by Gerome Ragni, James Rado, Galt MacDermot

The Willamette Tribe

Salem, Oregon

September 22 through October 14, 2000

A description of Pentacle Theatre's production of HAiR

as directed by Randy Bowser

NOTE: many images of the show are sprinkled throughout the text as links--use your "back" button to return to this page


As the theatre patrons pull up to the theatre on the dirt road which has taken them to a clearing in the woods, even before they see the rustic two story wooden theatre nestled in the trees and looking comfortable next to a stream where deer are often seeing taking refreshment---they see a bright yellow 1969 VW bus, covered with esoteric symbols and psychedelic artwork, parked on the grass in front of a wooden sign that reassures them they have indeed reached The Pentacle Theatre.

Perched on the roof of the bus are a group of shirtless and raggedy looking flower children, banging with abandon on hand drums. On the grass, a girl in a flowing East Indian print dress is dancing happily in circles.

Pulling into the parking lot, more hippies approach the patrons and hit them up for spare change. When coins are dropped into their hands, the flower children smile and bless their benefactors before spinning off to show their new wealth to their friends who the patrons can now see are scattered along the path leading up to the theatre.

It's twilight, and the evergreen flanked path is softly lit. It's not until rhythmic chanting is heard that the patrons look to their left, and can make out the outlines of figures crouched on the wood's embankment, playing exotic looking hand drums from the middle east, and chanting words that can't quite be made out.

Suddenly the figures are leaping out of the woods and are dancing nymph and gnome-like around the slightly wary theatre goers as they try to continue their trek to the wooden planks of the theatre's porch.

Before reaching the exterior staircase which leads down to the theatre's lobby, the patrons stop to listen and maybe even join in with "The Electric Incense" as they sing folk songs, gathered in a circle around an invisible camp fire on the porch.

Once they have reached the patio in front of the theatre's lobby, Sheila Franklin leaps up on a bench and spiritedly delivers an anti-war speech. The patrons can't help but applaud her conviction.

Off in the distance, they might see the flare of 4th of July sparklers as wraith-like flower children spell their names in the air.

Inside the lobby, hundreds and hundreds of paper daisies are draped on the walls and wooden posts---exotic cloth billows down from the ceiling--Janis Joplin can be heard in the background belting her sad passionate blues. Signs are noticed everywhere. "1968" is the large caption seen over and over--and below those numbers, images of war, newspaper headlines, articles about fashion and current events---it's all taking its effect on the somewhat surprised visitors, and they realize: We're not in Kansas anymore.

As curtain time approaches and more of the patrons are making their way into the theatre, flower-like girls are painting flowers on people's cheeks---and they're making sure every one who enters has a daisy, and most of the child-like paper creations are going into people's hair, resting in front of their ears.

Stepping inside, styrofoam heads are seen on poles, with heads full of the paper daisy-hair. And twinkling softly above their heads, the guests look up to see long strands of the daisies stretching from the back of the auditorium up to the stage. Their eyesight follows the 40 foot daisy chains until they see IT--what has become the center of attention for those already seated and gazing on with delighted eyes: THE SET for HAiR.

A circus---it's the first impression---and there's a platform with a gorgeous red white and blue peace symbol--but before all details of the theatre's environment can really sink in, these waif-like happy people who the patrons are seeing called "The Willamette Tribe" in the programs they've been given, are guiding them---sometimes mis-guiding them to their seats. Sometimes when they arrive at their designated seat, a wild looking, feather wearing, patchouli drenched creature is already sitting there, and studiously ignoring them. Before that confusion can be straightened out---a wild boy in sherbet orange and purple along with another big guy who seems to think he is an Apache Indian are carrying a large gaudily framed mirror and mysteriously offering the patrons a view of themselves.

Hand drums have been pounding along with an unseen droning didgeridoo---and now The Tribe is intent on reaching the stage for an impromptu pow-wow. At least the seats are freed up so the dazed patrons can sit before getting caught up in the hypnotic orgy or percussion exploding on the stage.

