If you haven’t had a heartfelt belly laugh in a while, then you should get yourself a ticket to go see “Hair Frenzy.” The play, which is written by University of Maine professor, Travis G. Baker, barely gives you enough time to catch your breath before you burst out in guffaws again.
Baker, an adjunct professor for the English department, has written over 20 plays, many of which have been produced for the stage. Some of his plays made their world premieres in New York, but “Hair Frenzy” is making its debut at the Penobscot Theatre in downtown Bangor.
The comedy takes place in the fictional town of Clara, Maine. Clara is also the setting of Baker’s award winning play “One Blue Tarp,” which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre in 2014. Tina, the main character of “Hair Frenzy,” is mentioned a few times in Baker’s previous play.
“The town of Clara was becoming clearer to me,” Baker said. “It just seemed like she was the next character to invest in.”
Tina (Jennifer Shepherd) is the owner of Hair Frenzy, Clara’s hotspot salon. Tina is level-headed, but has ambitions about expanding her small business. She, like many of Clara’s residents, grew up locally and stuck around after graduation.
Tina’s childhood friend, Toryn Bennoch (A.J. Mooney) did just the opposite. She went away to college and worked hard to become a famous movie star. However, Toryn is forced to return to her hometown after a tragic hairdressing mishap. She runs away from her current set to beg Tina to try and fix her hairdo. In the process, she makes Tina an offer that’s hard to refuse.
As if Tina doesn’t already have enough on her plate. She has to raise her 11-year-old daughter, Ella (Rachel Palmer), without much help from Ella’s goofball father, Bobtom (Bradley LaBree), who was an absent parent for nearly eight years while he served in Afghanistan and traveled with his semi-successful band “The Roadies.”
Tina also has to deal with Kasiee, a dramatic, superstar wannabe. Kasiee (Amanda Sinco) is a messy over-the-top hairdresser that rents a chair in Tina’s salon and butts heads with Tina’s elderly regular, Mrs. Bonner (Jeri Misler), who seems to have taught almost every resident of Clara at one point or another.
Tina’s bathroom is also shared with the next-door office of Stuart (Jason Preble), a bureaucrat who works at the town office and vies for Tina’s affection.
Toryn’s lover, the suave, yet outrageous Gustav, also travels to Clara in search of his beloved. Gustav (Ira Kramer) is a Swedish movie star that makes grand gestures and hilarious facial expressions. He also appears on stage in nothing but boots, a pair of underwear and a salon apron at one point, which is bound to leave viewers in stitches.
Altogether, the cast boasts years of acting expertise, which is apparent on stage. They work seamlessly with one another, and pour everything into the portrayal of their characters. Even the young Rachel Palmer seems a natural in the spotlight.
Many of the actors/actresses also have connections to UMaine. Amanda Sinko is an alumna, Mooney teaches tap dance and acting at the university and Kramer is a student of music education and performance.
The play, despite its hilarity, carries a lot of heart. Tina is left to make an important decision about her future and whether it’s in Clara or elsewhere. According to Baker, UMaine students will most likely see some of themselves reflected in the play.
“A lot of students face that struggle of whether or not they’re going to stay in Maine,” Baker said. “That’s the heart of the play.”
Even though Clara is a fictional town, Baker and the play’s talented director, Dominick Varney, worked hard to make it feel like a genuine small Maine town.
“It’s a hair salon, but the characters that come into that hair salon — you see your community on that stage,” Varney said in a recent Bangor Daily News interview.
The cast’s portrayal of the town residents and the intricate set only add to the town’s authenticity. The play is only comprised of two acts, with one main set, but the way in which the actors move in conjunction with one another keeps the play well paced. The set is designed to make the audience feel right at home, complete with posters for local festivals, a coffee and news stand and a few cans of Moxie (which can also be bought at the concessions stand).
While the play pokes fun at Maine customs and traditions, it does so in a way that any Mainer can appreciate and will most likely laugh at. However, some punch lines might fly over some audience members’ heads. It isn’t too difficult to spot who’s from “away” in the audience.
Despite being a play about small town Maine, it’s very much a play about what it’s like to grow up in almost any American community. Viewers will be able to relate to the characters and their experiences, no matter where they’re from.
Within a script that seems to be nearly all comic relief, there is a tone of sincerity that draws the audience in. Although the play is almost entirely a farce based on Maine and its oddities, it’s also a statement about the various definitions of success and the differences between the people who stay or go.
All in all, “Hair Frenzy” offers a palpable and amusing depiction of Maine that is made complete by a competent cast, an earnest set, professional directing, a well-written script and unexpected musical moments.
If you’re looking for a good laugh, a chance to get out of Orono for a night or just an excuse to see Ira Kramer in a pair of tiger-striped briefs, then you still have a chance to go see “Hair Frenzy.”
The play will be showing until Feb. 14 at the Penobscot Theatre. UMaine students under the age of 25 can purchase tickets for $10. For more information, you can visit penobscottheatre.org or call (207) 942-3333.