For those of you who weren't alive or may have been a little flippy-outy at the time, here's a little pot, that is, plot summary of "Hair," which premiered 30 years ago at New York's Public Theater:
A "tribe" of teen-age hippies gather in Greenwich Village. Hippie Claude is conflicted about burning his draft card. His charismatic hippie soul mate Berger, along with his other anti-establishment friends, encourage him to do it. Dreamy, pregnant Jeanie is hung up on Claude, who's hung up on NYU protester Sheila, who's hung up on Berger, who's hung up on everything.
The tribe's lifestyle includes frequent recreational drug use and sodomizing of the status quo.
It's set to a famous score ranging from woozy, Eastern-tinged melodies to rock to Motown to ballads.
The groovy revolution. The Age of Aquarius. The full frontal nudity.
If things are still a little hazy, you're in luck. You can catch the "American tribal love rock musical" at the Studio Theatre Secondstage in Washington through Aug. 31. But don't expect the mixed aroma of cannabis and body odor that characterized the original run.
The cast's hair is pretty tame; the actors are clean. Decked out in groovy garb, the tribe looks more like an Urban Outfitters ad than disheveled, defiant hippies. It's as if the cast of "Rent" just traveled back in time 30 years.
When "Hair" premiered in 1967, it was a spitfire, a slap in the face to both the social establishment and the establishment of traditional Broadway musicals. It survived a tepid '70s revival and an improbable 1979 movie.
After 30 years, youth culture doesn't know LBJ from NBC. But the resurgence of "Hair" is not so shocking if you just take a look around.
We have '60s-style outdoor concerts such as the Lilith Fair. Bell-bottoms and platforms are all the rage. And not only does popular music mimic '60s style, but Beck's "Hippie Chick" off his "Mellow Gold" album has more than a few things in common with Berger's itinerant obsession "Donna," "San Francisco's psychedelic urchin."
There's plenty of evidence that "Hair" isn't washed up.
And it's gone beyond the United States. Barbara Lee Horn, author of "The Age of Hair," travels all over the world giving academic papers on the show. On a recent trip to Puebla, Mexico, she was thrilled to see the kids of that country show interest in "Hair."
"I knew I had an audience when I saw the way they were dressed," said Horn, associate professor for the department of speech and theater at St. John's University in Jamaica, New York. "When you see the Manic Panic [hair dye], it's the colorful expression all over again."
Still, a lot of "Hair's" references are foreign to young actors and audiences, whose knowledge of '60s lore mostly comes from old Beatles albums and vintage clothing stores. Even rudimentary plot points are lost on them, such as the military draft.
"The very idea that the government could impose itself on your life in such a major way seemed absurd and completely against their understanding of American values," said Dr. Donald Marinelli, 44, associate professor of drama and arts management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The "aging hippie professor," whose hair is well past the shoulders, realized that although modern audiences may not be able to fully groove with "Hair," it's not a sign of Gen-X degeneration. It's just different experiences in a different time.
For example, the outdated words. "Some of [the actors] still don't feel comfortable with the tripping language of the time," says Meade Andrews, co-choreographer for the D.C. production "Hair."
"I noticed the cast was asking a lot of questions," says Betsy Yancey, an intern at the Studio Theatre, who served as psychedelic dramaturg to help the cast members get down with the lingo.
Yancey, 20, a student at Florida State University, created a glossary of terms that also included facts about '60s history and important personalities. Kama Sutra, Hare Krishna and some other terms were easy to find. The trickier ones called for a pop culture reference book. She also pulled out a medical dictionary to identify Dexamyl, Thorazine and the entire cavalcade of narcotics.
"And for some, I went to my younger brother," she says.
Not all cast members are out of tune with the era. K'dara Korin, 25, who plays Hud, considers himself a '90s flower child.
"I may have been reincarnated," says Korin, who has done "Hair" before. "This was the musical I knew I had to do before I die."
Korin may know a lot about the '60s, but he doesn't know what a Mau Mau is.
According to Yancey's glossary, it's an African revolutionary-terrorist opposing European settlers.