Not many notice as a slender latter-day hippie male with gray in his beard, and not much hair left on top, but plenty pulled back in a slightly unruly ponytail, slips into the auditorium. If they would've seen him take his seat---they may have noticed that the house lights magically dimmed with his entrance.


As the house lights go down, The Tribe scampers off the stage and up into the aisles of the horse-shoe configured auditorium. They are loudly shushing each other as the psychedelic undulating lights on a 9 foot by 12 foot screen on stage suddenly stop.

Spotlights pick up a Japanese Tribe member dressed in an impressionistic blend of traditional Japanese garb and period street clothes--straight black hair streaming more than half way down his back. He seems to be carrying some large posters of some kind. From the other side of the stage enters a petite young girl with a heart shaped face in very short and multi-patched cut-off jeans. She waves to her friends in the aisles before striking a very Vanna White pose and gesturing to the first card Nightshade is holding up.

As Willow goes through her Vanna White routine, The Tribe reads the words on the placards in loud, mocking, sing-song tones. The signs are welcoming the patrons, inviing them to come back soon to The Pentacle. The last card is saying something about how the aisles are used a lot during the show, so patrons had better be careful if they get up to "pee" as the sign crudely puts it.

As soon as the last card is read, a loud jarring chord blasts out from the band. We hadn't really noticed before--there through the rusted metal of the shadowy scaffolding we can see the faces of musicians, glowing eerily in blue lights.

Out of the fading guitar chord comes the throbbing sound of a large crowd chanting---and up on the screen we see the black and white image of a protest crowd. Fists raised defiantly, an American flag is hoisted high. The Tribe in the aisles start chanting with the on-screen crowd.

The sharp silhouette of a figure is seen climbing up a perpendicular ladder on the set, until he's standing on the fire escape-like bridge that spans from one section of the junkyard set to the other, suspended eight feet in the air. The screen with the chanting crowd is hanging directly behind this bridge, also eight feet in the air. A pole thinly thrusts up at the center and front of the bridge, and perched on its top is a microphone.

The figure moves up to the mike and tests it. The Tribe jeers him as he blandly begins a lecture.

The Lecturer is telling us the 1960's were a time of social unrest. After more jeers from the aisles, and more images on the screen as the speaker asks for them---The Tribe starts humming. It's an unearthly but calm sounding buzzing as they start moving towards the stage in slow motion. Some of them crawl up the ladders on either side of the bridge and approach the speaker. He seems to sense their presence. When he says, "It was a time when people could say peace and love, and really mean it," the Tribe members on the bridge reach out and touch him.

Instantly there's an explosion of sound and music. In the rising maelstrom of sound we can make out what seems to be the "climbing orchestra" from The Beatles "A Day In The Life" on the seminal "Sgt. Pepper" album.

On the bridge, the Tribe have ripped off The Lecturer's suit, and behind him, images are taking off like a rocket. Starting with images from CNN's coverage of the year 2000 New Year's celebration, we are seeing time flying backwards, like Rod Taylor watching the images of time going haywire in "The Time Machine." We see flashes of Presidents, of historical moments, of John Lennon---we realize we're approaching 1968 as the images slow down, the music is winding down, and the face of a tired, beleagured Presdient Johnson fills the screen. A light flashes on the bridge, and we see The Lecturer has been transformed into a wild looking young man, bare chested under a shaggy vest, and he's ecstatically reaching into the air.

The mood shifts as a strange swooshing sound fills the air and attention is now on a long haired male at center stage who is sitting in a lotus position, feather under his head band, and wearing a white shaggy vest and a loincloth that appears to be made from a small British flag.

