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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Hillel Theater Group presents HAIR!

Published: March 25, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

Your draft notice arrived today.

One of the more revealing lines that gave meaning to Hillel Theater Groups production of the musical HAIR! at Shapiro Theater last Tuesday. Let these words stew in the back of your mind as you read.

HAIR! The Broadway shocker that bared it to audiences with its infamous nude scene. The soundtrack, from my record-rack to my iPod, ringing in my happy ears for years.

HAIR! The musical about hippies, drugs, the Sixties! That decade I was sorry Id missed. It changed America forever. Social conscience, rock that rocked, the epitome of everything I believed in back in high school.

Later on, I came to see the postwar Baby-Boomers as spoiled, unpatriotic brats. This would take two hours to change.

Shapiro was chock full at Tuesdays performance. We just want the audience to have fun, director Brian Paternostro told me. As for the cast, they worked their asses off. It would soon become evident, considering how little time they had had to create an entertaining evening. This was also not the usual acting crowd, and not as experienced. Could they deliver?

The lights revealed a screamingly colorful stage and backdrop. Roughly painted, they had an aspect of summer camp theater. Would the evening measure up?

I wont describe the songs, characters, or actors. No plot to speak of, just a snaphot of a place and time and the alienated youth that occupied it. Mostly just singing, dancing, and introducing themselves. A brief speech, some dialogue, and more singing and dancing. The Vagina Monologues on shrooms. Right from the start, it was indeed fun to watch.

The orchestra featured electric guitar and heavy percussion. Playing at a slowed, brooding pace, it felt like a sultry, smoggy Los Angeles day;

an extended, acid-tripped Greatful Dead jam-session. All of this imparted a hard edge to the production. I had the feeling that the performance lacked electricity, as if the characters were trying but unable to project a youthful energy. What was missing? At some point, insight broke, and so did I.

I realized that the joy and ideals were indeed a forced performance, not on stage, but in the bygone days being portrayed. I was seeing the story of a generation in pain. A story of you and me, being sent to die.

It hurts enough today to imagine fifteen-hundred volunteer soldiers dead in Iraq. How about fifty-thousand dead in Viet Nam, and more sent to replace them each day? Our Presidents turned you off to the letter W? Heres three others for you: L-B-J.

Oh, by the way, son: Your draft notice arrived today. Can you feel it?

HAIR! is not the story of an ungrateful generation, but a generation exploited by an ungrateful nation. Their idealism, however nave, was a courageous defense against despair. Hearing my old favorite songs with this new understanding, I couldnt help but fight a lump in my throat more than a few times, ashamed that I had misunderstood for so long.

Rigid ideology does not always rule the day, even in divisive times. Especially poignant was one characters hesitation to burn his draft card. What was he feeling? Who knows;

it was never revealed. As you might guess, he finally made a decision, acted on it, and paid the price. In the final scene, his friends paid tribute.

If I had shed a few tears up until this point, I totally lost it when I saw the flag. Haggard, despairing kids holding hopes ultimate emblem. Day-glo fashions juxtaposed against the red, white, and blue. It made sense now. The cast sang, the audience cheered, and me, well, Im not kidding;

I could barely see through tears.

Get the soundtrack, by the way. And dont be a square, download it;

get my drift, man? Dont support the System!

HAIR! has its final showing Saturday. Dont judge it against Spingold standards. Just let it take you tripping into the days when Mom and Dad looked like you and me;

when they faced the guns and the bombs …and answered with flowers. Good job, HTG.