At first, the hippie rhetoric seems dated. But “‘Hair’ let’s the sunshine in
I was born way too late to be part of the ’60s counter-culture generation. But even as a small child, I knew this much about hippies: They were smelly. They walked around outdoors in bare feet, wore the same shredded jeans for weeks on end without washing them and didn’t own underwear. And their fashion sense! Even my incipient queer eye knew that brightly colored iron-on appliques, tie-dyed dashikis and leather vests with beaded fringe were runway no-nos.
While in college, I discovered briefly the joys of being smelly and going commando. Still now, with my anti-Bush, illegal-war, “Brokeback Mountain”-was-robbed-of-the-Oscar liberalism, I have to agree with “South Park’s” Cartman: I hate hippies.
Which is not to say I hate what they stood for or stood up against. The ’60s were the days of the draft, and forced conscription in a pointless, bloody foreign war was enough to frighten the crap out of, and the hashish into, an entire generation of teens who heard daily of their friends and their brothers and their friends’ brothers dying on a humid, narrow strip of land half a globe away.
Today’s youth should be as frightened. And it is frightening that they are not.
With so many peace symbols, Volkswagen Bugs and pot leaves in sight, “Hair,” now in revival by Uptown Players, looks, feels and sounds dated. What in 1968 was shocking, tantamount to a theatrical war-cry use of words like “nigger,” “sodomy” and “fuck,” characters who are gay or pregnant-but-unmarried free-lovers, and on-stage nudity have since become passe. (You can see worse on cable TV.)
The play itself is a threadbare riff on the Vietnam era, peopled by a collection of Leary-loving dropouts. There’s little dialogue for the first hour or so, just songs about race, sex and toking up. That style anchors it in another time, which can have the effect of limiting the scope of its appeal. And the rock-song score, with acid-dropping classics like “Let the Sunshine In” and “God Morning, Starshine,” sounds more like a revue of quaint oldies that a rallying howl for change.
But by the end of the performance, director Cheryl Denson does something spectacular: She draws the parallels with the current situation in Iraq to the one in Vietnam. And she forces the audience to consider its own apathy.
Clare Floyd Devries’ set combines water, fire and smoke for an elemental, perfectly pitched expression of the message. Scott Eckert ably leads the band through the familiar but often meandering music. (Some songs are more like jingles, barely a minute long.)
Timothy Riley and Sean Patrick Henry play Berger and Claude, the leaders of the tribe. When Claude’s draft number comes up, he tries to rebel but feels constrained by his innate sense of duty. (Patriotic duty is not an attribute usually associated with the ’60s ethos, which may be the great missed message of “Hair.”)
Riley’s singing voice comes and goes, but he nails the attitude. Henry, however, is charisma incarnate. Beautiful and lean, with the piercing, otherworldly eyes of Brad Pitt, he’s got “star” written all over him.
Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 Stemmons Freeway. Through March 18. 214-219-2718.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 23, 2007