“Custom Cuts” Brings Heart and Hurt to the Albany Barn Stage
Updated: Oct 10
By Sophie Yalkezian
ALBANY — The Albany Barn’s audience watches as puffs of smoke pool in the air above them. In the middle of the round, actor Peter Delocis sits in a salon chair as Danny, a character based on playwright Brian Sheldon’s father. He’s decompressing with a cigarette before launching into a well-worn abusive tirade against his son, Anthony, who is heartachingly brought to life by Tyler Cardona.
And so begins the emotional tug of war between the person Anthony is and who he so desperately wants to be.
“Custom Cuts” is a dramatic play based on Sheldon’s upbringing in the Goose Hill neighborhood of Schenectady. Staged by Harbinger Theater and directed by Angela Ledtke, the story revolves around a father whose abuses, addictions and debts push his meek son to a transformational breaking point.
The show ran from Sept. 21-30.
“‘Custom Cuts’ is about learning who you are and having the courage to trust yourself,” said Sheldon.
The show’s Schenectady setting was held up by excellent set design. The audience sat around a stage complete with every detail of a family dining room/hair salon, including a vintage-style mirror, sink and tools. The cast moved through the set with warmth and familiarity, and whenever Danny raised his voice, the audience couldn’t help but squirm in a space so seamlessly shared.
Each supporting character lent this father-son dynamic a new sense of complexity and heart. Aaliyah Al-Fuhaid played Anthony’s sister Jo with a tough exterior shielding her inner exasperation. Their sympathetic stepfather Al was beautifully portrayed by Jason Stewart, whose charisma and sincerity made us want to follow him outside the salon. Debby Bercier played Danny’s loyal customer, Janet, whose friendship rightfully sours after a financial dispute.
Cardona was a clear standout as the show’s lead, embodying the quiet, self-effacing Anthony while giving way to the passion and ambition brewing inside of him. That ambition is partially coaxed out through the infectious, playful chemistry he shares with best friend Matt, played by Gabriel Fabran.
While every scene offered its own tension, there was one that challenged its actors to play out a climactic fight in the round — a choice that unfortunately deprived it of some necessary gravitas. There was also a missed opportunity to see more layers within Danny’s character, who tended to make zero-to-ten jumps from performed normalcy to explosions of anger.
“Custom Cuts” gave its Albany audience a lot to consider in their own familial dynamics, especially for those who experienced or witnessed abuse in some form. Like many real-life scenarios, we found ourselves rooting not for Danny’s punishment but for his ability to see all the abundance in his life and reconcile with those he’d hurt. Fortunately, in a written work, the story can end with a satisfying resolution.
“The writing of this piece was the most cathartic experience I’ve ever had as a writer. It crushed me and immediately built me back up again,” said Sheldon.
This production managed to make the audience feel the same way.