THE GREAT JHERI CURL DEBATE
I’m a lover of maintained hair.
~ Jheri Redding (Ray Baker)
Are there any black owned hair business run by black people these days? Please let a sista know. It’s clear that Koreans run the bundles game from the 90s to today. When the drippy-spray-the-juice-on-the-hair-before-bagginging-it-overnight, seemingly became an overnight sensation, remember the late Michael Jackson in his “Beat It” video or rapper/actor Ice Cube from his Straight Outta Compton days rocked the soggy do, Caucasian hairdresser, chemist and savvy businessman, Robert William Redding, who morphed into Jheri Redding, created the saturated look and made a fortune.
Yes, yes y’all! A white man created the Jheri Curl look! Did that blow your mind? Redding created a formula that sold fast and became a mainstay staple in the African American hair community. After MJ and Cube took it to the streets, it was on! However, black haircare products were found in beauty shops run by Asians. You couldn’t find products for black hair at Thrifty’s, now Rite Aid, or supermarkets. You had to go to the shop. This is where the play gets interesting. When two world collide, an unemployed African American female hairdresser and an uptight Korean owner, is about to pop off.
Mr. Kim (wonderfully played by Ryun Yu) opens up his non-descript shop in Los Angeles. Inside are the latest issues of Right On! magazine, products for black hair, three crates of sale bins and multitude of hair colorings. He ignores the ringing phone as he quickly stocks the shelves. He has a sign in the window looking for a licensed cosmetologist. Entering like a wild tornado is Veralynn Jackson (actress Julanne Chidi Hill is phenomenal and hell of funny) uses her sassy wit to charm and convince the stoic Mr. Kim he would be a fool if he didn’t hire her. She immediately makes product shelving changes in order to make the products more appealing. Every time she makes a change, Mr. Kim is behind her like a nervous security guard waiting to make his move, switches it back. She reorganizes the whole store so products can be easily found. She puts up a poster of Jheri Redding which later comes to life.
Veralynn is a no nonsense woman who speak the truth. Mr. Kim isn’t used to such blatant confrontation. In the meantime, the Jheri Redding (the wonderful veteran actor Ray Baker nails it) jumps from the wall, dressed well in an vanilla color suit, landing softly on the ground and scaring Veralynn. Redding assures Veralynn he‘s not the devil. “You’re a talking poster!” After the scare wears off, Veralynn decides to learn the retail side of the beauty business. She knows what her customers want. She notices how Mr. Kim is being secretive during phone calls. She believes he’s trying to sell the business, which means, shell be out of work…again. After being constantly harangued, Mr. Kim tells her the truth. In between the hated conversation between Mr. Kim and Miz Veralynn, Lorraine and Marvin, (Mildred Marie Langford and Bruce Lemon Jr.) provide extra hysterics by jumping from the Pro-Line Curly Kit box and provide Veralynn with the tea on what’s going on in the shop. They happily snitch on Mr. Kim.
Director Scarlett Kim and playwright Inda Craig-Galván make the perfect duo. Under Kim’s direction and Craig- Galván words, the show evokes a not oft-talked about issue prevalent to African-American women and their hair. Galván provides witty barbs along with actual facts on the haircare industry. It goes beyond looking fly or if your hair is on fleek from the shop. It’s about the culture and what all of us bring into it. The late Maya Angelou said it best, that our “hair is a woman’s glory and that you share that glory with your family.” Enough said.
The Great Jheri Curl Debate, plays at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, located at, 120 Judge John Aiso St, Los Angeles ends this Sunday the 9th. Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. and evening at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets: Balcony seats ($25 – $44) and orchestra seats ($49 – $65) are available at eastwestplayers.org or call (213) 625-7000
Show runs 90 minutes with no intermission.
Covid policy is that the audience is vaccinated and masked at all times for the performance.