In the patchy pools of light, inexplicable things are happening. A girl is carried in as if she's flying. She's carrying an Indian blanket and places it on the shoulders of the seated figure. On the other side of the stage, two girls carry in an old fashioned zinc tub. Another girl is carrying an elegant tall pitcher and ceremoniously pours water into the tub. Another girl carries in a Greek looking gold brazier and sets it in front of the meditating figure.

Berger---that's who The Lecturer has become---he's now behind Claude--that's who's seated at center stage on the gently raking platform with its cosmic looking peace symbol spilling out over its edges, and decorated with white and yellow stars and soft friendly looking clouds.

Berger reaches behind him to be handed huge three foot long scissors. He slowly opens the implement's jaws and seems to snip a lock of hair from the back of Claude's head. He passes the lock to Sheila--that's who came flying in. She gently places the lock in the brazier. The swooshing sounds have died out as she takes out a lighter and sets the hair on fire. As the small flame leaps up, The Tribe suddenly becomes animals. Birds, apes, dogs, cats are howling and screeching all over the stage. Then a pulse of music begins, The Tribe becomes human again. The black man who moments before was a very convincing gorilla stands up and gives us a sly wink before joining the others in focusing on Claude.

Up on the bridge, Dionne is dressed in an elegant African robe and standing in front of a huge image of the full moon. With arms gently undulating in the air, she begins singing "AQUARIUS" with her rich soulful voice.

The stage is bathed in dim blue light which remains patchy and broken, as if we're deep in a forest. "AQUARIUS" is a night time ritual under a full moon. After the opening verse, the moon projection behind the soloist becomes emblazoned with a rainbow colored peace symbol crossing the moon's entire surface.

On the raked platform, and taking a cue from the original staging of the song, The Tribe dances in a manner reminiscent of Greek folk dancing, slowly in shifting circles around Claude and Berger. The two men are now standing, dancing back to back at times, side by side at other times, in small circles around each other--yin and yang, Ego and Id, Dionysus and Apollo.

Using the longer version with the lyrics to a second verse that start with "As our hearts go beating through the night...," Sheila joins Dionne on the bridge to sing a new ethereal harmony as the song progresses.

On the final repetitions of "aquarius..." The Tribe scatters over the platform, forming a tight knit group facing all three sides of the house, and all sitting in lotus positions. Before the chinese gong has faded someone is heard chanting "Om Mane Padme Hum" and is answered by a wild sounding voice (Woof's) saying "Shanti Shanti Shanti!" Berger is standing at the center with arms outstretched, like the stamen of a large human flower. Claude has disappeared.

Berger casually disrobes as he goes into the house, introducing himself. He's left wearing only a very small and revealing leopard skin loin cloth. In the spill of the follow spot, a chagrined patron is left holding his ragged patched pants. He picks out a man who he introduces as his Mom--and all the while the audience is still adjusting to having a nearly naked young man cavorting inches from them.

As the vamp in to "DONNA" begins, and Berger is talking about the Statue of Liberty waving at him---the majestic looking photo of the revered statue which has filled the screen up and behind Berger does just that: In a Monty Pythonish way, the image starts waving its torch bearing arm in a bizarre disjointed way.

Berger is all over the auditorium as he sings the song. The Tribe, which had moved back to settle into the metal structure of the set, are starting to groove to the music. A Tribe Girl belly dances down, inspiring Berger to sing about going to India. Another exotic looking dark skinned girl dances down as the lyrics mention South America. On the second chorus, Apache and a Tribe Guy do a teasing send up of the girls' dances, and Berger responds to them with mock-eroticism as if maybe one of them is his long lost Donna.

As the two girls become go-go dancers in the 4 foot boxes delienated to the sides of the bridge, Berger throws himself at the feet of the amused Sheila--then is soon giving us a fast impression of the Evolution chart.

For the final chorus, all the Tribe Girls come down to do a hippie chorus girl routine behind the joyful semi-nude Berger.

