Ultra Vires


Hart House’s Hair Review

“Everyone just… gets naked… Why?”

Performers left to right: Claire Boudreau as Mary, Mikaela MacGillivray as Natalie, David Andrew Reid as Hud, Sidney Klips as Diane.
Photo credit: Scott Gorman, courtesy of Hart House Theatre

I feel as though it is important to establish that this is my first time seeing the iconic 1967 musical Hair. I feel that by admitting this, you might judge me less for my utter unpreparedness for all this show has to offer, from its absurdist tendencies to its full-frontal nudity. When I texted a friend at intermission to say, “THERE ARE NAKED PEOPLE ON STAGE” her response was, “so, that’s Hair!” I felt ignorant. Refer to the title, taken verbatim from my scrawled, fevered notes.

The musical opens with seemingly disjointed scenes of a group of friends, self-identified as “The Tribe,” who are hippies living a communal lifestyle in New York in the late 1960s. Although their interactions seem like a drug-fueled daze that the viewer should also be high to enjoy, small clues as to the musical’s message emerge throughout the first half—parents fighting with their son about his direction in life or an American flag slowly being folded. In the second half, the message becomes clear. Claude (Christian Hodge), a member of The Tribe, loses his fight with his ambivalence over being drafted for Vietnam, casts off his hippie identity, and enlists. It is heavily implied that he is killed in the war. In retrospect, the dazed nature of the rest of the show stands in stark contrast to this reality—a retrospective for so many Americans at the time.

Although the play did eventually come together, it was a truly bizarre experience. For most of the first half, I had the distinct feeling that I was watching a soap opera in a foreign language—I really should be smart enough to figure out the plot, but it was just out of my reach. The nudity was just odd (although it appears in the original script) and I was most definitely NOT prepared for it. I also kept smelling patchouli, which I wasn’t sure was someone’s perfume or some kind of olfactory experience to invoke general ‘hippiness.’ When the plot started to coalesce, I questioned whether the show was starting to make more sense, or whether I had simply let go of all expectations. I eventually decided on the former, but it was rather unsettling to consider the latter.

The production itself was rather strong, especially for the affordable price of Hart House Theatre. The acting and singing were well done, the set was creative and versatile, and the costumes were gorgeous and reminiscent of the currently in-style stores Anthropologie and Free People. However, there were also some challenges. The sound was poorly mixed throughout rendering the lyrics sometimes difficult to hear. This was disappointing, especially given that the play has been running for over a week already and there has been ample time to troubleshoot technical challenges.

If you enjoy non-linear, psychedelic art, this is the show for you. If not, you can still enjoy—just don’t be clueless like me.

Content warning: NUDITY. Now don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Christian Hodge as Claude.
Photo credit: Scott Gorman, courtesy of Hart House Theatre

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rdo. Music by Galt MacDermot. Produced for the Broadway stage by Michael Butler. Originally Produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival Theatre. Directed by Julie Tomaino. This production runs until February 2 at the Hart House Theatre.

Tickets: Adults: $28, Seniors: $17, Students: $15. $12 student tickets available every Wednesday evening. Buy tickets at tickets.harthouse.ca or (416) 978-8849.

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