Peace, love, and drug abuse. Few decades in the 20th century saw such widespread challenges to established social authority and values like the 1960s. With President Barack Obama’s charm and charisma eliciting comparisons to JFK, and America’s engagement in multiple overseas conflicts, the sixties have lost none of their contemporary relevance. Following a group of draft-dodging, pot-smoking New York City hippies, the musical HAIR offers an interesting take on what this counter culture movement was all about.
HAIR is being performed at Moyse Hall this week, presented by the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society. The production deals with a variety of social issues important at that time, such as patriotism, drug use, free love, and the draft. Although generally supportive of the hippies and their ideals, the musical is also often critical of their lifestyle of irresponsibility and excess. Throughout the play, they continually consume large amounts of marijuana and engage in impulsive sexual activity, with whomever is present at the moment. One character casually refers to asking her parents for money because she has become pregnant.
The musical also challenges American patriotism and the militaristic tendencies associated with it. This recurring theme is exemplified in a scene in which the hippies march in file chanting “Hell no! We won’t go!” In another scene, a variety of important American political and military figures are satirized onstage – for instance, George Washington lights up a joint.
These critiques of American militarism directly relate to the Vietnam War, for which several of the characters have been drafted to fight. The hippies hold a “Be-In,” a symbolic demonstration which has the characters burn their draft cards and take part in an orgy afterward. Yet one character has his doubts, as his parents have repeatedly told him that he needs to grow up and take responsibility for himself, and that joining the army would be an ideal opportunity to do so. Parents such as these, many of whom had fought in WWII and live by a strikingly different set of values than their children, offer a striking generational contrast to the youth of the hippie movement, .
Yet while the musical tackles these different issues, it continually maintains a highly energetic and upbeat feel. The singing is also full of energy, and interaction with the audience made it all the more engaging. The depiction of psychedelic drugs in the McGill production is also excellent, with its use of striking colours and imagery. Indeed, HAIR deals with an interesting historical period while challenging our conceptions of that time.