She-Ra: Princess of Power
Unisex at The Box Performance Space
Outward appearance says a lot about a person. In the two solo comedies performed in Unisex, both characters grapple with their public identity through drastic physical changes. Unisex features the world premiere of The Politics of Hair by Lou Clark, a tale of hair-dos and don'ts, and Out Comes Butch by David Schein, an intimate look at the transition from He-man to She-ra and everything in between, in one night of theater at The Box Performance Space.
All for Hair
The evening of one acts opens with The Politics of Hair by local playwright Lou Clark. Clark is a formidable force in the Albuquerque theater scene, having her hand in quite a few projects, including the artistic directorship for VSA N4th's professional multiability company Solarity and the upcoming debut of her adaptation of the classic Greek play Lysistrata at the Albuquerque Little Theatre. With the production of Unisex, Clark stands as the co-artistic director of Ka-HOOTZ, a new Albuquerque-based theater company dedicated to developing new work.
In The Politics of Hair, we get what seems to be a semi-autobiographical tale of a woman's struggle to identify herself through the perfect haircut. Dani (sometimes known as Danielle, played by Julie Nagle) has always trusted her long, luscious locks to hide herself from the world. When a bad breakup motivates her to take a long-put-off trip to Alaska, she bravely makes the transition to short hair and heads north to the last frontier.
But Dani's trip to her trusted hairdresser, Emmanuel, is more than just a haircut. Before he takes a blade to her do, Dani guides the audience through her hair history—From the bob haircut of her early youth and her discovery of her attraction to females to the perfect femme hair for hiding her sexuality. These stories are told via quick scenes, announced by Dani with pithy titles such as "The Worst Middle Length Haircut EVER!" and projected on a screen to the left of the audience. Dani re-creates her milestones with quick wit, impersonating important characters along the way like her over-exuberant mother and a butch ex.
Nagle navigates these twists and turns confidently, baring the inner workings of Dani's soul with humor and the right amount of self-awareness. The audience is invited into the story by way of a Seattle coffeehouse-style open mic, with images of the Emerald City lighting up the projection screen and cups of coffee wafting their distinct aroma around the space—well-made atmospheric choices by director Becca Holmes. Clark has written a modern beatnik in Dani, and Nagle and Holmes capture that essence.
The Politics of Hair starts off running, drawing the audience into Dani's story with snippets of personal experience and well-timed comedic highlights. But with the approach of Dani's long-awaited trip to Alaska, the pace begins to slow as her lines echo earlier anecdotes—a tool meant to tie the beginning of the story to the end. Given the short length of the play, the audience doesn't need such heavy reminders to make the connection, and the tool instead becomes a point of distraction. Dani's moment of revelation isn't given the same weight as her backstory. Instead, it simply flies by, with Dani telling the audience how it changed her without the audience seeing the change (or the development of the relationship that touched her so deeply). Then there's the soapbox scene—Dani standing high atop center stage, preaching to the world. With this, a subtle work becomes a screaming, shove-a-point-in-your-face work. Iron out those split ends and The Politics of Hair would go from greatly entertaining to greatly moving.
All for Love
After the intermission, the audience is taken from Seattle to Anywhere, U.S.A. David Schein’s Out Comes Butch is told in the same one-act, one-actor style and shares the theme of sexual identity through appearance. But Out Comes Butch features changes much less subtle than a hairstyle upgrade (though there are a few of those, as well).
Butch (played by Andrew Pollock) is your typical man's man. He's a gruff construction worker who's stunned when his woman leaves him with no warning and a note taped to the wall. Butch turns to self-help books to tap into his unused potential. Soon, Butch is bedding women left and right with his newfound sensitivity. In love with his new self, Butch signs up for ballet classes and meets a sexy male body builder who turns Butch on in more ways than one. Butch transitions from sensitive male to cross-dressing happy homemaker in nearly no time, only to find little satisfaction with the gay lifestyle. He scrounges together some money and finds a doctor to help him take a permanent step into womanhood, launching Butch into a whole new world of relationships.
As Butch, Pollock is put through a meat grinder of character changes. Upon entering the stage, Pollock engages the audience with a guy-in-the-bar style of commiserating—talking directly to a lucky few in the front row and welcoming everyone into the story. Pollock's versatility becomes a major asset as he transitions from persona to persona, and he uses every trick at his disposal. Most noticeable, of course, are the costume changes. Costume designer/constructor Francine Stewart had her work cut out for her with on-set changes from hairy construction worker to metrosexual to drag queen to transsexual. Pollock handles the difficult costume changes well, but they are easily the weakest element in the production. They sometimes take too long or are thrust awkwardly into the script. Ultimately, it’s a minor flaw amid a strong performance by Pollock, who is a very promising up-and-coming talent. Never does the audience lose belief that Butch’s journey is organic and deeply human. You don’t have to be transsexual (or homosexual or heterosexual or asexual) to understand that.
Ka-HOOTZ and Black Lab Productions present Unisex , two gender-bending solo comedies in one night: The Politics of Hair by Lou Clark and Out Comes Butch by David Schein. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 29 and 30, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 31, at 6 p.m. at The Box Performance Space (1025 Lomas NW, 404-1578). Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 students/seniors. Coffee included.