nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 13, 2007
Rick Gradone's charmingly energetic one-man show, Semi-Permanent, is framed as a Learning Annex lecture on the social implications of various hairstyles. Gradone asks the audience how many of them have considered a career in hair styling and suggests that we may have come to him straight from one of those moments where we say to ourselves, "Okay, I'm going to start my life over from scratch—and I'm going to do it as a hairdresser."
The audience's lukewarm show of hands confirmed my suspicion that we had not wandered into this show, written and performed by Gradone and directed by Johanna McKeon, seeking career counseling, but Gradone is not deterred and plunges on with unflappable flamboyance, figuring that if he's not going to tell us about becoming a hair stylist, he'll tell us about life (through telling us about being a hair stylist).
And so we journey with Gradone through his dreams of becoming an artist, his wasted Art History degree (which, I suspect, gave Gradone a familiarity with the academic verbiage he uses for his tongue-twistingly fun faux academic moments in the show), his job in fashion and, eventually, to night school for hair styling and to the big break working for a world famous stylist in Paris. All the while, we're treated to asides about what various hairstyles—such as the Feather and the Mullet—say about what we're trying to say about ourselves at a given moment of time. Because, Gradone points out, hair is one of the first things we notice when we meet someone and, we learn, it is such an obvious window into their soul.
Gradone sells all of this. He is funny, expressive, and touching. McKeon does nice work varying the show's mood and pace, which makes less of an issue the fact that the show runs longer than similarly styled solo works. And, while the end of Semi-Permanent feels a little sloppy—Gradone doesn't seem to know exactly how he wants to tie the bow on this nice production, so he suggests some audience interaction that never gets fulfilled—this is a work much like the fashion world Gradone comes from: while intellectualizing it feels like a bit of a stretch, it is compellingly watchable. I look forward to seeing this piece take even more permanent shape.