New Jersey Rep’s 10th season opener is Zina Camblin’s two-hander “And Her Hair Went With Her,” which finds a pair of chatty hairdressers engaging in a rambling survey of wigs, weaves, pop culture and some oddly eccentric clients. Playwright Camblin joins MaConnia Chesser as a stylist and shop owner, respectively, who take turns masquerading as salon patrons in a series of thematic sketches. The humor emanates from some rather broad characterizations, unified by the wigs worn and the therapeutic values to be found in a beauty parlor chair.
Angie (Camblin) takes on Debbie, a fledgling actress under a long straight wig, preparing an audition for Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf”; obsessive-compulsive Keisha, armed with sanitizing wipes while bemoaning the threat of fast-food restaurants that are routinely killing off members of the black community; and defiantly manic Denise, apparently unable to hold down a new job for a single day.
Jasmine (Chesser) doubles as Chrystal, a lusty black woman under a blond weave who insists she is really white. And in one of the darker episodes, she plays Phylicia, an imprisoned murderess on death row. A linking narrative finds Jasmine boasting over a pair of tickets to a Nina Simone concert, which is ultimately canceled by the singer’s sudden passing, prompting snippets of the late diva’s songs.
Camblin’s witty writing is incisive and expansive. She speaks knowingly of her subjects, celebrating the joy, pride and humor of the black experience. The humor gains in comic intensity in the person of misfit Denise, while the only cry of pain is found in the brief confessional of the jailed Phylicia, played with somber resignation by Chesser. The character cries out for further development.
Working on Charles Corcoran’s set of a functionally mirrored two-chair salon with a black-and-white checkerboard floor, director Kamilah Forbes has given the piece pace and thrust.