HAiR opened a two-week run in Port Hueneme, California, on the same date that it opened in Lancaster, California. Hebe and I, joined by her brother Hector, went to both productions: Lancaster the first week; Port Hueneme the second. I posted my review of the Lancaster production on this Blog on Sunday, October 29, 2006, entitled “Lancaster, CA HAIR review from John Z.”
Aside from playing on the same dates, there were several other similarities between the shows:
- Both productions were mounted in relatively small towns in California that are considered to be very politically conservative. Lancaster is a desert community that (IMHO) primarily functions as the support town for Edwards Air Force Base. Edwards functions as a launch facility for many, if not most, of the military satellites and is also the secondary landing facility for the Space Shuttle when the weather in Florida is dicey. While driving through the town, we noticed several buildings sporting full-wall portraits of different astronauts painted on their sides.
- Both productions were mounted in civic facilities. While the Lancaster show was in a 100-seat theater in the three-fourths round that was part of a major, very active, and seemingly very new theater center, the Port Hueneme show was mounted in a multipurpose facility that, we were told, had laid fallow for a dozen years. The theater group told us of their plans to re-activate the facility as a day-care center during the day and a theater in the evenings. HAiR was their inaugural production, and they were hoping to induce the city fathers enough to grant them use of the facility.
Port Hueneme is the location of a major Navy “CB” base and was (and maybe still is) a deep-water base for nuclear submarines. It also supports the Point Mugu Naval Air Station. Because the freeway is located rather far inland at this point, we had to drive quite a few miles on country roads to get to the ocean-adjacent auditorium. En route, we passed by large agricultural areas that were interrupted with clumps of closely spaced McMansions (two-story, 2500+ square feet).
PORT HUENEME HAiR:
Upon entering the building, I was immediately struck by vibes of friendliness. A couple of people even came up to compliment me on my Aquarius reunion shirt. ). Hebe and her brother commented that the friendly people reminded them of those that they remembered encountering in small towns in Texas.
The lobby was nicely decorated – even featuring a bit of a light show – and the concessions counter was selling little bags of “Alice B. Toklas Brownies.” The theater personnel seemed to be very excited about the production and talked of their other plans for the theater. Our usher told us that her daughter was a lead in the production, and that her husband was responsible for the technical aspects of the show as well as the computerized light show. She also told us (without our solicitation) that there was no nudity in the production even though the cast wanted it. I find it interesting that HAiRâ€™s nudity is still such a hot topic.
We entered the theater auditorium/multi-purpose room through a beaded curtain and down a blacklight-illuminated tunnel decorated with fluorescent-paint flowers on the walls. A psychedelically-painted VW van was parked upstage left, and the band was upstage right.
Just prior to the start of the show, an announcement was made to the effect that this show represented times long past and that we should not be concerned if we did not find it relevant to todayâ€™s world! The show then opened with the tribe pouring out of the side door of the van.
The tribe members all did exemplary jobs in their roles, and the music and singing was quite good. Claude, Sheila, and (especially) Berger brought interpretations to their roles that were quite different from what I have gotten used to, but they all were likable and believable. I canâ€™t seem to get my mind around what they did that seemed so different, but it certainly seemed quite novel to me.
I was told that the director of the show, who was a Marine Corps veteran from the Viet Nam war, felt that HAiR was much too long and therefore decided to make liberal cuts and speed up the action. He cut out the songs “Sodomy,” “Black Boys/White Boys,” “Donâ€™t Put It Down,” “The Bed,” etc. These cuts were especially disappointing because the tribe did so well with the songs they did perform.
One instance that I found hilarious, was in Bergerâ€™s pan handling scene where he basically just ran across the front row of the audience while delivering his plea but not pausing for any money. En route he paused momentarily in front of one woman and requested that she hold his pants. The poor woman seemed totally bewildered by this, probably because Berger not only was still wearing them, but he had not even mimed taking them off!
At the end of Act 1, when Claude is unable to burn his draft card, the entire tribe exited leaving him alone on stage to sing “Where Do I Go?” When Claude finished, the tribe all re-entered wearing shortie bathrobes and looked like they had nothing on underneath! They first turned their backs to the audience and started a little dancing in place. Then, turning to face the audience, they started to drop the robes, flashing their shoulders while continuing the dancing in place. Before they could reveal more, two policemen ran up on stage to “bust” the tribe. As they herded the tribe off, one of the policemen peered down the front of Jeannieâ€™s robe and nodded his approval. The scene ended with a middle-aged woman running up on stage from the audience and opening her coat to reveal a comedic nude fat suit.
One of the high points of the evening for me came during the intermission. Some of the audience around us started discussing what had just transpired in the first act. The fact that we had just been treated to part of the opening scene (“Taking off the Robe”) of Oh! Calcutta was apparent to several people in the audience besides me, and the topic of nudity in the show came up again. The mother of one of the members of the band was sitting near us. She stated that the tribe was unanimous in wanting to do the scene nude, and that they were quite frustrated that the production staff nixed it on the basis that they did not want to offend the city fathers and thereby jeopardize their future access to the facility. How different this tribeâ€™s attitude to that in Lancaster, where one of the leads expressed to us how embarrassingly naked she felt just wearing a bare-midriff outfit! The audience, which seemed very familiar with HAiR, lamented the excised material and songs.
