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|A CurtainUp Review
By Amanda Cooper
Located in the basement of a school-like building in Southern Park Slope, The Gallery Players have been churning out productions in Brooklyn for 37 seasons. I attend their 38th season opener, Hair. As it turns out, this basement performing space is nicer than much of Off-Off Broadway, and the production quality did not disappoint either.
Upon walking into the theater, we are ambushed by young hippies. They are singing, dancing, sitting in seats and chatting up us ticket holders. Informal rally cries are encouraged, and just before the lights are dimmed a low-key announcement is made by an actor, reminding us to make sure our Xerox machines and other such technologies are turned off and won't make noise during the show. It may be 2004, but the attitude inside the theater is most certainly from the 60's.
Hair is more or less plot-less. There are eight core characters as well as a fluid ensemble, otherwise known as The Tribe. The full cast at The Gallery Players numbers past twenty -- a quantity that is rarely reached in Off-Broadway, and at times even Broadway! From the core of eight, two leaders emerge: the colorful Berger (played with fun and fierceness by Barrett Hall) and the dreamy dreamer Claude (a daze-y, surface level performance by Paul Lane).
Though technically there are love triangles, friendships, and even death, Hair is not about these particular relationships and tragedies, but rather Love, Friendship, Death, Peace, War, Youth…Life. Hair is a celebration of Life, through the lens of the Free Love era. And, like free love, the show is messy, awkward and at times brilliant.
Though Hair is a purposefully dated show, and director Steven Smeltzer has done nothing to deny that, the energy and commitment present on stage give the hippie revelations from 40 years ago new life. With this new life, light can be shed on our current U.S. political mess, without the inescapable digs New York theater seems obliged to make into our current administration. We are left to our own devices to draw parallels. What will happen if a draft surfaces next year? Will history repeat itself?
The first act is full of carefree energy. The songs are lite Classic Rock, and the live onstage band is a tight, tuneful bunch. (If only the sound system was stronger so that the lyrics and surprisingly strong voices could be better heard). Aly Wirth's pregnant Jeanie is endearingly naïve, playing cleverly against her family-way. Logan Tracey as Sheila is a gorgeous wounded soul who deserves a deeper exploration.
In the second act, a darker turn in the book creates a purposeful chaos, both exhausting and effective, with a score to match. Unfortunately, the only character explored in depth is Claude, who is played with less life than anyone in the troupe. Lane may be good looking, and have a pleasing voice, but he comes across as the least dynamic personality onstage.
This show is clearly on a budget, but the production team has practically performed miracles, with Jenna Rossi-Camus' costumes being detailed and authentic looking. Not to mention solid sets and lighting by Roberto Sanchez-Camus and Michael Jones respectively. And director/choreographer Steven Smeltzer has caught that proverbial brass ring; seemingly pushing himself and his team past that comfort zone, and achieving success. In fact, this show, with its low ticket prices, just may be the deal of season, so hurry up, because equity showcases must have very limited runs!
Postscript: The Gallery Players' continuing mission is to support theater artists and cultivate an appreciation of theater in future generations, by producing classic and contemporary plays and musicals as well as premiering new works. Can't make it to Hair? Have no fear, the season continues through to June 2005 and it looks promising:
Side Man by Warren Leight, November 27-December 12
The Spitfire Grill, Music and Book by James Valcq; lyrics and book by Fred Alley, January 13 - 30
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, February 19 - March 6
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Jess Borgesson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer March 26 - April 10
The Full Monty, music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrance McNally, April 30 - May 22nd
8th Annual Black Box New Play Festival, June 2 - June 26.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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