As Berger and The Tribe cry out for Donna---a beautiful Rennaisance painting of Madonna and Child looms on the screen---and before the music transitions, mother and child are throwing cartoony winks and kisses out at us, again in distinctly Monty Phythonish manner.

The stage is plunged into deep dark red as The Tribe clumps into seven groupings around the stage. They take turns singing the list of drugs in "HASHISH" as the image of a girl passing a tin hash pipe at Woodstock comes up on the screen. The groups are melting to the floor, or suddenly whizzing around the other groups, or slinking off the platform towards us as they illustrate their lyrics with appropriate pantomime.

At the end, each group has become a tight writhing orgiastic knot.

The Cistine Chapel's ceiling unfolds on the screen as soft eerily lofty organ music is heard, the lights shift to pools of blue, and The Tribe strikes positions of statues across the stage. Based on the original staging, two guys kneel on all fours to become an altar, but it's Claude, the story's sacrifical lamb who is hoisted, almost naked in his British loin cloth, up into a crucifix on the guys backs, as Berger supports him from behind.

Woof has dived into Jeanie's lap as they briefly form a whacky Pieta---Woof sucking his thumb loudly before deciding that sucking Jeanie's breast would be more intersting. She throws him off in disgust, then returns to the pose of serene Mother Mary.

A spot picks up Woof as he approaches Claude as Christ. He tells the audience that "this is the body and blood of Jesus Christ" and when he yells "AND I"M GOING TO EAT YOU" he grabs Claude's hips as if he's going to perform oral sex on him. But the moment is brief---Woof turns to us with a naughty grin and laughs.

After rosary beads are pulled out of Claude's loincloth, (which sends him into momentary spasms of pleasure) Woof begins a very wide eyed sincerely questioning "SODOMY." The statues are like the little people who swing out of some Swiss clocks, not seeming to know that their mechanical movements are coinciding with the list of sexual terms in the song.

Instead of letting the music stop, the band goes into a few bars of transition as Woof says, "All right, now I want you all to sing along with me! And if you don't the words---HERE THEY ARE!" And with a sweeping gesture Woof points out the screen where each word starts popping up on the screen in time to the music, black dignified lettering against a lurid purple background.

The statues come to life and the Tribe get together in four groups around the stage, each playfully engaged in what could easily become a scene of abandoned group sex as they all belt out the lyrics.

The innocent/naughty Woof is left beaming at us as he launches into his animated speech and the Tribe again settles into the set. He's howling at the moon as Berger gathers his items of clothing from the auditorium. Berger steps on stage to howl back at Woof---their howling becomes short little wolf-like barks as they see each other, they pause, then circle each other trying to sniff each others asses.

When Berger presents Woof with a tiny seed which he refers to as "Twiggy"--two girls bring over a beautiful Indian pot, and with a pink Buck Rogers squirt gun, give the seed its first drink.

When Woof again howls at the moon and entreats The Tribe to "LOOK AT THE MOON," Berger holds his tattered orange Teddy Bear which he keeps on a rope dangling from his waist, and mooning it with his bare butt says "Look at the moooooooon, Teddy!"

Just when Woof has us convinced that he loves absolutely everyone--he screams in terror at the sight of a black man being carried on upside down.

Berger has left and comes back with Apache, and between them they carry a thick branch, beautifully painted with African symbols. Hanging upside down by his bent kneeds is Hud, the clinched Black Power fist painted on his ripped jeans.

"COLORED SPADE" is all Hud's. In a quick succession of snap shot impressions of each racial cliche, he becomes shoe shine boy, table cleaner et al. He uses, like Woof and Berger before him, the mike in the stand stationed at the foot of the thrust which is wrapped in frayed black cloth and then splotchy tie-dye towards its base.

Up on the screen, Jimi Hendrix appears in multiple rows, Warhol-fashion, with splashes of color changing on the image as the song progresses.

