Joseph Papp has opened his new Public Theater on Lafyette Street with Hair, which is probably as near to the real thing of being among the hippies as you can get. You can't tell the difference between the actors onstage and the hippies you see on the streets, which, of course, is what the authors Gerome Ragni, who plays one of the parts, and James Rado wanted.
Hair isn't a musical; it isn't a play. It just shows young people in the outlandish garbs they fancy (you see them every day, especially in the East Village), doing all the things the hippies do (although several times, one of the characters referred to themselves as beatniks, but let's not worry about that point).
It's a loud show (for want of something to call it, I use the word "show"); full of interminable songs, smoking pot and what probably passes for LSD, love-ins / immature sex all over the place. There is no story, except that one boy gets thrown out of high-school; another, Claude, is to be drafted. The second act is taken up with the interminable farewell party for him, and the usual anti-war protest songs. I say "usual" because there's no originality here. To be against the war in Vietnam is hardly news or even dramatic. The attempt at satire in the anti-war theme is feebly presented.
Hair is in two acts, and it's one act too long. Someone might say two acts too long. Most of the young people have little acting experience, but that doesn't matter. They seem to be enjoying themselves so much being hippies; in itself, that is probably a tribute to their acting. Oh yes, two adult figure in Hair; they take several parts, but mainly to show what the authors consider the square, over-30 attitude. At one time, the woman asks her teenage hippie "Besides disheveled, what do you want to be?"
In a short piece in the program, Papp says: "We
must be a modern theater engaged in producing modern plays dramatizing
the potent forces of our time - events and feelings that shape history
and man." Good words; good goal. Where Hair is going to shape
anything, I can't imagine. Just transfer it to Tompkins Square Park
where it would all become part of the atmosphere. Its relation to
theater is nil.
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