BWW Reviews: A Square Finds A Round Space In Short North Theatre's Production Of HAIR

BWW Reviews: A Square Finds A Round Space In Short North Theatre's Production Of HAIR

In the movie, "FIELD OF DREAMS," Annie Kinsella attacks a conservative member of the school board who wants to ban the writings of Terrance Mann with the line, "I think if you had just experienced the Sixties ..."

After Beulah says indignantly "I experienced the Sixties," Kinsella retorts "No, I think you had two Fifties and moved right into the Seventies."

I was too young to experience the Sixties the first time around (I turned 4 in 1969), but thanks to the Short North Theatre's production of HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL, audiences may get a chance to experience a small taste of what it was like to be in the counterculture of a volatile moment in American history. The poignant, two-act musical runs April 5 through April 29 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).

Set in the bohemian section of New York City, HAIR follows a tribe of young hippie radicals as they rebel against the Vietnam War and the conventions of conservative America. At the center of the play is a love polygon among (but not limited to) Claude (played by Max Meyers), Berger (Joe Joseph), and Sheila (Melissa Hall) with several different offshoots to the different members of the tribe. Jeanie (Kait Marie Descutner), who is in love with Claude but is pregnant with the child of some "speed freak," tries to make sense of the mathematical relationships of the tribe: "I'm hung up on Claude, Sheila's hung up on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger." (Remember this is the Sixties and this will all make sense).

Parts of the show are as difficult to follow as these relationships. At times, it seems like the audience is watching a sketch from LAUGH-IN through a kaleidoscope including an acid trip involving mascot-headed versions of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. Through the haze of these drug induced visions, Claude emerges with a clear anti-war message. He wrestles with his commitment to the tribe and his desire to please his parents and conservative America by succumbing to the Vietnam War draft. While the rest of the tribe burn their draft cards, Claude burns his library card instead.

At the end of the first act, Claude ponders his future while members of the tribe strip away their costumes for the moving "Where Do I Go?" The Short North Stage has never been a troupe to shy away from nudity while performing ANGELS IN AMERICA, THE FULL MONTY and THRILL ME: THE STORY OF LEOPOLD AND LOEB. Ed Carignan's steady direction keeps the nudity from being erotic and/or a cheap gimmick but as something artistic and freeing.

A talented cast brings writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado's period piece to life. In addition to the actors already mentioned, Tyrell Reggins (Hud), Eli Brickey (Chrissy), Joshua Houghton (Woof), Sydney Arterbridge (Dionne) and a host of others elevate the show into something that amuses, confuses and ultimately infuses a lasting impression by the time the curtain falls. Looking like a figure from the late Chris Farley's lunch lady sketch, Ryan Kopycinski offers some comic relief as his turn as Margaret Meade, a tourist who gets swept into the hippie culture.

For a counterculture show, HAIR is packed with many Broadway chestnuts such as "Age of Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine," "Let the Sunshine In," and the title track. The Fifth Dimensions combination of "Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" reached the top of the pop charts and Oliver's cover of "Starshine" hit number three. However, the lesser known tracks such as "Black Boys," "White Boys," "Frank Mills" and "I'(M) Black" are just as compelling.

In short, HAIR still resonates with those who didn't experience the Sixties as well as those whose hairlines are now receding after going through them.

HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL continues its run at the Garden Theatre. Showtimes are 8 p.m. April 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28 with 3 p.m. matinees on April 8, 15, 22, and 29. Call (614) 725-4042 for details.

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From This Author Paul Batterson

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