Charlene, a black female Tribe member, gets up to boogie with Hud towards the end of his song---they bump butts as he sings---then at the end he slaps hands with her so hard that she's sent falling to the stage. "Damn, bro!" she says as Hud turns his back to the audience, points to his back, and close in on the mike says "Black OUT!" Lights black out.

After crowing in the dark, Claude is seen in a spot, and if we hadn't noticed it before, we now see that he's standing in the wash tub and he's been smeared with dark mud and covered with chicken feathers. It's been the handiwork of Dionne and Charlene. The latter holds a mike up for Claude when he sings"MANCHESTER ENGLAND", and he's only mildly annoyed that The Tribe mocks his attempts to look and sound British.

As the girls lead him to up center, and Claude is telling us about his obsession with movies, the screen presents a progression of film images from famous Fellini, Antonioni, and Polanski films--all framed in sprocket holes.

The dark stage suddenly starts pulsing with light in time to the music as The Tribe sings the refrain with Claude, and a Moire pattern light show starts twirling on the screen. Dancers have moved down stage and perform a loose finger snapping, leg shaking routine.

"I'M BLACK" suddenly finds The Tribe in a clump at center stage----they cover Claude up as he playfully says he's invisible---they all move upstage, his Indian blanket is held up and ZAP!--when it's pulled away, he really Has disappeared.

"AIN'T GOT NO" is instantly and unexpectedly soft and music box-like. The black and white high contrast photograph of a freeway overpass looms above on the screen.

Woof has come back to the stage (he ran up the aisle, gleefully telling us that he's PINK!) and is now in a spot, looking like the most forlorn street waif alive as he tells us what he doesn't have. The rest of The Tribe are restlessly shifting back and forth with short paces, like caged wild animals, faces sullenly out to us.

Hud takes the mike from Woof and the song grows angrier. The Tribe strikes somewhat grotesque poses with each of Hud's stressed words. Finally Dionne is passed the mike, and the song is at its loudest and angriest. The Tribe is stalking towards us in time to the music, stepping off the stage. They end up inches from the people in the front rows.

With a loud and unexpected group scream, The Tribe pours back on the stage, but just as they are attempting to go under the bridge for an exit--three figures in harsh down-light appear on the bridge, standing in front of an extreme and up-angled photograph of a stop sign. They are all still in Tribe costume, but two have put on police hats which were previously hanging on protrusions of the set. The middle guy is shirtless and wears a yellow hard hat.

"DEAD END" has been pounding out of the speakers, and the three on the bridge are performing a "traffic cop" routine, ending with palms out to The Tribe, commanding them to Stop! As The Tribe flips them the bird and try to decide amongst themselves what to do, a change comes over them and they become stiff---they turn into unmoving walls.

Downstage of them, Hud, Dionne, and Charlene, the three black members of The Tribe, are warily finding their way across the suddenly unfriendly and dimly lit stage. They are clearly out too late in an all-white neighborhood.

When they try to move off the platform, one of the walls unexpetedly swings down, blocking their path. Later the walls move upstage into one monolithic barrier. When The Trio manages to inch off backwards on one side of the platform, four people suddenly swing out from the wall with garbage can lids in their hands. All melody ceases. Pure percussion--breaking glass, strange collisions, as the dancers solenmly, threateningly bang their lids together.

When the music comes back in, Dionne is climbing up to the bridge and the mood completely shifts. We're at a Freedom Rally. The walls are instantly people again, enthusiastically reacting to Dionne's gospel ad-libs. Martin Luther King looks benignly down in a double mirror image as Dionne sings at the center of the bridge and the police have moved cautiously to one end of the bridge.

"No more suffering and no more pain..."--The Tribe joins Dionne with a full throated "MYYYY FRIEND" at the song's end, and the image changes to the famous black and white photograph of King's aids standing on the motel balcony, pointing in the direction from where the assassin's bullets flew.

With all stage lights out, the image slowly fades.

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Strands of HAiR