By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
This is why one of director Nguyen’s closing images in Hair at the Chance is so wrenching. It’s a scenic picture accented by John MacDonald’s Projection Design in which Claude, blond locks pinned back, and dressed in full military regalia, stands at attention, with a name tag beamed with pinpoint accuracy onto his chest. Slowly, the image melts into a projected image that comes up behind him. In the blink of an eye, as the anthem “Let the Sunshine In” begins to swell, Claude is surrounded by names until he becomes a ghostly silhouette, at one with the black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial, with all those names of fallen soldiers from Orange County.
Nguyen’s idea is an expansion on a similar image in Milos Foreman’s 1979 film of Hair, in which the hippie tribe visits at Arlington National Cemetery the grave of their fallen friend. From there, “Let the Sunshine In” provides the segue to the antiwar March on Washington, a gathering of hundreds of thousands, as American flags and peace signs are hoisted side by side.
After his blistering War Memorial image, Nguyen follows the script and strains for that show-closing feel-good “sunshine” chorale with the audience dancing on the stage. But there is no March on Washington here, just a party on the heels of a very moving funeral. If it was meant to be like an Irish wake, it came too soon.
We’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, a historic event where hippies from around the world gathered at a farm in upstate New York to listen, largely stoned, to their generation’s best musicians, free of charge. It was an anomaly that defied human nature: Despite muddy, bracing physical conditions, the hippies lived up to their mantra of making love not war. An unprecedented tribe of 400,000 gathered for a rock festival at which not a punch or a stone was thrown. There was a common, if not communal, understanding that this event would defy commerce — and define a generation.
It was a moment as complex and fleeting as the hippies themselves, because somebody was watching, somebody who quickly understood that these baby boomers were a perfect target for marketing. Within a year, hippie chic was for sale in shopping centers across the country; with that, the hippie ethos became meaningless. In another year, it was out of fashion anyway, and we were on to punk. And now, tie-dye is back and all the rage.
That funeral near show’s end is so moving, not just because it’s for Claude, but because it’s also for the quixotic idea that people with mere desire and a flower can stop the profit machine in its tracks. As we’ve seen recently, only the profit machine itself can accomplish that.
HAIR | Book and lyrics by GEROME RAGNI and JAMES RADO | Music by GALT MacDERMOT | Presented by CHANCE THEATER, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills | Through August 23 | (714) 777-3033