The New Yorker - September 23, 1972

The Missing Dirt: What happened to the dirt in Dude?  That's what we wanted to know.  There were supposed to be piles and piles of it - a real garden smack inside the Broadway theater.  there were supposed to be plants growing up before the audience's eyes during each performance.  There was supposed to be a highway running all over the theater.  Dude was supposed to be about the highway life;  the billboard called it "a musical comedy with a capital 'C' about this dude who lives the highway life at the Broadway Theater on the Broadway stage on Broadway."  Dude was supposed to be an updated Hair - only the fiftieth musical to try to be an updated Hair since Hair was first about hair on the Broadway stage.  But then Dude had book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, and they were two thirds of the people who who did the original Hair.  Well, there is a "highway" running through the Broadway theater, but there isn't any dirt.  Anybody who went to one of the previews last week - the premiere will be on October 9 - knew that.  We didn't go to a preview, but we knew it anyway, because a friend told us.  We went over then, late one morning, to find out what happened to the dirt.  We came upon Dale Soules, who plays a girl named Shadow in Dude, standing in front of the stage door, and we put the question to her.

"That's right," Miss Soules said.  "The dirt's gone.  What happened was this: We had, like, four inches of dirt and peat moss.  It was nice, but we had to roll around in it and rub our faces in it and then get up and sing.  It just didn't work.  I mean, we tried, but after three or four days we were literally coughing up dirt, and it was, like, caking over our eyes.  So we had a revolution.  We said we couldn't go on, and we were right.  So what we've got now is this:  We've taken out all the dirt and put in a layer of foam rubber.  And on top of the rubber we've got all these brown army blankets.  they're all cut up so they look like dirt."

"What do you think the play is about?" we asked, changing the subject.

"What do I think the play is about?" Miss Soules said.  "Well, uh, I think it's a celebration - a celebration of life.  Because, you know, Hair was about war and revolution and killing kids.  But Dude is a celebration of everything.  It's a celebration of older people - the cast has William Redfield and rae Allen and Michael Dunn, not just kids.  And the people really liked it at the preview last night.  It brought them out.  Like, when Rae Allen takes off her clothes, it brought out all those people who didn't have bodies like - you know, like Twiggy's."

"Takes off her clothes?  But there wasn't supposed to be any of that in Dude.  'No nude Dude' was what people said."

"That's right.  There's no nudity.  She has a body stocking on."

We walked around to the front entrance and were allowed into the theater, which was not the Broadway theater we had known.  A new floor had been constructed, beginning where the balcony ended and stretching above the orchestra all the way to backstage.  The upper balcony seats are now known as the "mountains", and the lower ones as the "foothills".  At the center of the new floor, approximately where "two good seats down front" used to be, is an octagonal stage, about thirty feet across.  It was covered with what we took to be shredded army blankets.  There are seven rows of new seats ringing the stage;  they are called the "valleys".  There are also new seats on the part of the new floor that is above the old stage;  they face back into the theater and are raked like bleachers;  the lower rows are "trees" and the upper ones the "treetops."  The "highway" is a black carpet with w yellow stripe on it that meanders through the theater on platforms and aisles.  The whole setup, which was worked out by Mr. Ragni and the show's scenic designer, Eugene Lee, is a theatre-in-the-round with eccentricities.  The best seats are the "foothills."  People who sit in the "treetops" will have a great view of the proscenium arch, which the creators of Dude say they have burst out of.

We went outside and listened to some of the talk at the box office.

"I want four in the orchestra tomorrow night," a gentleman said.

"There isn't any orchestra anymore," the box-office lady said.  "Do you want the foothills, the valleys, the trees, the mountains, or the treetops?"

"I want the best seats.  What is now like the mezzanine?"{

"The foothills are like the mezzanine."

"And what is now like the orchestra?"

"The foothills are like the orchestra, but so are the valleys."

"This is ridiculous.  Well, give me four in the foothills."

The gentleman took his tickets and went away.

We stepped in front of the window.  "Are these new seats causing any confusion?" we asked.

"No," the lady said, in a tone that kept us from asking more.

Copyright The New Yorker, 1972.

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