Not just cutting up 

Bridgette comes home after a long day running her hair salon. Her man, Ty, welcomes her with a dinner fit for a queen. Last night's sex makes for great conversation, until the subject of money comes up. Bridgette's aspirations extend beyond running a hair shop; she's trying to win a singing competition. If she wins, Ty wants to use the cash to open a chain of salons. A quarrel about whether the prize money will be hers or theirs escalates into an ugly argument that looks like it could become physical.

Bridgette isn't the only one at the beauty shop struggling with personal problems. There's drama all over the place at Cutting Up.

Salons are like second homes for black women. They're group therapy sessions where secrets are shared. Stylists are moonlighting as strippers to earn money for school; elderly hairdressers struggle to help younger employees make sound decisions. Meanwhile, competition between salons is fierce.

Dorothea Sharon and Dwane Davis, co-writers of Drama in the Shop, first discussed the possibility of a play highlighting urban salon culture with Carlton "Cool C" Mosley a few years ago. Mosley is the Diddy of Detroit hairstylists, an industry celebrity with a hair magazine and radio show to his credit. He'd already produced a DVD docu-drama on the subject, featuring testimonies and re-enactments of typical scenarios. Mosley and his co-executive producer Tanya Davis (no relation to Dwane Davis) decided they wanted to offer a realistic stage experience about hair culture in the lives of its patrons and proprietors.

The partners hired writers Sharon and Davis, whose joint and individual works include If These Hips Could Talk, Strong Women Keep Coming and Soulfood: The Last Supper. TJ Hemphill, whose earlier projects include the urban theatrical legend Perilous Times, came on board as director. Guest stars include video vixen Buffie the Body, Deelishis (the Detroit native and winner of the last season of VH1 show Flava of Love) and comedian AJ Johnson.

"It's comedy. It's spoken word. It's the hair battle," Sharon says. The play includes a competition similar to fabled hair shows that have been an urban staple for years, and a performance by Hot Lava recording artist Stretch Money. "And it's urban, something for literary folks, and something for Hollyhood."

Mosley is the perfect ambassador from the insular salon world to the stage. The reformed drug dealer legitimized a dirty hustle 13 years ago when he realized that women in the hood find new life in a good hairdo, and would pay good money for that new life.

One of the celebrated, trend-setting stylists in the city, he has had an advice segment on Hot 102.7, an urban music station, sold thousands of hair care products at trade shows across the country and attracted up to 8,000 people to his outrageous hair show productions. With slick photography and design, his qaurterly, Below Zero, ups the ante on industry rags, selling for $14.99 an issue.

He tapped into a world where stylists get star treatment — hence his Cool C persona. Stylists, like many creative types, exorcise their demons by "giving you their passion," Sharon says. And, like many celebrities, stylists use their images to hide personal baggage.

Mosley's days as a stylist ended when his brother fell asleep at the wheel on the way to a trade show in Atlanta. They'd been awake for 48 hours and were taking turns driving. He lost the use of his right hand. "Hair was my god, but it wasn't my God," he says. That's when he switched from styling to staging.

"I realized, as we began to write this story that, although hair was these peoples' profession and passion, what would appeal to the masses is that they have humanistic, real stories," Mosley says. There are already plans to tour nationally after the Detroit run.

It's safe to say that Drama is the first production to capture black salon culture without buffoonery. It highlights the absurd, finds salvation in everyday struggles, and generally makes the cut.

 

Drama in the Shop is 8 p.m., Thursday, June 14, and Friday, June 15; 3 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 16; and 3 and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 17, at the Music Hall, 350 Madison, Detroit; 313-887-8501.

Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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