Sally (Joanna Strapp) watches as Mike (Rob Brownstein) prepares Candy… (Ed Krieger )
In her prologue to Tony Abatemarco’s new play, “Beautified,” by the Katselas Theatre Company at Skylight Theatre, the character Candy points out that platonic friendships between women and men aren’t traditionally the stuff of great drama.
But as at least half of the population didn’t need this tenderly nostalgic play to tell us, a woman’s bond with her hairdresser can transcend sex, politics and social class, outlasting foreign regimes, fashions, illnesses and marriages -- even death.
It’s 1969 in Framingham, Mass., when pretty blond Candy (Karen Austin) walks into a new beauty shop and wins over its closeted proprietor, Mike (Rob Brownstein). Over the years, Mike comes out; Candy marries and divorces; cancer strikes. To mark each new decade, Mike’s assistant, Sally (Joanna Strapp), adorable but overdoing a Boston accent), updates the décor and the phone (which evolves from rotary to cordless), and Mike emerges in the most egregious styles of the era. Director Jenny Sullivan (“Love, Loss and What I Wore” at the Geffen) clearly had a lot of fun with these sequences, and Jeff McClaughlin’s set and lights, Martin Carrillo’s sound, Diane Martinous’ wigs and Allison Leach’s costumes all play right into her hands.
In a program note, Abatemarco explains that he shampooed heads part-time as a kid in his older brother Mike’s shop, where he enjoyed watching the “real-life comedy of manners” around him. “When Mike died, I began this play.”
Having read this note made Candy’s belated recognition of Mike’s value to her far more moving to me. At the same time, I kept wishing for more about the Abatemarco brothers, less about Candy, who in Austin’s portrayal is too brittle, condescending and weepy for sympathy. Nor do she and Brownstein seem that connected to each other, even when they are dancing in Mike’s fantasy sequence, “If I Were Straight.” Cate Caplin’s choreography, although charming, can’t provide the missing chemistry. Their truest moment is their falling out over a trivial disagreement, the kind you never think will destroy a friendship until it has.
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“Beautified,” Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 1. $29. (702) 582-8587 or www.ktctickets.com. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.