The term isn't exactly politically correct, and it helps account for Hair's enduring shock value. Maybe we're less wowed by nudity and four-letter words, but we're even more sensitive to racial slurs. The p.c. consciousness makes the song "Colored Spade" even more risque. In it, Hud goes through an entire catalog of epithets, from jigaboo to Mau Mau to pickaninny.
And then, of course, there are the drugs and sex.
The heroin lifestyles portrayed in movies such as "Pulp Fiction" and "Trainspotting" make a toking tribe of hippies look pretty harmless to contemporary audiences.
Still, director Keith Baker made an effort to play down the drugs, an approach that is highly challenging in "Hair."
Joints (sage is used in the Studio Theatre production) are limited to the strictly drug-involved numbers, instead of cast members dangling them at every opportunity.
The youth of America may have been on LSD, according to the tribe, but the writers of the play, James Rado and the late Jerome Ragni, claimed they weren't when they conceived and wrote the book and lyrics.
"People asked us, 'Boy, what were you on?' " says Rado, who played a stint as Claude on Broadway. "We were on the high of being around the scene."
As far as free love goes, the sexually ambiguous character Woof still tests the limits of the carnal vocabulary with the song "Sodomy," and there are hints of three-way interest in the Claude-Sheila-Berger triad. But in this production, sex mostly amounts to free-flowing groping and communal closeness.
And, of course, the nude scene. At the end of the first act, the cast, led by Claude, walks in a circle, peeling off layers. For a matter of seconds, the motion ceases, and the cast stands naked in a circle. Then the lights go out.
Audiences have grown numb to sex and drugs in popular entertainment. But some critics still believe "Hair" is irresponsible in light of today's knowledge of AIDS and the devastating results of illicit drug use.
Opinions are split on the issue of cutting "Hair."
"Updating the material would be taking it out of context," says Horn. "It is a reflection of the '60s."
Recently, Rado attended an updated version in Connecticut that catapulted "Hair" into the '90s. Instead of Claude's conflicts over Vietnam, the issue was whether or not Jeanie should get an abortion. Instead of being a casualty of war, Claude was killed in a drive-by shooting. And O.J. even made a surprise appearance.
TC Rado said the production was well done, but added, "I still think 'Hair' has to be preserved."
Although "Hair" draws the bulk of its relevance from the '60s, that doesn't mean it's strictly a period piece.
The environment is still an issue, though we don't refer to pollution as "fallout atomic orgasm" any more.
Never out of style
And some themes are never dated: fear of dying, the pain of unrequited love, the generation gap, Claude's identity crisis.
Horn believes "Hair's" greatest legacy is its inquisitive side, whether it be questioning identity, authority or the nature of cruelty. And she notes that we're still looking for the answers to many of the questions "Hair" posed.
But what about the man who asked the questions?
Rado saw the Studio Theatre production two nights in a row, and he's coming back next week with "Hair's" composer, Galt McDermot.
And even after 30 years, he joined the audience in the collective sobbing accompanying "Let the Sunshine In."
L "It got me," he says. "All of a sudden, I burst out crying."
He snapped pictures with a disposable camera through the performance. And after the show, he signed autographs for the predominantly twentysomething cast.
They gathered around him, awed.
What's the big deal?
;/ Haven't you ever seen a real hippie before?
ON ITS OWN TERMS
Studio Theatre intern Betsy Yancey had to look up obscure terms from the '60s to help the young members of "Hair's" cast understand what they were singing. Here's a sampling of the terms, some of which made it into Yancey's glossary:
Age of Aquarius: An age of peace that could happen now or could occur as long as 300 years from now, after a time of pestilence.
Ectoplasm: The outer, relatively rigid, granule-free layer of the cytoplasm usually held to be a thixotropic gel. (Clears it up, doesn't it?)
Astral projection: Throwing forth the spirit within.
APC: A mix of aspirin, phenacetin, caffeine.
Humphery Dumphery: Hubert Humphrey, Democratic candidate for president in 1968. Defeated by Nixon.
Three-Five-Zero-Zero: Number of casualties per week at the height of the Vietnam war.
Other terms from the script that defy definition: Super goosey gassy and gliddy glup gloopy.
Where: Studio Theatre Secondstage, 1333 P St. N.W.
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through Aug. 31
Tickets: $15 dollars for floor, $25 for chair (tickets available for final week)
Pub Date: 8/09/97