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Friday, August 8, 2008

HAIR in Central Park

Once more, in the minority. Oh, well. So it goes.

My wife, Donna; our beloved niece, Daisy; and I saw this production the day before yesterday. This was the last performance before the press opening.

Donna and I got on line at 10:10. Happily, we were surrounded by some terrific people. We were told that most times people who were in our spot on line got tickets.

As we approached the woman handing-out tickets, we heard: "Only single tickets left." Gulp! A few moments later, we were serenaded by: "Only vouchers left."

Yipe! Had all that sitting on that uniquely hard rock been for nothing?

They informed us that throughout the runs of HAMLET and HAIR (so far) nobody with a voucher had been excluded. So, we were hopeful.

We showed up at the prescribed time and waited. Not only did we get tickets, but they were both all together and excellent. These were the best Delacourt seats we've ever gotten - including those for MOTHER COURAGE, for which we made a donation.

I wish I could have joined the audience (and the critics) in celebrating this production. After all, there's very little as magnificent as sitting in Central Park and hearing some of those wonderful tunes.

Let me make two disclaimers. First, Donna did a production of HAIR at the Odd Chair Playhouse in Pittsburgh. It was run by Thom Thomas - Donna's first acting teacher (at Point Park College) and to this day one of our best friends. Thom's a great director, writer, and an even better human being. Thom directed HAIR - and brilliantly, according to Donna. So, she has solid ideas as to what HAIR should be.

Second, I lived through this era. I saw HAIR a bunch of times in its earliest incarnation. I saw it even more times in the last revival because one of my closest friends - Eva Charney - was a swing and asm. She grew to be a close friend of Tom O'Horgan - the remarkable and wonderful director of the original HAIR. I met him through Eva - and found him to be a lovely man.

I have ambivalence about the era (and this piece). It's the need to sort out my feelings and thoughts about it that is motivating me to write a new play about it. My reaction to and experience in the era is significantly different from those of the HAIR characters.

I was in college at the time. Nonetheless, I was dealing with the draft. My family was lower middle-class - but in that my mother was a teacher, education was always exalted. Moreover, I was blessed by left-wing parents who quickly came to see the War in Vietnam for what it was.

The characters in HAIR were far different. They were fairly poor and had insensitive parents. However, Claude could've done what I did: find a dodgy, anti-war shrink; tell him you believe in aliens and that little people were living in your teeth; and get exemption - which, in my case, was a 4F!

I always found the characters in HAIR a little self-congratulatory and naive for my taste - just as I did my legion "oh-wow" friends and acquaintances who didn't see the sixties in historical context.

I found the direction and choreography wrong-headed. The direction started the show with a good deal of direct address (see my previous raving vs. the breaking of the fourth wall). All of that early material should have been delivered to the Tribe.

This group of actors was called "The Tribe" but they simply didn't seem Tribe-like nor were they molded by the director into a Tribe. They weren't a bunch of drugged-out freaks (as my friends and I sort of were. Now, we're mainly doctors and lawyers and playwrights). They looked liked hairy AMERICAN IDOL competitors.

Clearly, all or much of this material was initially a by-product of improv and of the specific talents around whom the show was molded. The show centers on Claude and his draft situation. Around that, however, revolve a bunch of skits that are presented straight-out. Maybe these skits had greater resonance when the actors helped to mold them. I'm not sure. I do think, however, that they can work as events that the Tribe can share - that's part of re-enforcing their collective identity.

The choreography in HAIR shouldn't look like dance. It should be dynamic, organic movement - as Twyla Tharp concocted for the film HAIR. Here, it was usually dull and occasionally coy.

The direction was consistently ineffective. It was wrong-headed starting with the casting of Claude and Sheila (neither of whom captured the character's soul and both of whom had the wrong vocal quality) to the set (which put the band up-center and put a wall between the stage and the lake, which would have immeasurably added to the evening's magic). To her credit, however, she did cast a wonderful actress who sang "Aquarius" and the equally outstanding actor playing Hud.

I'm delighted that all these people (and I include reviewers in this category) have found pleasure in this production. There are pleasures to be had. Nevertheless, it didn't carry my wife and me away (as various productions of this problematic piece have).

Enough. It's a beautiful Sunday in New York. We'll probably take a walk in Central Park, where I'll continue to consider and talk to Donna about my own sixties play and just what impact that charming, energized, and seriously silly era had on this seriously screwed-up one.

It's so odd to be so out-of-step with consensus. Taste is an odd piece of business. I read and occasionally post on TALKIN' BROADWAY (All that Chat). Taste is so important to so many there. And being a fan of a particular talent is also so vital to so many. I find it so strange that one day I intend to write a play about it, too. So many play-topics; so little time.

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