August 22nd, 2008

La Loge

Hair!

A warm summer evening in Central Park. The fireflies are out on the lawn beside the Turtle Pond (choked with pond weed, with little turtle heads peering out of it like tiny, pointed, lichen-covered rocks), the sky is a dark sapphire, and the college girls sitting next to me are laden with shopping bags from Forever 21 and Sephora and chattering about their sorority. It is, beyond doubt, the first decade of the 21st Century.

The lights in the Delacourt go down. The girls next to me turn off their matching pink-covered communications devices. The music starts, the Tribe enters, and it's 1967!

Peace! Love! Purple tie-dye flowy dresses and halter-tops and jeans with Union Jacks appliqueed in the crotch and vests with long, long fringes! Afros! Waist-length tumbles of curls! On the guys! Music that's a part of my cellular structure, even though I never saw the play in the first place. In that first cascade of color and music and movement, I cried for lost innocence and joy and the conviction that sticking flowers in gun barrels would change the world.

That was the best moment of the performance. Because it's not 1967, and not all the crocheted vests and beads in the world are going to make it so.

Hair isn't actually a very good play. It doesn't have a book; it has a pamphlet. There's no real plot, and the characters are more caricatures. The Bad Boy is the most interesting, followed by Claude, the putative protagonist who won't burn his draft card. The girls are pretty much cardboard and almost exclusively there for the boys to have sex with and to be supportive and loving when a guy is down. There is a female protester, who helps levitate the Pentagon, but even she devolves into the Bad Boy's girlfriend. That's what the world was like in 1967, of course, but it's still cringe-making. And the politics are as simplistic as you'd expect in a play about a group of highschool draft dodgers. But all of that (while true) evaporates in the face of the music.

I was surprised how well the music wore. Some of the songs were fluffy or silly ("Hashish" and "Sodomy" are notable only for their shock value, which they've long since lost) or forgettable. But the best songs are damn good. "Frank Mills" is a wonderful, quiet little short story all in itself. "What a Piece of Work is Man" is lovely, spooky, thoughtful. The big anthems--"Let the Sun Shine In," "Hair," "Aquarius"--are still stirring. And the cast did them full justice. They were miced, of course. Everything's miced these days. Maybe the original was, too. And it is an outdoor theatre. I'll allow the micing.

Talking about it afterwards, I was inclined to be snippy about the fact that the boys were too muscular, the girls too sleek, the curls too shiny and layered, the bell-bottoms too clean around the hems for absolute realism. And when they got naked? You could see their body mics taped to the small of their backs. But that's all inevitable, given the aesthetics of 2008. Which is when we're living, after all.

I'm very glad I saw it.