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Theatre Headplay at Theater Workshop Boston, 549 Tremont Street indefinitely

By Jill Curtis

THERE was a time when we got stoned. And once it was the first time-that day your senses revealed their power and a glass of cold orange juice was the best thing that ever happened to you. . . . But that was a long time ago. Maybe a year or two later you dropped your first acid with a friend. And that was far out too, merging with the linoleum on the floor, muttering about unity and totality. Yeah, it's been a long time. Headplay at Theater Workshop Boston is about that first time; it's about the time in between. And it is about now.

Playwright Richard Reichman has produced a history of sorts, a dramatization of the development of the drug culture. Yet Headplay is not about drugs; it uses them as a way of following the mind-expansion, spirit-liberation movement through the last seven years. The characters are nameless-you, me, our friends. Their stories are the stories of some hopes we had, some things we loved and a couple of things we tried to do.

Without making any judgments. Reichman shows how the subculture's beginnings in the Flower Generation-Universal Love phenomenon moved into the great hoax of transcendental meditation, and from there into alienation, separation, and death. The play is structured, to use Reichman's word, like a fugue. Vignettes of life in the drug culture interrupt each other, are occasionally broken by chants, and sometimes take place in total darkness. Yet the interweaving of characters and their stories is not discordant; rather it makes the progression through time and action more like the drug experience itself, with rapid changes in focus, intense concentration on first one idea or person, then another.

Headplay is partially the story of Jerry, a hitchhiker who packs his guitar, leaves his family and girl ("But I thought when somebody sells their stereo and uses the other person's that . . .") and sets out for the Mecca of California. By the time he gets there though, it's over. "The Movement's dead, kid." He hangs around for a while to make sure, but after his guitar gets ripped off and he is beaten up he gets the message and takes the bus home.

What drugs symbolized for a while was a feeling of oneness, unity within the universe. Jerry says, "I am God . . . no really, I am the Messiah." That entire hippie ethic of community of spirit and loving everyone just died somewhere along the track of hepatitis, busts and commercialism. In retrospect, one is struck only by the devastating naivete involved in that movement. While it was drugs that brought that feeling of community, ironically, they also brought an awareness of how isolated people really are Jerry's mother says, "Scientists tells us we are not alone in the universe. That's unlikely-we're alone with each other."

Headplay is also the story of a couple. They first appear rather lightly musing on how the Tibetan Book of the Dead got under their bathtub. As the play progresses the woman gets more involved with drugs and the man more withdrawn into meditation. When communication between the two becomes impossible, the woman decides to leave, shaking the man momentarily out of himself. He asks her to come back in a week when they will go on the best trip ever-the ultimate trip.

The subculture itself has been on that same trip, suicide. It has gone from Haight-Ashbury and Woodstock to Altamont, Hendrix, and Joplin. The music of the middle-and late-sixties is not being made any more. The concept of being brothers with the Panthers and the Vietnamese dragged people into having to care about politics, or not caring at all. And neither option was compatible with the carefree days of mind-expansion.

Finally, Headplay is about failure. It is about ideals and innocence being exchanged for apathy or death. When the lights go down on the last tableau there is a bitter feeling of completion, of having come full circle . . . the ultimate defloration of the Love Generation.

Theater Workshop Boston ( Riot, Tribe, Creation ) has had difficulty in getting through Boston's red tape, but it appears that everyone has been paid off now and Headplay is showing twice a night Thursday through Sunday. The Workshop is designed for "environmental and experimental" theater, housed, ironically enough in a defunct flower market. The "stage" is a large room with cushions clumped about for the audience. Barbara Linden and author Reichman, who directed the play, have used this informal atmosphere to advantage. The action takes place on low platforms in the corners, in and around the audience, emphasizing the ties between the actors and spectators.

The cast is without exception excellent, with Anthony Kahn, Diane Couves and Gary Halcutt turning in especially fine performances. The intimacy between the actors and audience is further heightened by the black cloth which drapes the ceiling, creating a womb-like atmosphere.

Headplay does not judge what has happened in the last seven years. It merely tells some stories from those times. Unfortunately, the drug culture's development, though probably inevitable, does not make a happy story. But even in the harsh light of 1971, it seems good that the attempt to transcend the world as it was in the sixties was made. One character says of the early days of the drug revolution, "There was no word-defining then, nothing second-hand."

Despite the withdrawal from the naive optimism of the mid-sixties, that optimism was important. The quest for a more fulfilling existence is as necessary as it is hopeless.

There are some people who will not drop acid. Because it is too much. Too much of a trip. Of those who will drop it, there are some who are hungry for it . . . these people are on a quest. If you are one of these people you know this about yourself. . . . When you come to acid, you come with the heat of a man given a single last chance. . . . You are without spirituality. So you smother your senses in the garbage of color, light and sound. Here, among the infant molecules of thought, you are subjected to the cool heat of liberation. For each of us is the entirely of All Being in particular.

It all seemed so possible one time.

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