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'Beauty Shop 2' Hair-Raising


Some cultural events defy analysis. Cult phenomena such as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Eraserhead" are critic-proof. How to explain their popularity? What motivates hordes of people to repeatedly pay homage? Sociologists and psychologists can only watch in awe.

"Beauty Shop, Part 2" belongs to this phenomenon. At Tuesday's opening-night performance, an enormous audience filled the Wilshire Theatre. The crowd hooted, howled and called out in response to Shelly Garrett's broad comedy.

More burlesque and vaudeville than traditional theater, "Beauty Shop" never aspires to be a black "Steel Magnolias." These cartoonish, politically incorrect hairdressers revel in scatological humor that's openly homophobic and sexist. Using exaggerated physical mannerisms, they talk directly to the audience, insulting and abusing one another in a style reminiscent of Italian commedia dell'arte. No stereotype is left untouched.

The first act ends with a hint of things to come as a hairdresser is "beamed up" to "Star Trek's" spaceship. The second act drops all pretense of consistent storytelling and goes straight for spectacle. It's a populist pageant akin to a wildly eclectic circus: Laser beams and clouds of dry-ice smoke engulf Madonna-styled militant chorus lines of dancers twirling Uzi machine guns.

Meanwhile, a dwarf, his 6-foot-2 wife nearby, duels a professional male model in a graphic striptease dance. A wedding procession marches Vegas-style from the lobby down the aisles to the stage, in rhythm with Teddy Pendergrass' "You're My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration."

Go figure.

*"Beauty Shop, Part 2," Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 7:30 p.m., matinees Saturdays-Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends June 13. $17.50-$27.50. (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000. Running time: 3 hours, 20 minutes.

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