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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Hair at EPAC in Ephrata, Pennsylvania

            Last night, my wife and I took my mom to see Hair at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center. After taking her to dinner at the Brickerville House, it was a nice early Mother’s Day present since we will be in Virginia Beach next weekend celebrating the end of the teaching part of my spring classes (though I’ll be grading classwork until Tuesday due to the need to take late assignments).
            As always, local theater is spectacular for doing what it does (the following review is not of the actors - they were great, but more of a cultural analysis of the story they were telling). This action of taking large shows and bringing them to theaters close to home is always a hit, and we get some unique things in the Sharidan Bigler Theater. From Lion King Jr. to King Lear this year alone there is a variety to choose from (my wife sees a lot of things – I only saw Shrek). Here, Hair fits in nicely by bringing sex, drugs, rock and roll, and rebellion to Amish Paradise, Pennsylvania, which doesn’t really seem like that kind of a place, though we do have a guy in town who wears a GG Allin jacket.
            Unsure what to expect with the R rating for full frontal nudity, drug use, language, and constant sexual talk and actions, we went wondering what the scale of full frontal nudity would be in one of those, “Whose nipples, orifices, and appendages am I going to see with my mom (or her mother in law, with regard to my wife)?” The answer ended up being far less than Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls,Girls” video and more like a bunch of people of both sexes stripping out of hippie clothes while standing in shadows for slightly less than a minute.
            Here, they successfully showed that the body in all of its forms is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of, though I think to myself with all of the pre-existing conditions that the 3 of us and many other people have, how concealing we should be of what our bodies have done. As I think of this, I hope for a fight in the Senate or at least enough leg-dragging that a new House and Senate don’t accept this, but even I personally don’t think they can last 2 years. Better hope for the aliens to come instead.
            Anyway, when the human bodies in their birthday suits were done being displayed, the theater went dark. At that moment, the end of the humorous and fun half of the show ended in an intermission that gave way to a New York City blackout and the seriousness of Claude’s decision to go to war or to skip the draft. Sure, there was the hallucination scene, which was a little surrealism and racial politics mixed with current events and a more accessible form of Trout Fishing in America (I still don’t know what that was about – maybe I need to ask the ghost of Richard Brautigan), but it felt like 2 different plays at that part other than having the rampant hedonism and youthful visions of a better world on display from a different perspective.

            For me, I liked the first half, but I got lost in the second half, which occasionally felt like an opportunity to throw every current issue and the kitchen sink into one play. As an author, I have always felt that all writing should lead to somewhere… i.e. necessary points. I am big on background and character building, and frankly, for all of the background of characters given in the first half, it was like they were forgotten in the second half. Then again, maybe that was intentional since it didn’t feel like many of the characters went anywhere deeper. Well, Claude gets a moral decision, but nobody else does. Instead, it’s continuing to pine over unrequited love, getting stoned, sleeping around, and scaring tourists. If that’s your deal, more power to you, but I’m personally past considering that as a place I want to be in life.
            In Hair, life seems groovy and fun at first, and it ends there with the sun shining in and the whole cast and some of the audience dancing, but as a whole, there are a couple of points where the writer reveals that all is not so perfect in Utopia. Between begging for money, jealousy and exclusivity in some relationships that should have been free love, and being based out of mind all of the time, it just gets old for this part of the audience and the cast themselves.

            And maybe it’s because I am old, but even in my younger alternative / indie / punk / grunge rock days (the picture above is a 1-night only event - New Year's Eve 1989 when my girlfriend and friend took my hair up to do the Robert Smith thing before I shaved it all off the next day to get ready for the Air Force the following April), there had to be some kind of a purpose, even if it was just to search for whatever the hell it was. Sure, music and happiness goes a long way and so do charismatic, youthful, and attractive friends, some of whom might be nice for sweaty, naked moments, but there needs to be some kind of a point to all of this and to even have conversation after the body fluids part is over.

Thinking back on all of the rebellion and discovery of youth, what bothered me the most in growing older and wiser (theoretically) was the lack of personal connection beyond just enjoying some of the same music and going to the same clubs that I had with some people (though other people were awesome and life-altering). Even having similar political and philosophical values was something more positive than just “dancing the night away” (as 7 Seconds would sing), but in the late 80s / early 90s, everyone was seeking to find themselves as something (I’m sure this is any period of time). For those of us who came together in places, we had some things in common, but then came the subdivisions. For me, I left for my Air Force days in what I always felt was the nick of time as people started to break off and divide different ways. Other people stayed while more waited until graduation to move on toward their futures.
“It just isn’t the same,” I could hear inside of my head. It made me wonder how many of the Tribe felt this way, too.
Back in the show, there was a point where Claude reached that with a giant FU to everything, which was right before he accepted his destiny and went into the draft. Before that, it seemed like all he wanted was someone to hold onto.
“Screw Canada. Give me a real friend.”
Hell, he even said that in so many words, but the best answer he got was “tomorrow, we’ll protest for you.”
I just sat there in my 45 year old self saying, “But I need you tonight. Tomorrow is too late. Go run off with the cool guy who treats you like crap. I see where I stand, so the Hell with you.”
I think of the words from Michael Franti’s “Music and Politics” and realize “that the personal revolution is far more difficult and the first step in any revolution,” and I want to shake the character Sheila and say, “What the hell?”
Then again, maybe I’m just too old, and I need to let life and theater take its course.
And that’s where I just remembered how even my younger self felt lost with some of the hippie message, though he would have given some of it more leeway than my older self does. Sure, there is music the older me likes, and some of the fierce independent spirit and commitment to things like love, philosophy, causes like being a person first and the Earth matter to this me, but looking at it from history shows why Woodstock, Manson, Altamont, Kent State, and the 1970s happened. From disco to punk to stadium rock onto Nixon, Ford, and Carter and through to gas lines, muscle cars, political changes, cultural stagnation, and the Cold War, we were living in the war between worlds that showed what Watergate, Vietnam, and OPEC had brought to America.
Who the hell were we?
Someday soon, will someone write a musical on this time we live in now as we wonder who we are as a society with partisan, economic, cultural, religious, and philosophical distinctions and changes in our time? How will Trump, the death of Obama Care, transgender bathrooms, vaccine fights, Afghanistan / Syria / Iraq, global warming, millennial friendly eateries, social media, hip hop, long-term insurmountable debt, evil organizations with the word BIG in front of them, and manipulated media from all sides figure into it (having never seen American Idiot, I’m not sure if someone didn’t try to write some of this before)?
Sometimes, I just think I’ll end up being Eugene O’Neill’s Hairy Ape, when the time comes. Personally, I see that as how Claude felt when he laid there on the American flag at the end as the snow fell down and the lights dimmed.
And that’s when the current me wonders just where I need to fit in with following the rules of the personal, economic, physical, political, and philosophic systems I’m embedded in and to not call the frustrations with them  corruption, entitlement, a "Dead Generation" (since we're so much more than "Lost"). or permanent rage.
Frankly, I’m still just wondering if there is such a thing as a solo ethical revolution or if it’s all just Berenger refusing to capitulate, but maybe that's just my trip.

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