by Jacqueline Lemieux | 03 January 2018
American Repertory Theatre (A. R. T.) is a Cambridge-based theatre company which is well known in the Boston area and beyond for incredible productions. Barber Shop Chronicles is no exception – this poignant piece uses familiar tools of music, dance, and lighting to connect cross-cultural ideas and address complex truths about manhood, specifically black manhood, across the world. The show is set in several barber shops, intertwining scenes set in Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos, and Accra with those set in London, connecting concepts across cultures through the mundane conversations one finds in a typical barbershop.
Set changes were entirely through dance – the versatility of set allowed for simplistic movement of not much more than chairs, creating a neutrality and relatability in each setting. The base set itself was made up of telephone poles and wires, with signage that appeared classic and authentic, as well as one central hanging wire-cage style globe. It was artfully constructed – perfectly unkempt and cohesive, yet separable in location. Lighting was, in large part, one of the major contributors to this separability; as a lighting designer myself I admired the use of different tones to highlight location, ranging from the warm, cloudy lighting of Kowope to the stark, fluorescent, white-blue tones of Three Kings.
Barber Shop Chronicles offered moving testimony on several cross-cultural ideas and suggested that perhaps people of the world do not live in their own bubble – we are all connected, and ideas are universal, whether we realize it or not. The show addressed themes such as the evolution of culture and language, and to what extent that should be welcomed, and the hypocrisy of silencing young voices yet expecting them to rise up, criticizing inactivity and complacency while simultaneously requiring it. Barber Shop Chronicles is a masterpiece in every sense of the word – from the talented cast and crew to the technical aspects to the moving messages the show imprints on the audience. All people should seize the opportunity to experience this masterpiece – it will be running at the A. R. T. until Saturday, January 05, 2019.