Preview: “The Hairdresser” Grapples with Realism at The Rossi Salon

Preview: “The Hairdresser” at The Rossi Salon (Through Monday October 16, 2017)
By Susan Charlotte
Directed by Antony Marsellis
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Tony-nominated Patricia (Louise Lasser) is not buried up to her waist in sand like Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s 1961 “Happy Days. But the character does prattle on – as Winnie did to her husband Willie – about happier days with her dearest friend and hairdresser (Stephen Schnetzer) on the Sunday before her most recent visit to the Tony Awards ceremony. This Beckett-esque conversation is the subject of Susan Charlotte’s “Hairdresser” a seventy-five-minute play she describes as a “location theatre project.” This site-specific play – once produced Off-Broadway in a more traditional manner – is now located in The Rossi Salon on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Like Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey in Daniel L. Coburn’s 1976 “The Gin Game,” Patricia and the Hairdresser squabble about seemingly unimportant things. Weller tries to teach Fonsia the rules of gin rummy. The Hairdresser bickers about Patricia’s hair length and wave and Patricia nags the Hairdresser about his prior profession as a stage magician. Beneath this banter lies – as on the porch in the “Gin Game” – the more significant issues of loneliness, mortality, aging, and loss. Additionally, deeper secrets are revealed as the emotionally charged interchange progresses.

Ms. Charlotte draws heavily on imagery from “Happy Days” (including a large black bag and its contents), Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 “Breathless,” and film-making devices (“jump cut”) to develop the characters in her play and disclose their conflicts to the small audience. A stage manager (Michael Citriniti) often provides stage directions (“He turns off a light”) and the producer (Tim Sherogan) interacts with the actors. The actors also stretch beyond the fourth wall to engage the audience in the conversation – an audience Patricia sees clearly but the Hairdresser acknowledges much more cautiously. Anthony Marsellis directs the piece with his keen eye on the actors and on the audience guiding all carefully through the “hall of mirrors.”

Who are the actors in this immersive play? Ms. Lasser, Mr. Schnetzer, Mr. Citriniti, and Mr. Sherogan are all “on script” (a device the playwright deems appropriate to the setting). The audience members, oddly enough, are “off script” and can “act” as they please without intervention from a director or stage manager. Indeed, the professional actors “need” the reactions of the audience members they consistently engage beyond the protection of their fourth wall. Such engagement with the audience is the stuff of immersive, site specific theatre: laughter, sighs, traffic noise (through the window that prefers not to be closed), the ability to stare into the faces of the actors all make for a unique experience that extends the borders of the thing we call theatre.