.
Another powerful scene is “Chantal’s Fierce Magic.” In it, Chantal (Gibson) prepares to testify against her rapist. Gibson plays this scene to the bone. When she fearlessly locks eyes with the audience, attendees feel her connection to the character. Gibson manages to keep the necessary realism alive throughout the production.
The greatest scene, however, is almost completely silent. “In Memoriam” finds two women (Coleman and Bell-Rogers) mourning a death while at a beauty parlor. In some ways, it is irrelevant why they are crying. This relatable experience is all that is necessary. Their tears are real, and the audience bears witness to a gorgeous moment of sincere emotion.
The moment was nearly perfect, until that is, a fellow theatergoer opened a fizz-inducing sparkling water bottle and sat cluelessly sipping away. This is a reminder of proper theater etiquette. Looking at your phone, excessively moving about the aisles, repeatedly talking to the person beside you or lamenting to the actors onstage in order to drive audience reaction is rude and distracting.
The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls has its heavier moments, but as a whole — and to its detriment — it presents an overall lighter tone through its message of triumph over adversity. But where are more of the characters that create that adversity? Without additional scenes and scenarios, much is left unsaid. As written, many scenes end too quickly before the truest of emotions can take hold of the audience.
Like witnessing the play, some of us are merely outsiders looking into a small window of another’s world. There are things we can understand, such as not wanting our hair touched by strangers or being ordered unjustly to do something to our bodies. However, deeper issues such as the link between today’s Black residents and their enslaved ancestors is something many of us will never truly understand.
Director Stephanie Hickling Beckman understands this. And that understanding makes all the difference through her caring and thoughtful approach. Among its many accomplishments, the production is also an excellent ode to Black History Month.
WHAT: The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls
WHERE: Tina McGuire Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave., differentstrokespac.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Feb. 18. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. $10-$22.50