Hairdresser On Fire

The thin but overarching conceit of Semi-Permanent is that we in the audience have arrived at a Learning Annex course on late twentieth-century hairstyling. The show’s ads proudly proclaim “It’s about hair!” but that’s really a bit of a red herring. It’s not really about hair; well, it is, a little. But the show is far cleverer than that. Hair is the prism through which we meet and come to know our flamboyant yet profound instructor, Rick Gradone, celebrity hairstylist and actor who, like many—and perhaps, to some extent, all—of us, tries to navigate and find continued meaning in life in the wake of broken dreams, missed opportunities and disappointing people. We learn that he once hoped to become an “artist,” but that he serendipitously fell into styling, got a big press interview, and then his career catapulted off at a manic pace, a pace which he embodies as he runs around the stage, demonstrating the finer points of styles like “The Farrah” and “The Prep School,” and their wider significance for society. Photos of various styles from the past, most looking sadly outdated and silly, are projected, like chapter headings, on a screen as Gradone takes us through his personal journey. He times his lines perfectly with the background music, revealing intense and thorough rehearsal. His impersonations of college friends and French fashion prima donnas are hilarious, and his energy is unflagging.

Boy, does he take hair seriously! And, just so you know that he’s not kidding, the show’s press kit offers up an extensive list of his celebrity clients (Rod Stewart, Tyra Banks, Mariah Carey, to name just a few). Hair, he notes, is the first thing that people notice about each other. Hair transmits two messages to the world: “Who we are and who we think we are.” Gradone skillfully weaves this maxim into his monologue, and the show is ultimately about acceptance—acceptance of who we are and what we do with our lives. Why dwell on our failures? It’s all a backward-looking reconstruction anyway, a combination of truth and lies, like real hair and extensions. In the end, if it’s done well, and you’ve touched someone, it all comes out looking beautiful.

This show is ready for prime time; I see no reason why Semi-Permanent shouldn’t continue beyond The Fringe Festival. Mr. Gradone’s talent is clear. After watching him for a while you begin to wonder, “Why isn’t this guy a star?” He’s certainly got the talent. “Why is he still doing hair?” Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that...

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