Review: ‘Bigoudi’ at Atlas Performing Arts Center

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Is it just me or do the French have a way of taking the most mundane, everyday objects and making poetry out of them? Consider the humble plastic hair-curler, those tiny, porous tubes that feature prominently in a woman’s visit to the hair salon. What does it really do? Is its function purely mechanical, or does it shape how you see yourself? Does it give shape to your dreams? What is it about the silhouette of well-curled hair that attracts the eye, subtly, and which—once seen in the mirror—gives you the courage to go out and see what life has to offer?

For that matter, since when was a visit to the salon just about getting one’s hair done? Isn’t it one of the most convivial places on the planet, where one can confide in one’s stylist and talk about everything from kids to celebrities to our relationships, our frustrations, our aspirations? Men can attest to the release that comes with a visit to the barber shop, even for a simple trim; the freedom of the hair salon is a powerful lure indeed.

Serge Zenoun. Photo by Ludovic Lemaitre.

Enter Serge Zenoun, a Parisian musical theatre director and sometime hair stylist, who uses this simple plastic tool as the foundation for a musical cabaret.  Bigoudi –also known as “A Lonely Hair Curler’s Foolish Complaint”—is a show made for the salon and its denizens.  In fact, previous incarnations of this show have been staged, literally, in hair salons, where the props, chairs, wigs, etc., sit waiting for their cues.

By turns whimsical, profane and philosophical, Bigoudi (French for “curler”) features three lonely souls, a Man, a Woman, and Other, who encounter each other on the street, each on the way towards discovering who they are. Each of them has some kind of existential crisis (very French, indeed) and the solution is to repair to the salon and engage in a series of child-like games of discovery. Sometimes you feel like it’s a big game of make-believe but other times it’s more confessional as the characters – Man especially – reveal their deep-seated anxieties. Salons are like that; part confessional, part costume shop, it’s a place where you can experiment with personae to see what fits.

Zenoun leads the cast as Man, the mild-mannered, lonely urban type sincerely searching for some purpose. Chanteuse and eminent comedienne Barbara Papendorp plays Woman, recently thrown over by her boyfriend; and the seasoned baritone Byron Jones fills out the cast as Other, more self-assured but likewise in search of what’s just around the corner. Accompanied by pianist and Musical Director Antoine Mérand, the ensemble engage in a wide range of musical genres, adopting and doffing various disguises along the way.

Barbara Papendorp and Bryan Jones. Photo by William Sterling Walker.

For francophone audiences – including those in attendance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, where Bigoudi was offered as part of the Intersections 2017 festival—the show is thoroughly entertaining.  And once Zenoun & Co. develop surtitles to accompany the performance it will be more accessible to audiences whose colloquial French is, shall we say, lacking.

NB: Although billed as a spectacle for all ages, the frequent use of profanity (the F-bomb, both in French and English, features prominently) means that this show would be undesirable for families whose children still have to pretend their ears (and tongues) are pure.

It’s perfect, on the other hand, for honest families without pretense.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an intermission.

Bigoudi played on March 5, 2017 as part of the Intersections 2017 Festival at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For their calendar of events go to the Atlas website, or call the box office at  (202) 399-7993.

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