Harbinger Theatre’s Season Opener Custom Cuts, Cuts Close to Home
It’s not too often that we in the Capital Region have the opportunity to be the first public eyes and ears to a world-premier theatrical production. Add to the pot that the playwright is a native son, the play is autobiographical, and get ready for one special evening. Brian Sheldon’s Custom Cuts has set up its salon chair at Albany Barn as Harbinger Theatre’s season opener. According to the playwright, “Custom Cuts is about learning who you are and having the courage to trust yourself.” It is about so much more than that.
It is a story about parental abuse, emotional, verbal and physical. It is about taking the hand that life deals you and learning how to reshuffle the cards into a winning hand. It is about the importance of having people around you whether family or friends, who are there for you for support, emotional stability and never casting doubt on your ability to make a change and get out from under.
Sheldon created a gripping story about the people that surrounded his life growing up in Schenectady. In many tragic situations, if you look for it, is great humor. Sheldon has not lost site of the humor and liberally sprinkles it throughout the seventy or so minutes of the drama to break the tension and allow his audience an opportunity to regroup and regain their composure. Sheldon has a wonderful grasp on how to bring his audience in emotionally, take them to a crescendo and let them down slowly. His writing is en pointe his characters all well developed. As an experienced director, he has a vision for the characters he creates and is able to see what will work and what the audience will see.
The action of the play takes place in the apartment of Danny (Peter Delocis), a gay hairdresser and father of two adult children. Danny’s 21-year-old son Anthony (sic Sheldon) (Tyler Cardona) lives with his father. Danny’s daughter Jo (Aaliyah Al-Fuhaid) is engaged to be married and lives on her own. We also meet Matt (Gabriel Fabian), Anthony’s best friend, Al (Jason Stewart), the children’s stepfather, and Janet (Debby Bercier), inspired by area personality Ann Parillo, who is a loyal and very generous supporter of Danny as he loses his salon and must relocate to the apartment.
The play centers around the dynamic of Danny and Anthony and how the other characters interact with them. Peter Delocis is the performer you need to hate. Danny is a sad, pathetic, clearly miserable person who takes out his pain on others, primarily his son. And yet, Delocis has found a small part of his character that you can’t help but pity and feel sorry for. He manages to humanize the beast by giving us glimpses, albeit very few, of the person crying out in pain and instead striking out to the nearest thing, his son, to ameliorate that pain.
Tyler Cardona presents a persona that everyone, audience and cast alike, so clearly sees the issues before him. Cardona’s Anthony sees the same issues but is unwilling or unable to accept what he sees around him. Torn between building up a torrent of pain and emotions until they come bursting out in an outstanding diatribe to his father, Cardona’s performance takes your breath away.
Bercier has captured Janet’s willingness to overlook Danny’s foibles and issues, rooting for the underdog and being there to help however she is able. Gabriel Fabian’s character, Matt, takes a much more active role in trying to convince his friend Anthony to escape the abusive situation he is living in. At one point, he pointedly tells him he is acting like a battered spouse and has to get out before he can’t. Fabian is a near-ideal counterpoint to Cardona’s Anthony.
Al-Fuhaid’s Jo is caught between wanting to love her father, being glad she has escaped his abuse yet still looking for his acceptance, and at the same time trying to get her brother out. She wears the dichotomy of emotions on her shirtsleeve. The newest member to the Harbinger family, the U Albany sophomore is a great find and a welcome addition to the fold. Jason Stewart has the most straightforward role as Stepdad Al. His concern is focused only towards, as he calls them, his children. He is the forgiving caring, and above all loving father figure. He plays his role with great tenderness, understanding compassion, and empathy. Al will do whatever needs to be done to protect and defend his children. He is the perfect foil for Danny.
Director Angela Ledtke does a fine job steering this cast through the emotional ups and downs. Performed in the round, Set Designer Michael McDermott creates a well-appointed blue-collar apartment with spartan furniture and props all around a barber chair placed firmly on center stage.
Opening night offered a few nervous stumbles of stepped-on lines but ultimately, the cast, who were faced with what may be the uncomfortable situation of literally being face-to-face with their audience, pulled it off very well. The play has some rough edges in that the ending is rather abrupt and perhaps could use a coda to explain where the characters are today. The show is a gripping emotional roller coaster that ultimately is a story of courage that needs to be experienced.
Warning: Custom Cuts is for mature audiences, with strong language and depictions of physical and emotional abuse.
Custom Cuts runs through September 30 at Albany Barn, 56 Second Street, Albany. Tickets may be purchased on Harbinger Theatre’s Eventbrite page.