Harbinger Theatre’s Custom Cuts Is Electric – A Review

Written by on September 25, 2023

Harbinger Theatre’s Custom Cuts – Review by Joanna Peterson Palladino-Resnick.

Harbinger Theatre’s world premiere of the locally written play, Custom Cuts by Brian Sheldon at the Albany Barn is a touching and often humorous look at how deep abuse can cut – and how there’s no better time to heal than the present.

A semiautobiographical play, Custom Cuts takes place in the Electric City – Schenectady.  21-year-old Anthony is navigating cosmetology school while working full-time.  His father, a hairdresser, uses their apartment as a makeshift salon to attempt to keep what remaining clients he has, and to stay financially afloat.  Danny relies heavily on Anthony’s income and his financial mismanagement, coupled with his abusive parenting, reveal a man that’s not as funny or kind as his clients would think.  Anthony is surrounded by a counterbalance of love from his stepfather Al, his sister Jo, and his best friend Matt.  Motifs of loyalty, respect, self-actualization, trauma, healing, and freedom (just to name a few) are layered in the play’s short hour and ten-minute run time.

Director Angela Ledtke and Assistant Director Olivia Walton did a great job staging the play in the round on the actual floor of the Albany Barn. Moving the action to the floor helped make the play more intimate as if each audience member was sitting in the actual dining room.  In addition, the actors were often so close to the audience, you had the pleasure of seeing every emotion on the actors’ faces.

Highlights of the production include Tyler Cardon whose portrayal of Anthony seemed so natural and effortless.  Tyler delivered a performance that made you feel for Anthony at every step in his development.  The play had some tender and beautiful moments between Anthony and his stepfather Al played by Jason Stewart (Stone), and his sister Jo, played by Aaliyah Al-Fuhaid.  Jason and Aaliyah’s individual monologues were skillfully delivered.  The rest of the engaging cast should also be mentioned: Gabriel Fabian’s great comedic timing as Matt, Debby Bercier’s lovability as Janet, and Peter Delocis’ forcefulness as Danny. The rest of the crew, Nick Nealon, Michael McDermott, Rajesh Khambete, Rachel Leigh Head, and Lauren D’Annibale and Producer Amy Hausknecht should be commended for overcoming all of the challenges a theatrical production at the Albany Barn can bring.

Of special note is Sound Designer Joshua Horowitz, Assistant Director Olivia Walton, and Director Angela Ledtke’s strong focus on the music between scenes.  The soundtrack included: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! By Abba; Show & Tell by Melanie Martinez; Survival of the Fittest by Mobb Deep; Me, Myself & I by G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha; My Way by Limp Bizkit; Soar by Christina Aguilera; Independent by Webbie, Boozie Badazz, and Lil Phat; Sunflower by DJ Boomin; and The Middle by Jimmy Eat World.  If you have a chance to go a little early, the preshow music has a few gems too, like Give It Up by Public Enemy, Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai, and Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee.

Harbinger Theatre’s production of Brian Sheldon’s Custom Cuts at the Albany Barn is a life-affirming night of theater. Though the themes include some dark content, you leave the theater feeling better than when you came in – similar to how you feel after going to the salon or after listening to the song Barber Shop by Tom Waits.  The play is recommended for mature audiences due to the violence depicted.  Performances run Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm through 9/30/23.  For ticket information, you can go to Harbinger Theatre’s Eventbrite page at:   https://www.eventbrite.com/e/custom-cuts-by-brian-sheldon-tickets-666765342087?aff=oddtdtcreator&fbclid=IwAR1IqJWsAp_1ucktdpH_5SKAssqd5v4qvR9Q3zTl8Bd5kHe1R81yCn3NWo0

Photos by David Quiñones Jr.

Poster & Logo designed by Emily Klein

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