Prior to the start of Act 2, we were shown a slide show of scenes from the Viet Nam war. Several images are burned into my memory from that war: 1) The little naked girl running down the road after her clothes had been burned off from her, 2) the young mother walking down the road carrying her dead child, 3) the soldiers setting fire to a Vietnamese farmerâ€™s house, 4) the people kneeling down around one of the students who had been shot at Kent State University, 5) the Saigon police officer blowing the brains out of a suspected Viet Cong soldier, and 6) WMHâ€™s brother Hibiscus inserting a flower into the barrel of a National Guardsmanâ€™s (?) gun. Curiously, I do not believe that I saw even one of these images among the pictures presented! Maybe they were considered to be too powerful.
Act 2 started with one of the policemen from the end of Act 1 desperately trying to convince his partner (the cop who had peered down the front of Jeannie’s bathrobe) to take the flowers out of his hair and separate himself from the tribe that he had joined.
The band quite visibly (IMHO) put down their instruments at the start of Claudeâ€™s Trip as recorded music was played as leit motifs behind the various vignettes. Was the band protesting the added music?
Despite all the cuts and bowdlerization, I found the show to be quite enjoyable, and would love to have seen what the tribe could have done had they not been under such constrained conditions. Incidentally, when I commented to the parent of one of the tribe members that I really liked what the kids had done although I was quite disappointed in the directorial choices, I was told that I would have to wait my turn in the complaint line behind all of the cast members!
A FEW NOTES ON NUDITY:
In response to my previous post reviewing the Lancaster HAiR production, Julie Winn McKay of the Pakaâ€™lolo Tribe commented: “Does no one understand anymore what the nudity in HAIR is about? Did they ever? The nude scene, in my mind, is one of the most powerful parts of the show. Bodies, all colors, shapes, bare and beautiful “grow” from the stage, from under a scrim upon which flowers are projected, while Claude sings “Where do I go follow the riverâ€¦.where do I goâ€¦?” The message: This is life. Here we are. This is all we have. This is it. Like this we are born. We grow. Like this we die. And, yes, we are all the same.”
Right on! I completely agree that the nude scene is an extremely powerful and beautiful part of the show, and her description of it as growing from the stage is most apt. I do not recall seeing any flower projections on the scrim in any of the productions that I have seen, and, in fact, I prefer those productions (such as the one that James Rado directed at the Candlefish Theater) that dispense with scrims entirely. The scrim has always indicated to me that there was something to obscure or hide in the scene, i.e., that there was something wrong or shameful about the nudity. Frankly, I really would like to see nudity in “Walking In Space,” as was done in the ill-fated original Mexican production and, I understand, in the productions helmed by Leo Lunser.
I find it interesting that I can find no mention of nudity in the production script of HAiR that I saw other than the rather detailed description of the staging of the appearance of Aquarius as Claude is being summoned. Most productions that I have seen use it at the end of Act 1, and some had The Tourist Lady/Margaret Mead naked when flashing the audience, neither of which is called out in either the production script nor the paperback! As for the script-denoted nudity of Aquarius, I have only seen it done in two relatively recent productions: Marjorie VanderHoff had a naked female Aquarius at Los Angeles Valley College, and the production at Glendale College had a male Aquarius. Furthermore, the paperback version which is most familiar to the audience because the current scripts have not been widely disseminated, only calls out nudity for Berger, if memory serves. Apparently the authors want to give directors wide latitude in the staging of these scenes.
I can see nudity also being used in the joyous “Hare Krishna” celebration that culminates in the draft card burning. When Claude is unable burn his draft card, the whole celebratory mood should crash, and the tribe would then cover up (a la Adam and Eve finding shame when they get knowledge of the “real world” and, hence, fall from the Garden of Eden) as Claude sings “Where Do I Go?”
An interesting take on this scene was presented in the exemplary California State University Northridge production. During “Hare Krishna” a parachute was dropped and used to cover over most of the tribe. As the song continued, the people around the periphery of the parachute wafted it up and down revealing flashes of the tribe members underneath simulating fucking or other sexual acts although still clothed. The parachute was finally lowered, and a naked Claude emerged through its center hole singing “Where Do I Go?” (a la Botticelliâ€™s “Birth of Venus” painting). Claude, while singing, walked forward across the parachute (much like Christ walking on water) and, gathering it around himself, pulled it off from the now naked tribe members underneath, who then stood up for the completion of the song.
Well, I guess Iâ€™ve rambled on much too long, which is usual for me. Iâ€™d love to hear any comments or other opinions.
Blessed be with peace, love, freedom, and happiness!