"Barber Shop Chronicles": Who No Know Go Know

The Cast of "Barber Shop Chronicles"
(photo: Evgenia Eliseeva) 

Barber Shop Chronicles, the current production being presented by Cambridge's American Repertory Theatre, is another performance by this company that seeks to tell a community's story given by these people themselves. It's consistent with ART's ongoing endeavors to encourage such storytelling by the people who are the possessors of their own chronicles.
Written by Inua Ellams, a poet in his own right, the play consists of created tales that portray the universal truths discovered in a half dozen disparate black communities throughout the world and the commonality that is found in black barber shops, which serve as safe spaces for a country's black population. These stories take place in fourteen brief scenes in several locales, in conversations presented from London to South Africa to Zimbabwe, to Uganda to Nigeria to Ghana. Their topics include choosing a white woman over a black woman, the treatment of gays in Uganda, the deterioration of Pidgin English (and the cultural erosion produced), the hostile response to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and above all else the failed leadership that is mirrored in the futile attempts at father-son relations. They share a concern for the preservation of true masculinity, male sexual health, careers and finances, with the ancient admonition to be silent and to listen to one's elders.

The Cast (& Audience Members) of "Barber Shop Chonicles"
(photo: Evgenia Eliseeva)

Presented in the course of one intermissionless two hour act, it's a challenge to perform as well as to attend. This exuberant production was Directed by Bijan Sheibani, with Design by Rae Smith, Lighting Design by Jack Knowles, Movement Direction by Aline David, Sound Design by Gareth Fry, Music Direction by Michael Henry and even a Barber Consultant in the person of Peter Atakpo. There are some truly serious acting chops on display as the dozen actors give countless portrayals, though much is at times lost in unintelligible accents and diction issues. On the whole, it comes off as an honest attempt to communicate a world different from our own but contemporaneously familiar in fundamental ways.

With men talking about what it means to be a man, the playwright has remarked about how global and similar we are. There is a Nigerian saying quoted in the work, “who no know go know”, which refers to the lack of knowledge before being exposed to realities that one will then take with him on his journey.

This barbershop will be cutting such a journey and open for business until January 5th.


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