A Drama Teacher’s Review of a College Production of “HAIR”

Sent to me by playwright Robert Patrick; I thought this would be of interest to the group.


“When my sister got married in the mid-80’s, they used an old model A as the bridal limo for their getaway from the reception. The car was dragged out of the barn where it was being kept, polished up, and driven to the church. After the reception, the bride and groom came out, rice was thrown, they got in the back seat of the car, an uncle got in front, and the car wouldn’t start. Tried again. Nothing. The hood came up, and a number of helpful young men took off their jackets and rolled up their sleeves. Still nothing. About then, my father and a couple of other men of his generation stepped up, tapped the helpful young men on the shoulder and explained:
“You’re too young to get this car started.”
The helpful young men stepped off, the grey lions took of their jackets, tickled the carburetor, gave the engine a crank (with an actual crank!) and the model A sputtered to life. The old lions smiled. Their life experience had been validated.
I found myself thinking about that model A during the intermission of a production of Hair I saw last week at XXXXXXX University. I wanted to tap someone on the shoulder. They meant well, but they were just too young to make that play turn over.

Hair hit Broadway when I was 13 years old. I never saw a professional production, but I bought the soundtrack and listened to it for years–not that the record was necessary. Hair had more top-40 hits in it than any musical before or since. As a suburban American teenager, Hair informed me. It showed me a pattern for a life I wasn’t yet exposed to. It told me how the world was changing around me.

That same year, I heard on the radio about the police riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. I knew there was a war going on in America. The young people were on one side. The old people were on the other. A year later, when I was in high school, I started to meet young men who were being drafted as soon as they turned 18. They broadcast the draft lottery on the radio. Just like the songs from Hair. Of course, by the time I was in high school I was too hip to admit I listened to top 40.

As the audience shuffled out of the theatre to the rest rooms, I leaned over to Jane. “It’s not their fault. They think the sixties were like Austin Powers. They just don’t understand.”

A few things that I understand that the kids don’t:
Half of the peace sign is the middle finger. It was a sign of defiance. It meant “Stop this fucking war!” Not a flaccid, groovy hand sign that said “oh wow, I’m too stoned to care.” I have tried to explain to young people what it felt like to watch your friends go from high school graduation directly to the induction center. They don’t have a handle for that kind of rage. Thank God. Julie Taymor understands. Check out “Across the Universe.”
Dancing in unison should be done by two groups: Rockettes and cheerleaders. Hippies never did anything in unison.
“Black Boys/White Boys” isn’t about any kind of racial superiority or inferiority. It’s about the joys of miscegenation, which had been illegal in many parts of America until 1967. It was also a coded gay message. Remember, Hair was written by some gay boys from Texas.

There were a few high points in the production: Several of the female vocalists had voices that were heartbreakingly beautiful. The set was sparse and functional, a statement in and of itself. The rear projection screens added a much needed visual dimension.

Was the production a complete washout? No, not at all. It made the audience think, and that’s always a good thing.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a production of Hair sometime around the 50th anniversary of its first off-off production at the Public Theatre. The more I think about it, the more I think it shouldn’t be a museum-quality replica. I think I’ll need to do an updated production that has more to do with the lives of the actors on stage and the audience in the theatre than the ghosts of the past. Great art can do that.”




This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008 at 9:56 AM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

5 Responses to “A Drama Teacher’s Review of a College Production of “HAIR””

  1. Nina Dayton said:

    Thanks for posting that Ross. Some very good, and well made, points there.

    Although I’m not sure where he/she got the “some gay boys from Texas” part. 🙂

  2. Bil Gonzalez said:

    I once saw a production that stripped out all profanity and drug references – yes, total chunks were missing. The director wanted to present the “happy” part of the ’60’s. Totally clueless. It has always bewildered me that people think HAIR is only about bell-bottoms, head bands, peace signs and Good Morning Starshine. Even the movie was “deeper” than that.

  3. barbara siomos said:

    Awesome article thanks for sending…

  4. Gibson DelGiudice said:

    Well, I can see the “gay” part from things I’ve since learned…but Texas? Maybe that’s based on the fact that last I heard Gerry’s son lived there now.

  5. JohnZ said:

    Hello RJ,

    Thanks, Ross, for posting this article. It raised quite a few interesting issues, and I’d like to first comment on the Professor’s comparison between the “Peace” hand gesture versus the “Fuck You” hand gesture.

    I had always been bothered as to how, and why, the two-fingered “V for Victory” symbol, that was made very popular by Winston Churchill during World War II and later adopted by President Richard Nixon as a victory symbol, would be chosen by the peace movement!

    My brother told me an interesting story about the gesture’s origin. He heard
    that it was common practice by the French to cut off the first two fingers of
    every English archer that they captured during the Hundred Years War to severely hamper the archer’s ability to hold and release a bow string. As a gesture of defiance, the intact English soldiers would display their two fingers to indicate that there were still archers left to fight the French. It is therefore quite fitting that Winston Churchill should have taken up this defiant symbol from the days of Jehanne D’Arc to rally the British against the Axis Powers.

    The professor’s statement that the gesture be presented defiantly definitely makes sense when it symbolizes “victory,” but, when its message is peace, I believe that various presentations are appropriate depending on the context in which it is offered.

    Even though I am a decade older than the professor, I had never heard anyone contend that one of the fingers in the “V” should be construed as sending a “fuck you” message! To my understanding the standard etiquette of a properly delivered “fuck you” usually entails an underhand sweep of the are … much like pitching a soft ball … ending with the BACK of the hand being displayed with the middle finger pointing at the intended recipient of the message. This clearly looks like an erect penis with the knuckles serving as the scrotal sac.

    The customary presentation of the Peace/Victory gesture usually entails the hand being held overhead, PALM forward, often with the thumb placed across the palm, and the fingers pointed up and forward. These two gestures are similar in only the fact that they are made with extended fingers.

    Clearly, the “fuck you” gesture is a symbol of defiance, and it is most properly delivered accompanied with the appropriate body language. The Peace Gesture, on the other hand MAY be delivered defiantly, with head held high, or more somberly, with head bowed, or in an of a myriad of other ways.

    But, none of the above is informative as to how the “V for Victory” symbol got adopted by the peace movement. If anyone reading this has any knowledge or conjectures on this topic, I would greatly appreciate hearing it.

    Blessed be with peace, love, freedom, and happiness!

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