Flowing it, showing it


“Easy to Be Hard,” eh? These <i>HAiR</i> kids <i>mean it</i> when they ménage.

“Easy to Be Hard,” eh? These HAiR kids mean it when they ménage.

Rated 5.0

All that hair is still long and beautiful— or is that again long and beautiful? However it’s approached, fledgling Sacto theater company Artistic Differences has nailed it with this energetic-to-the-point-of-frenetic production of HAiR. OK, so maybe the average demographic in the audience is closer in age to signing up for Social Security payments than registering with Selective Service. But the excitement is palpable. Fortunately, the old timers—including a certain barely boomer critic—still know how to pass a doobie (or rather, the herbal substitute used onstage).

Not only is the musical an excellent choice for the venue—the warehouse ambiance easily evokes the street-squatting milieu of the play—but it also produces an atmosphere of illicit counterculture. The audience, lined up next to the light-rail tracks while waiting for the doors to open, might just as easily have been seeking entry to a speakeasy or underground club.

It’s a mood well-suited to the performance. The cast is both incredibly young—quite likely the offspring of parents who were grade-schoolers when HAiR premiered—and incredibly talented. The versatile and rambunctious Jerry Lee once again delights the audience with his wacky portrayal of Berger. If he’s a bit less threatening than Berger can be, well, that’s not a bad thing.

Christian St. Croix’s turn as the other male lead, Claude Hooper Bukowski, is a revelation. St. Croix’s got a resonant and emotional voice, which gives texture to the moral dilemmas facing Claude as he must choose between dodging the draft and going to Vietnam. As Sheila, Netty Carey stepped from understudy to star-turn with grace. She’s got a powerful voice, whether leading the tribal chorus in “Aquarius” or in the solo ballad “Easy To Be Hard.” Notable among the supporting cast were the vocal performances of Rashad Jahi as Hud, Inertia DeWitt as Dionne, and Joelle L. Wirth as Jeannie, whose turn with “Hippie Life” rattled the rafters.

And if the titles of those songs sound familiar—well, a good chunk of the audience was singing along. Yes, the show’s familiar, but even if tie-dye and low-riding bellbottoms don’t make you nostalgic (and really, who looked good in that stuff the first time, other than Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell?), then the political synchronicities are sure to grab some attention. A few nice touches by director Maggie Hollinbeck keep this production from being a mere period piece: the nightmarishly funny 1984-style filmed opening announcements, the “police surveillance” of the protesters—yep, it’s only too familiar.

Almost 40 years later, we’re still protesting a dirty little war that keeps on spreading while children die to line the pockets of the military-industrial complex. How can it be nostalgia when it’s not even the past?