OB Playhouse's 'Hair' Is a High-Energy Ode to the 1960s
The Age of Aquarius dawns at the intimate Ocean Beach theater
The cast of Hair, at OB Playhouse.
If you’re seeing Hair for the first time, it really helps to know what you’re getting into.
For all of us who didn’t live through it, our perceptions of the 1960s hippie movement come mostly from media that sanitized and repackaged it decades later to fit a constructed narrative, ranging from the well-researched but stylized Mad Men to the cartoonishly reductive Forrest Gump. The characters of Hair are so much larger than life that you’d be forgiven for assuming it was just another nostalgia trip—it makes a world of difference to know it was made contemporaneous with its setting; practically a primary source, its leads autobiographical. These kids aren’t emulating some previous generation’s idea of the counterculture; their wild outfits aren’t ironic Halloween costumes. For them the idea of cultural revolution is not just revelatory but imminent. For the first time in history, you were not predestined to become a carbon copy of your parents. You could make the choice not to go to war when the state demanded it. The sense of endless possibility must have been dazzling, and director Jennie Gray Connard has deftly recreated that feeling here in Ocean Beach.
The show has little in the way of plot: a “tribe” of teenage dropouts living in the East Village celebrates love, makes occasional extraterrestrial-like contact with squares, hallucinates a revisionist American history, and rallies together to resist the draft. Many of the songs are thematic rather than expository, word clouds that revel in cheeky profanity, environmental and institutional paranoia, and lustful joy, all of which—it’s important to remember in our age of statecraft via Twitter—were groundbreaking and scandalous in 1968. The fact that you could sing about cunnilingus, have white women croon that “black boys are delicious” (and vice versa), or have the entire cast strip naked as an act of protest, was part of the point.
Hair deserves to be seen in a theater as intimate as OB Playhouse. Being able to clearly see the actors’ faces amplifies the connections they’re seeking to make with you, and if you’re anywhere near an aisle seat, be advised that they will invite you to the Be-In. I was lucky enough to see the 2009 Broadway revival at both the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and the Delacorte, and Gavin Creel may have been nominated for a Tony, but I feel confident in saying that Christopher Chiles is an even better Claude. From the infectiously playful bounce of “Manchester England” to the paralyzing uncertainty of “Where Do I Go?”, he lays his heart bare.
Berger is in some ways an unenviable role; the tribe’s ringmaster has to provide the initial shock to the audience’s system—you’re not in Kansas anymore—and then sustain that manic center of gravity the rest of the tribe whirls around for nearly the whole first act. But Justin Tuazon is on point, embodying adolescent cocksuredness and keeping the energy high everywhere it’s needed. I wish I had the space to praise every cast member individually, since there’s not a dud in the bunch. Krista Feallock brings an excellent mix of gentleness and righteous fury to Sheila—somebody write a Joan Baez biopic for her to star in, stat. Stephanie Nesbitt’s turn as Lincoln for “Abie Baby” is the single most impressive vocal performance of the night. And keep an eye on Delia A. Mejia who, though often just one voice in the chorus, stands out with touching awe and mourning in numbers like “How Dare They Try [to End This Beauty].”
Go see it. I have nothing negative to say. You’ll have a fantastic time, especially if you’re not afraid to join the cast on stage at the end and dance.
Through July 1
Tickets at obtheatrecompany.com