excepts from
Hippiness Can be Happiness
by Walter Kerr
The New York Times November 19, 1967

NOTE: This article was a review of several shows. Where you see "......" parts relating to the other shows reviewed in this article have been cut.

During the past 10 days or so we have been offered two new auditoriums, two new carloads of hippies, and three pregnant girls. Suppose we take them up in that disorder.

The new auditoriums are lookalikes, and both excellent. One, the Public Theater which the indefatigable Joseph Papp has succeeded in inserting in the magnificent shell of the old Astor Library, is a double vault: banks of seats swoop downward as though we were on our way with Poe on the maelstrom while skylights swoop upward in a kind of mirror image, suspending us between the dome and the deep. A folk-rock musical, Hair, scampers up and down the steep aisles, clambers over a stairwell leading to a lofty musicians' platform, clings cheerily and perilously to pillars as the thrashed guitars clang on.


Now to hippies. The subject comes up naturally because the musical with which Mr. Papp has chosen to open his downtown theater is swarming with them, and because broadway, chugging away uptown, has recently given us two nearly identical investigations of the generation gap. A peculiar difference pops up here. On Broadway where plays are mostly written by middle aged men, hippies tend to be loathsome, and also unreal, even when the playwright at hand wishes to be reasonably fair to them.


On Broadway the hippies themselves are essentially humorless.

Not so downtown, in Hair. Here, closer to the Village in fact and in spirit, the kids in the crummy clothes are light of heart and quick of lip. The elders aren't entirely dismissed, or done out of their rights. Mother is perfectly capable of taking a long, judicious look at her bobcat son and asking "Besides disheveled what do you want to be?" But the boys and girls who leap, lounge, sass, and splatter until one of them suggests "Let's go to the park and scare some tourists." are a bright eyed bunch who can grin and mean it. Even when a fudgey tourist turns moistly benevolent about them, praising them as charming little "flower pots", they stay one up on her, refusing to sentimentalize themselves. Therein lies their real charm. They are impertinent, outrageous, and, for this moment in time, happy - happy to be candid in all directions. If one of them is serious about ducking the draft, he is serious in his way, not some getting-on playwright's. "I want to be over here doing the things they're over there defending." he says beaming. These aren't hippies who want to shut anybody out; their faces are open, asking everybody in.

The entertainment is loose jointed, up and down, ebulliently amateur (sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally), reserving a sly streak of professionalism for certain musical moments. It won't warm your heart entirely. When the youngsters stop being gleefully outspoken to sprawl out in a pot party, they have really stopped. The sense of copping-out and of ultimate futility, becomes unpleasantly strong. But what is unpleasant and futile is mixed with a zest and an abandon that speak up for themselves. The good humor, when it comes, is as genuine as it is irreverent, and the abrasively thrummed songs, which are feebly kidded on Broadway, are made unmistakably attractive. I'd think a while before trading off the memory of a child named Shelley Plimpton hands behind her back and her long, light hair spilling toward her dungarees, singing a carefully unrhymed lament called "Frank Mills", imploring anyone who finds this vanished hero in a crash helmet to please tell him that "Angela and I don't want the two dollars back." In any event, if you are seriously interested in getting a whiff of what the hippies of the world can't be serious about, I'd do my research at Hair, not up in the forties.


copyright 1967 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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