Peace, love, and theatre: EPAC presents ‘Hair’

By on May 3, 2017
The cast of Hair at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center Monday April 24, 2017.

The cast of Hair at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center Monday April 24, 2017.

At one point in my life, I felt I was born in the wrong generation. I rode around in my buddy Matt’s pickle-colored VW mini-van, barefoot, and wore torn blue jeans and a black, floppy felt hat adorned with buttons and pins. He, forever dressed in tie dye t-shirts, held his long hair back with a rolled up bandana. We were the epitome of beatnik remains and flower child leftovers, born in the early ‘70s, products of the generation who decided to turn on, tune in, and drop out. So, we followed. We learned from Timothy Leary, read “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” and sold beads (or whatever else we could score) to fund our travels from one Grateful Dead show to another.

I was nearly kicked out of school. I smoked. Matt overdosed. When I met my future father-in-law for the first time he cautioned me with “broken knees” as I asked if his daughter could ride with us to Park City — where we were promptly chased off the premises by security. He was the establishment. They were the institution. Going into “Hair” on opening weekend at EPAC was like taking a trip down memory lane, and, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

A sizable and venerable crowd filled the Sharadin Bigler Theatre (with a surprise guest on Saturday evening*).

The scene is set — a New York City street, late 1960s — as characters crawl out from everywhere, including the crowd. These are the members of a tight-knit, yet loosely organized, group of freaks, drop-outs, and free spirits.

Bo Irwin (center) portrays Berger in EPAC’s production of “Hair.” (Photos by Chris Knight/LNP)

Bo Irwin (center) portrays Berger in EPAC’s production of “Hair.” (Photos by Chris Knight/LNP)

“When the moon is in the Seventh House / And Jupiter aligns with Mars / Then peace will guide the planets / And love will steer the stars. / This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius …,” sings Ronnie (Breanne Sensenig) to open the show.

The opening number, “Aquarius,” highlights the production’s collection of talented voices, but right from the outset we learn Sensenig will stand out as she claims vocal ownership of the stage. Her voice is a harmonic blend of power and beauty, strong enough to deliver lines like “White boys are so pretty / Skin as smooth as milk” in Act II’s “White Boys” (which follows “Black Boys”) and whimsical enough to carry on as a black Abraham Lincoln in “Four Score.” But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself…

After the big opening musical number the characters wander about and we meet the de facto leader of The Tribe, Berger (Bo Irwin), who soon sets the mood for “Hair” by lustfully ripping off his pants to reveal himself wrapped in a loin cloth. The first half of the first act of “Hair” is a haphazard whirlwind of song highlighting sex, rock and roll, drugs, race relations, and antiestablishmentarianism through numbers titled “Hashish,” “Sodomy,” and the like. If a member of the audience was not aware that “Hair” pushes the boundaries of the social norm, he or she would be after sitting through 10 minutes of this Pat Kautter-directed musical.

Through song we are introduced to a myriad of players: the horny and seemingly insatiable Woof (Drew Boardman); Hud (Michael Roman), a proud and profound black man; NYU student and activist Sheila (Maggie Shevlin), a main character; Jeanie (Chrissy Nickel), who is pregnant and in love with Claude† (Sean Deffley); and young environmentalist named Crissy (Jordyn McCrady). Barely standing out in a myriad of strong personas, Claude is the main character.

As sober viewers of this psychedelic trip, it is Claude’s struggle and life we follow the most. He is torn between his own person — sometimes donning a fake British accent (giving the story a universality) — and his friends and family. Mom (Niki Swatski) and Dad (Bob Breen) want him to grow up and be a respectable young man. His friends want him to further embrace their countercultural ideals. The story swings when Claude is drafted into military service. In Vietnam he becomes one of the more than 58,000 deadly casualties and returns home to a military burial.

In all honesty, I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel. Act II is a drug induced ride through Claude’s fears and reflections on society. Stereotypes are engaged and broken into a thousand pieces. Love and principle is questioned. We, like the characters, ride the fence established between anger and love. In the end, “Hair” (which now marks a 50th anniversary) asks us all to “Let the Sun Shine In.” It’s a grand notion, and one we should consider more in this modern era.

EPAC’s “Hair” is a big ball of fun. It’s a fast-paced trip — not that I’d know anything about that. The timing of the show, which has become an EPAC hallmark of “theatre that matters,” is perfect as we, as citizens of the world, wrestle with some of the same issues and feelings presented in the musical. In the real world marijuana is becoming more widely accepted and legalized, political turmoil surrounds us, and war and violence seems almost eminent. There is solidarity between actor and viewer with “Hair,” making it a poignant and apropos piece for today.

To note: EPAC gives the production a rating of R. “Hair” contains full frontal nudity (for about 20 seconds at the end of Act 1), frank sexual talk (and gestures), (adult) language, (some serious) drug use**, and (heavy) adult situations. It’s heavy, man!

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.


* EPAC alumnus and two-time Emmy Award nominee Jonathan Groff viewed “Hair” on Saturday and gleefully joined in on the post show dance, which follows each show and encourages theatregoers to join in the merriment. Groff was in the area over the weekend to accept his induction in the Conestoga Valley High School Distinguished Alumni program.

** What the characters smoke on stage is a blend of sage and peppermint.

† Claude’s last name is Bukowski, and I can’t help but wonder if this is an allusion/reference to American poet Charles Bukowski by writers James Rado and Gerome Ragni.

J(Left to right) Jordyn McCrady,  Christine Nickel,  and Breanne Sensenig are members of the cast of EPAC’s production of “Hair.”

J(Left to right) Jordyn McCrady, Christine Nickel, and Breanne Sensenig are members of the cast of EPAC’s production of “Hair.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *