Half of Hair
On a lovely late August night, I walked out during the intermission of the Public Theater's "Hair" revival at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. My wife, of my generation, and our 19-year-old daughter walked with me. I felt free to do so, since I hadn't gotten a press ticket, which might have obligated me to stay, but had paid the $165 the Public (rightly and cleverly) extracts from those willing to pay to allow themselves to beat the line for the otherwise free tickets.
I walked out because I was offended. The show is the show, same as it ever was. I was a San Francisco/Berkeley quasi-hippie in the 60's, and back then I regarded "Hair" as a benign but utterly false depiction of the world of sex, drugs, rock & roll and relgion -- and politics, too, but that was less central to my 60's -- that I knew. I have always had a resistance to Broadway, and whatever the counter-cultural credentials the creators of "Hair" had or pretended to have, the show seemed manipulative and false even 40 years ago.
Now it looks and sounds manipulative, false and painfully distorted as any kind of insight into what actually happened back then. It's become cheap history. I hardly claim that the era was all wonderful and loving. There was sexism, cynicsm, anger and personal destruction on a grand scale. But there was also a wonderful sense of liberation and thrilling artistic adventure.
Especially, there was great music. There are a couple of catchy tunes in "Hair," but most of the music is pedestrian beyond belief. And the sequence of songs tries lamely to push one cliche, one hot button after another. We get your communal love, your drugs, your sexual experimentation, your race relations and on it goes, maniacally and hectically enacted in Diane Paulus's overwrought production.
Who likes this revival, which is apparently moving to Broadway itself? Most of the people my age, who might have remembered the actual 60's, didn't have many kinds words for it. Maybe younger folk. But what troubled me more than anything is the idea that they think they are actually seeing a real artifact of that decade in this show. It's a crude distortion, destructive in its blatant inaccuracy. Which still might be tolerable if it worked on its own terms as art. But it doesn't, painfully.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.
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