The `Beauty Shop' as Cultural Hub
`PEOPLE should not go into a beauty shop talking about their personal business," says Chris, a hairdresser in the Pamper Me Beauty Salon.Skip to next paragraph
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Fortunately they do.
There's Wilbert, leaning on his cane, who laments his "poor and departed wife."
"Oh, she's not dead," he explains, "She just got tired of being poor and departed."
There's Angela Buchanan, who discovers her husband Larry has been having an affair with one of the hairdressers. "You're never home," complains Larry. Angela replies that she is always out entertaining clients. "But, Angela, you sell Tupperware," Larry says.
Wilbert, Chris, Larry, and Angela are all characters at the Pamper Me where they entertain predominately black audiences in "Shelly Garrett's Beauty Shop Part 2," currently on tour.
Garrett wrote Part 1 over six days in 1987. Over four years, including two years on the road, Garrett, the producer and director of the show, says Part 1 grossed $25 million. In August 1990, ABC aired a sitcom called "New Attitude" that was based on his show. It lasted five weeks and earned respectable ratings but was not as popular as the program preceeding it and was pulled. Garrett says Part 2 has been outgrossing Part 1 so far.
The two shows provide a window into black society. The forum is a beauty shop, chosen because of its central role in the black community where, Garrett says, "there is a beauty shop on almost every corner." Anything goes in the beauty shop, which is owned by a full-figured woman called Margaret. Garrett manages to take sensitive issues, such as female obesity, and make the audience laugh with, not at, the characters.
"The whole idea is let me help you forget your troubles for 2 1/2 hours. I promise you that when you get in here you will forget them because what I'm trying to do is to make people laugh," says Garrett. And, not just a snicker or a smile. "I mean a gut laugh where you laugh so hard tears are running down your face.... I don't mean every 10 minutes, I mean every 90 seconds I want you to holler," he explains.
The story line for the show is simple. In the first act, various customers come into the shop where they discuss their personal affairs. In the second act, the beauty shop throws a party for Margaret who is getting married to an attractive man, played by Marc Ram, with a body builder's physique. The second act concludes with an elaborate wedding, complete with laser show.
Even though the characters make fun of Margaret's size, Garrett tries not to make the audience, which is normally about 75 percent female, feel uncomfortable. Margaret, as played by Adrian Black, is attractive and nicely dressed. "You can talk about her, but she's not going to let you talk about her without saying something too," notes Garrett. And, of course, Margaret gets the best-looking man by the end of the play. "All the full-figured ladies in the audience win, and the entire audience is happy for them and Margaret," says Garrett.
Amen to that. The audience roars at the jokes. It "oohs" and "aahs" at all the right places. Women stand up and dance.
"Beauty Shop Part 2" received a rave review earlier this month from Linda Armstrong in the Amsterdam News, a New York newspaper aimed at the black community. Ms. Armstrong suggested the play should be added to the dictionary under the definition of "hilarious."