Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S. Alaska, 325-6500, $9.50-$18.50 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3:30 p.m. matinees Sun. ends Sun., Feb. 24
ONE OF THE best scenes in Black to My Roots, a rumination on the cultural, social, and personal implications of African-American women's hair, is a piece by George C. Wolfe in which two wigs—a giant afro and a long, sleek perm—battle to be worn. Playing the wigs, actresses Kathya Alexander and Wilna Julmiste hold nothing back, catching the rhythm of Wolfe's text as they tackle the perennial problem: What kind of me do I want my hair to be today? What makes this scene work is that the passion these actresses invest in the relationship with their own hair is brought out on stage. If only this energy was present in all the scenes.
When all five women in the cast are lined up and asked by the narrator and co-writer, Reneschia Brown, to describe their hair in three words, they don't just rattle off a list; they bounce descriptions out at all different angles, playing off each other. Yet in more than a couple of scenes, the cast falls back into the trappings of "theater with a message"—halting, explanatory monologues and diluted exchanges that might make the audience think but don't grab them by their own roots and shake them.
Brown and her brother, Tyrone, who directed the show, made a great choice by gathering performers who have their own hair stories and histories, and who are willing, when given the chance, to let it all hang out. Just as they hope their show inspires black women to make peace with, and find power in, their hair, they should follow the example of stage pioneer Wolfe and let go of the stodgier conventions to make a new vibrant theater of their own.