On March 8, Forty/AM and Manbites Dog Theater premiered Chaunesti Webb‘s, I Love My Hair When It’s Good & Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive. Approaching from the outside on the evening of March 10, it was immediately obvious that Manbites is not your typical theater. Upon walking inside the warm and inviting lobby, it was clear this was going to be an excellent production: the senses were quickly stimulated with attractive photography of young and confident women of the beautiful project and music selections from Motown to the late Michael Jackson.

Manbites Dog Theater, a non-profit company founded in 1987, produces new theatrical events that challenge audiences while providing a nurturing environment for playwrights, directors, actors, and artists. I Love My Hair is part of the Other Voices Series that feature guest artists and companies.

I Love My Hair is a multi-media play that discusses the complex relationship African American women have with their hair. This play beautifully incorporates dance, music, and video to document the journey of five women. Although they differ in ages, the exploration of family, community, race, class, politics, and sexuality bring this group together. Each woman has a unique spirit, but despite differences they learn to love the women they are and the world around them.

Before the play even begins Grandma and Genevieve are having their typical Saturday hair session. Genevieve is in the third grade and doesn’t understand why she must endure the pain of getting her hair braided or, even worse, enduring the hot comb. Genevieve (Aurelia Belfield) and her cousin Moni (Lakeisha Coffey) have grown up playing double-dutch, sharing time with their sassy grandmother (Yolanda Rabun) and enduring the pain of the hot comb. Belfield and Coffey encompass a beautiful image of what it is to be a strong woman. The movements teem with sincerity that draw the audience into their lives. Although the props and stage are minimal their performance lacked nothing.

Aunt Sandra, Aunt Evonne, and Grandma/Aunt Brenda are the older women in this play, but they are still young at heart. These three deal with more complex issues such as addiction and raising children. Aunt Sandra (Hazel Edmond) has a sweet soul yet it is artificial; it seemed as if she never makes an effort to understand her daughter Genevieve, instead dwelling on surface images like the length of her hair. Despite the false impression given by Edmond’s character, she took hold of the role and performed effortlessly. Aunt Evonne (Sherida McMullan) and Grandma/Aunt Brenda (Rabun) are rich with knowledge and always stand up for what they believe. The entire cast spilled over with passion which in turn made the characters incredibly alive.

The team of collaborators also made this play a seamless piece of art. The work was directed by Chaunesti Webb and stage-managed by Laurie Wolf and Barbette Hunter. The choreographer was Aya Shabu; sound designer, Shana Tucker; light designers, Andy Parks and Hilary Rosen, accompanied by Michael Devereaux, Jim Haverkamp, and Erica Rothman, video designers, Barbette Hunter, costumer design, Jewell Green, set and graphic design, and Michael McCollough, photographer.

Every woman has a story and awareness of her hair – which can be cut, colored, covered, or completely erased. Hair can define who we are as people. In this fascinating theatrical evening, Webb and her cast and crew captured the essence of individuality and uniqueness of human beauty and strength.

The show runs through 3/17; for details, see the sidebar.