PEOPLE CONSTANTLY TALK about the good old days. A few years ago, they reminisced about the flatulent fifties, a time when McCarthyism and bobby socks were in vogue. Compared to the turbulent sixties, the fifties seemed peaceful and secure. Now that the seventies have reached the home stretch, nostalgia tripping has reverted to the more stormy sixties; many students look wistfully at this bygone era of rebellion and commitment. But this "look backward" runs the risk of idealizing the past, completely ignoring the problems of the previous decade. The Dunster Drama Society production of Hair (book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt McDermot) avoids this trap, however, by presenting a harsh picture of 1968 reality with a spirit of raw energy and vitality.
Hair has very little plot, but it does not really need one. As its framework, the play focuses on Claude's (Bruce Comins) decision whether to burn his draft card or to march off to Southeast Asia. On a more fundamental level, it examines the relations between youth and the Establishment. Closer to home than the Vietnam War, the real battle occurs between the Hair tribe and its parents and teachers. Once Claude is drafted and Berger (Todd King) is kicked out of school, it becomes evident that the adults hold the upper hand.
What is most remarkable about Stephen Drury's direction is his refusal to classify the Hair tribe as either totally good or evil. If the adults are demons, at least the tribe is not a chorale of angels. Drury emphasizes this point at the beginning of the show, when the tribe insults and practically terrorizes the audience. These juveniles are not sweet, innocent, or even well-balanced; their parents' society has twisted them into self-centered bullies. Sheila (Ann Singer), Berger's much maligned and mistreated lover, carries Drury's message in "Easy to Be Hard." In this song, Sheila mourns Berger's misplaced priorities, since he only cares "about the bleeding crowd," not "about a needing friend." The nude scene near the close of the first act also effectively depicts the dark side of the tribe's rebellion. Stripping while under arrest, the tribe members appear stark naked rather than alluringly nude.
DESPITE THEIR EGOCENTRICITY, the tribe members evoke sympathy for their cause. Hair extends beyond individuals to a more depersonalized and timeless struggle against the status quo, a fight that appears doomed before it reaches the battlefield. When Claude is carted off to Vietnam, he leaves the tribe behind, singing about "facing a dying nation" and pleading to "let the sunshine in." By this time, the audience is completely on their side.
Still another key to Hair's success is the strength of the two male leads, King and Comins. King captures Berger's dualistic personality, alternating between sneering malevolence and good-natured dynamism. His feeling for his fellow man constantly grapples with his vanity. A more sympathetic character, Comins is just starry-eyed enough for the visionary Claude, who pretends to be a native of Manchester, England, an alien from another planet, and Aquarius, destined for "madness or greatness." Comins' sublime voice is another asset; judging from his performance, it is hard to believe that he was battling a cold last weekend.
Though less important, the female stars are not so impressive. Singer modulates her voice well, but her acting suffers from lack of direction as she continually repeats the same confused or bitter facial expressions. Boo Shreeve's Jeannie whines and giggles a bit too much; she would be more at home in an "Archie" comic book. Of the remaining males in the cast, Woof (Jay Baer) projects puppy dog charm, particularly in the scene where he ecstatically praises Mick Jagger.
The rest of the cast comes alive in the superb musical numbers. Showing classical grace in his dancing, Hud (Duquincy Cooks) sparkles the company's renditions of "Colored Spade" and the drug-induced "Walking in Space." Leslye Freeman, as Dionne, delivers a spicey, soul version of "White Boys." The songs steam along with the powerful backing of a rock band, which builds to a fervent finale in the title number. But the band becomes successfully muted for the soul-searching lyrics of "Easy to Be Hard" and "Where Do I Go."
More uneven than the music, the choreography in the first act often makes the songs drag. Too often the tribe members crawl like insects about the stage, and they seem out of syncopation in several numbers. By the second act, their timing improves remarkably; "3500's" dancers rival the Rockettes inuvovgfination. Also stunningly choreographed, Claude's hallucinations during "Walking in Space" demonstrate convincingly the horrors of war throughout time.
Unlike the choreography, the setting and costumes show little imagination. Berger wears the compulsory red, white and blue flag shirt, and the entire cast is decked out in their most ragged blue jeans. Anti-war symbols and flowers abound; even the tie-dyed backdrop sports a large peace sign. But because the actors do not restrict themselves to the stage, instead mixing with the audience, the low budget scenery is barely noticeable.
All of these quibbles are minor if placed beside the energy and spirit of the show; it is not easy to be hard on this play. When Comins sings "I Got Life," he speaks for the entire cast. This production of Hair manages to let the sunshine into a darkened Dunster House dining room, showing just a glimpse of an era of madness and greatness.