Opening of Hair in Capital Tops Hectic Week
The New York Times - March 13, 1971

Washington, March 12 - A gala affair, graced with assorted Senators, ambassadors and social superstars, welcomed the Age of Aquarius to the nation's capital tonight at the official opening here of Hair.

The opening, which was the climax of a hectic week of benefits and parties centered on the play, also drew a sizable representation of producer Michael Butler's family, his astrologer and friends from the Eastern half of the United States.

"We've been pretty dull around here." admitted Margo Hahn, one of the few acknowledged Republican swingers and wife of Gilbert Hahn Jr., chairman of the District of Columbia City Council.   "maybe it's the war mood on us or something.  But I think we need a Hair to shake us up.  I haven't seen it yet, which is embarrassing, but it's one of the few plays I'd cross the street to see.  I can't imagine not going.  It would be like having a baby and not reading Dr. Spock."

The excitement about Hair started to build weeks ago.  "It's curious, but it's all anyone's talking about." said a matron who prefers sailboats to parties.

About 40 different charities originally applied to the Hair management for the first four performances set aside for benefits.  The four that won out had to compete for the few visibly glamorous Washingtonians.

In the meantime, ordinary, nonglamorous people were storming the box office.  Theater party sales have passed $130,000 and are climbing.  They include such respectable customers as a Methodist church and Bishop McNamara High School in the suburbs.

"We're going to cut across all creeds, colors, ages, everything." said a pleased Michael Butler. "Washington has too many tensions now.  This is a good time for Hair to come."  It hadn't come before because of contractual constrictions.

At the first opening, a preview for the Workshop for Careers in the Arts on Tuesday, it was clear that something slightly different had struck Washington.  A Hollywood type of searchlight illuminated the soot of Pennsylvania Avenue while a rock band called The New Breed clogged pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the National Theater.  But the best part was the audience, a rare mixture of black and white, old and young, rich and not too rich, and kids in jeans.  It was a preview for the rest of the week.

Old-line social Washington - Philipses, Cafritzes, Guests, Blaires, Roosevelts and Mellons - showed up at the first preview mainly in discreet midi and smooth coif.  Theatrical and art-world figures such as Geraldine Page, Robert Hooks and Sheila Isham, the painter, ran the range from basic black to colorful dirndl.

A few of the younger republicans - the John D. Ehrlichmans, and the Donald Rumsfelds (of the White House staff) and the Joseph Blatchfords (of the Peace Corp) - rubbed and bumped shoulders with the students from the workshop who donned West African robes, or beads and fringes, or basic blue jeans.  particularly noticeable were the many prominent black Washingtonians.

"We're finally coming out of the woodwork." noted 23-year-old Peggy Cooper, the slim, black dynamo who started the workshop and planned the benefit with the help of her friends, black and white.

At the Tuesday performance, tiny Mrs. Nicholas Longworth, the dowager empress of Washington's society, found Hair delightful.  "I am enjoying myself enormously.  I can't imagine that anyone would be shocked." she said.

There were, however, a few empty seats after the intermission so there may have been sensibilities more fragile in attendance.  "Maybe their kids got the chicken pox like my son did at 6 the morning after." suggested William McCormick Blair, director of the Kennedy Cultural Center, who was exhausted, not shocked.

The party after the performance, held on Garfinckle's Designer Floor, featured another rock band, champagne, and far later hours than Washington, which customarily starts work at 8:30, is used to.

Wednesday night the benefit preview was for the Urban League, and among the dignitaries were representative Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn, another contingent from the White House staff - William Safire and Leonard Garment - and several ambassadors.

Thursday was the night for the swinging inner city church, St. Stephen of the Incarnation (Anglican).  On hand were Senator and Mrs. George McGovern, the Robert E. Lees and a singing group from Lorton Reformatory called the Inner Voices.

Today the city braced for the final event, the opening as designed and choreographed by Mr. Butler.

"Michael does things like an impresario, like a Mike Todd." said Mrs. Jacob K. Javitz, who was hostess at a Senate luncheon for him yesterday.  "He has charisma.  He has a way of attracting people."

Tonight he attracted some 300 Washingtonians and out-of-towners via a Metroliner car, and airliner from Chicago and limousines in the district.

"There isn't a Rolls to be found." lamented one assistant who was planning the festivities: cocktails before curtain time and a daisy-bedecked dinner after the show.

For the occasion, which he insisted was a major one - "This is the nations capital" - Mr. Butler wore the 115 year old dinner coat he had worn to the first opening of Hair in New York.  However, his best friends and relatives, a sister, a couple of brothers and an entourage of Hair specialists were sartorially more resplendent.

Mrs. Wendy deFiguerado, his sister, started the evening in a tattered chamois mini with beads and escalated to multicolored folds of a long skirt that she was unwilling to describe.  " De Sant Angelo did it for me." she said. "I just love his clothes."

Mrs. Clem Stein of Chicago wore rainbow turkey feathers and gold chain mail that she designed; while Countess Marla Crummere, Mr. Butler's astrologer, wore renaissance gold filigree dress and Juliet cap.

These distinguished guests were met by a set of pickets and counter-pickets for and against the production at the theater entrance.  One woman circled in the wrong group for 10 minutes before realizing her mistake.

Most of Washington took Hair to heart as others have before.

Liz Carpenter, former press secretary for Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, thought the play showed "no plot and no talent".  Several other prominent Washington figures were sufficiently shocked by the sex in the play to leave prematurely.

Perhaps more significant for this political city, there were few gasps at the political satire.  Students in the audience howled at the picket sign "Nixon is Rosemary's baby" while their elders giggled more reservedly.  There was no vocal protest.

However, a group of people, mainly Roman Catholics and Fundamentalists, took an advertisement in The Washington Star to protest that "Hair pollutes the air."

A spokesman for the group, who admitted he hadn't seen the play, said, "You don't have to see it to know what's going on.  You don't have to drown to know about drowning."

Mrs. Walter E. Washington, wife of the Mayor, who served as honorary chairman of the workshop benefit, commented, "I guess you could say that we in the South have gotten more sophisticated.  We can accept diverse points of view.  I did receive a few pieces of mail asking how I, the First Lady of the city, could be involved in this kind of thing.  But they were all from people who hadn't seen the play.  We need to encourage reason, not hysteria."

Copyright The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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