REVIEW: ‘Hair’ — The mane event

You could sense of a lot of the shock and discomfort from the audience at the Winspear Opera House as a bunch of half-naked hippies descended into their seats, swigging from their chardonnay glasses and grabbing their crotches (and hugging audience members) and handing out flowers like veterans at an airport. The ’60s were before a lot of these folks were born, and most of the ones who lived through it valeted for 25 bucks in Lexus Red Parking, so they are perhaps less receptive to the communal, pot-smoking free-love message of the play than audiences a generation ago. And in fact, after intermish — which begins with 20 fully frontally naked men and women wagging their business — virtually the entire row of seats in front of me cleared out, presumably to go pray for all us sinners who hung around for Act 2.

That’s the magic of Hair.

This production, which arrives direct from closing on Broadway, is full of the energy and the spirit of the original, which set the culture on its ear in 1968. That’s been awhile, of course, and what has often been called the definitive “rock musical” seems less rockin’ than, say, Spring Awakening, written by an actual rock musician, or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or American Idiot. We’re uses to loud numbers and nudity onstage now.

But also, not. The message of the show — trippy, anti-war and pro-youth, sexually frank and equally fluid — is, in an era of talk about “job creators” and “Obamacare” and FoxNews, equally radical, even if the songs have entered the realm of show-tune classics more than hippie anthems. It feels oddly relevant again — especially as it deals with the draft, on the morning of the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” All the sexual liberation and “what-makes-a-good-American” talk has renewed depth.

The production itself is fun, though it suffers a lot as it always has from  problems — a long Vietnam fantasy in Act 2, marginal character development, rituals like draft-card burning that may not resonate with an audience weaned on an all-volunteer Army — though the bromance between Claude and Berger, and the hot, heroin-chic bodies of the men, add a layer of homoeroticism that you’re kinda glad makes the audience a bit uncomfortable. It’s good to shake people up sometimes. Peace out.

Through Oct. 2. Attpac.org.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

High nooner

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LAID ON END Jeff (Jonathan Groff, left) seduces three women but is cursed with talking to them as well in the unfocussed sex parable ‘Twelve Thirty.’

Even getting ‘Glee’ star Jonathan Groff naked can’t make ‘Twelve Thirty’ interesting

In classic 18th century picaresque novels, young men bounce bawdily from maiden bed to maiden bed, banging a few horny housewives in between, usually in service of a comic satire of sexual liberation peppered with commentary on politics and cultural mores. They are lascivious and funny — that’s what gets people reading them. It’s what makes them part of a genre.

Twelve Thirty follows a similar structure — Jeff (Glee’s Jonathan Groff), a flirtatious young man, claims sexual inexperience but gets laid more often than beige carpeting during a remnants sale, bedding two sisters and their mother. But the thing is, the film isn’t especially (at all?) funny; it has a frank, raw energy (there’s a good deal of sex and nudity) and it’s character-driven with intensive exposition, but it doesn’t amount to much.

Twelve Thirty is ripe with sexual liberation and tons of quirk, but the quirkiness feels forced. Writer-director Jeff Lipsky’s style echoes indie filmmakers Henry Jaglom and Hal Hartley: It’s sophisticated and smart in a cocktail-party-chatter way, but the emotions are treated with academic aloofness. You don’t feel the movie, you merely experience it.

Lipsky doesn’t mind addressing sex, or even showing sex pretty explicitly, but he prefers to talk about sex. And talk and talk and talk. (The title, I’m guessing, is a joke about having a “nooner” — after it’s over, you still need to find something to talk about from 12:30 on.) So, we get a few tantalizing moments of a naked Groff (and some naked ladies, including a surprisingly perky Karen Young), but much, much more conversation. If the dialogue were scintillating, that might suffice. But while the characters are painstakingly conceived (Young’s character, the mother of two girls, is a furrier who still sleeps with her gay ex-husband), there’s not much insight and the chats generally go nowhere (two British women turn up for moments of colorful backstory, then disappear). The film does take a dark turn bordering on cruelty or madness, but then ends as suddenly as it began. Huh?

The film itself has as much a crisis of identity as Jeff himself: It’s a romantic comedy in search of comedy. And romance.

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— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fat girls aren’t easy: ‘Charm’ works its magic

The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through Dec. 11. KitchenDogTheater.com.

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Margaret Fuller (Tina Parker) was a real person who seemed unreal to the society of her day. She was educated, opinionated, frank and kinda ugly — she hated corsets and the sexual repression of women. By the time she died, at age 40, she had had a child (probably out of wedlock), dated (probably gay) author Henry David Thoreau (Michael Federic0), and dabbled (probably) with lesbianism, all while breaking into the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist Movement.

At least that what Kathleen Cahill suggests in her new play Charm, getting its Texas premiere from Kitchen Dog Theater. The title is ironic, as Margaret, despite her many talents, was totally lacking in charm. She dared challenge Ralph Waldo Emerson (Jeffrey Schmidt, a dead-ringer) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Brian Witkowicz, hilarious), and irked a traditionalist like Orestes Brownson (John M. Flores). She was a woman outside her time.

KDT’s production — a fun, witty 90 minutes — captures the fairy-tale-like silliness of some very serious matters, especially feminism and sexual liberation of other kinds. Like Circle Theatre’s recent Bach at Leipzig, it tells historical facts with the freedom to turn  into a comedy. Hawthorne is a rabbity weirdo; Thoreau a bug-loving sickly nerd — a repressed closet case who moved to Walden Pond as a way of sublimating his sexual anxiety; Margaret lusts after a boyhood crush by the lake — a vast, blue parachute of rippling water. And the idioms are mostly modern, at once taking us out of its time and reinforcing how contemporary the ideas are (Margaret high-fives one of her friends).

The set, by Chase Floyd Devries, could have been designed for children’s theater: A serious of steps that resemble the books written by the literati that populate the play, in bright, colorful pastels. Just as interesting, though, is Parker as Margaret. Like her performance in Mr. Marmalade, Parker takes a childlike petulance and turns it into high tragedy. Things appear so simple to her — why can’t they really be that way? As with Dawn Weiner in Welcome to the Dollhouse, you sympathize with her even as you want to shake her. She may not have had any charm, byt the play has loads.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones