Review of Harper College’s rendition of Hair
Harper College’s Performing Arts Center presented Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical November 10-19, 2017.
This performance was timely as the time period commemorates the college’s 50th anniversary. The hippie movement sought to inspire harmony with eventual nirvana, but many members of the counterculture did not receive all that they bargained for. The idealism of “make love, not war” was later overshadowed by the surge in sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. According to a number of published reports, the rates of syphilis and gonorrhea rose 165% from 1964 to 1968.
Claude, a young man inspired to live by the hippie counterculture, struggles to adapt full rebellion against traditional Western values in the late sixties. By refusing to burn his draft card, is this young man subconsciously or consciously searching for a more meaningful existence? What is the significance of Claude calling himself “invisible?”
In Hair, viewers view a ray of sexual energy on stage. The main characters portray themselves engaging in orgies, drug use and dances featuring ageless tracks such as “Age of Aquarius;” “Hair;” and “Good Morning Sunshine.” As a result of free love, Claude’s friend, Sheila, is pregnant without knowing for certain whom the father might be. All she knows is that she was “knocked up by some crazy speed freak” which she hopes is Claude. However, Claude appears to have no inner conflicts of his own, that is, until the end of Act I when he only pretends to burn his draft card. His friends, dressed as his parents, desire that he finish high school or join the army where he would have ‘straightened out.’ The young man appears oblivious to what happens.
The musical introduces an epitome of youthful resistance against tyrannical warmongering and western traditionalism where religion, the nuclear family, and patriotic sacrifice are of the highest value. There are a number of references to President Lyndon B. Johnson, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and LSD usage.
All of these elements defined the time period where the distrust of establishment figures gained momentum. The mockery of Christianity, particularly Catholicism is evident. Among numerous examples, one of the hippies, Berger, provides “pills for the pope” among other famous figures, while the song “Sodomy” evokes Catholic hymn. Moments after Claude first enters he says, “I am the Son of God. I shall vanish and be forgotten,” and when he exits Act I he asks, “Where do I go?” signifying his spiritual yearning for joining a cause that he considers noble.
In the climax, Claude rebels against an established rule in the hippie subculture by willingly taking part in the Vietnam War. After only moments in the battlefield, he is shot dead without even hitting an enemy, signifying that his engagement in the war was in total vain. The scene changes and Claude enters the stage but none of his friends can see him. He is invisible, no longer existing in the physical world, only to be entirely forgotten by his friends and the generations to come.
Beyond the cheerful music of this production, there is an anti-war sentiment where young lives are cut short and a select few profit. Although rebelling against the problems of their modern era, those taking part in the hippie lifestyle were now susceptible to unique problems of their own. Regardless if one loves or hates Hair, this musical is one that becomes memorable to all that have the opportunity to witness it. After all, it is considered by many to be a cult classic.