Protest Harder, Longer, Faster: “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”

Cast of Hair. Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures.

Presented by New Rep Theatre
Book & Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone
Music direction by Dan Rodriguez
Intimacy direction by Angie Jepson
Dramaturgy by Emily White

Jan 26- Feb 23, 2020
Open Caption services will be provided on Saturday, 2/8 during the 3:00pm performance.
MainStage Theater
Mosesian Center for the Arts
321 Arsenal Street
Watertown, MA 02472
New Rep on Facebook

Content Warning: This production contains strong language, frequent references to sex and illicit substances, and brief nudity. Recommended for ages 18+.

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Watertown, MA —  Hair is the only time I’ve been (purposefully) naked onstage. I have fond memories of performing in Counter-Productions Theatre Company’s Hair in 2010. Getting naked as an expression of civil protest was just one of the perks of joining their cast.

I was an unnamed tribe member who got to flirt, giggle, dance and sing in the ensemble while the leads worked downstage. Our director emphasized the need to understand the hippy and other protest movements as part of rehearsals. It was a grueling, months-long process but one of the highlights of my performing career.

That’s me! Photo from Counter-Productions Theatre Co’s production of “Hair.”

I mention this because my involvement in that production, and all the work that went into it, have made me biased towards Hair. I present my biases to you, dear reader, so you may better understand how I received New Rep’s production.

Hair at the Mosesian Center is excellent. The care taken by this cast to respect the work and intentions by Ragni, Rado, and MacDermot is obvious. It is frankly one of the best productions to have hit the New England area that I have ever seen.

I had a wonderful time at this production. Even if I didn’t have memories of past joys, I would have still had a great time. Recalling my experiences was the icing on the cake.

But.

New Rep’s Hair lacks depth. It has heart, but this production doesn’t communicate a deeper understanding of the musical’s relevancy to contemporary racial, sexual, and civil politics beyond the immediacy of the creator’s lyrics and stage directions. It isn’t saying anything new. Why bother retelling a story if it isn’t adding to the conversation?

New Rep’s Hair is instead a period piece that regurgitates the tribulations of 1960’s youths. It has a lot to say about 1968’s politics. If Hair has something to say about today’s issues of pollution, impeachment, sexual identity and America’s general unrest, it isn’t translated to the audience. It tells me that there is a disconnect between the dramaturgy and performance.

Hair the musical pulls no punches in its discussion of Black and white racial politics. This production could have gone further. Asian American’s also fought and died in the Vietnam War on behalf of white politicians. There are many excellent Asian actors working in New England. (Some of them were in the audience on Monday evening.) It’s 2020; they deserve a voice in a production of a musical that discusses the historical racism that still affects their lives.

Cast of Hair. Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures.

Hair was controversial in 1968 for depicting openly gay characters. Where are the non-binary, genderfluid and/or trans characters? It isn’t enough to hint* at their existence. We need to see them.

The drug use was perfect. Hair isn’t Hair without gratuitous scenes of actors floating across the stage, waving their arms around like pond fronds as they pretend to trip balls. Rock on.

The set, lighting and sound design are gorgeous.

Bravo to the cast and crew. You deserve all the accolades that are coming your way. But, Hair is about more than reminding audiences of America’s problematic history. We retell stories with the hope of preventing them from happening in the future. We have a problematic Right Now that needs saving.

*Every production of Hair should have Peter Mill gyrating before a fence in full 1960’s Margaret Mead drag like a weasel on poppers.

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