Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Hair national tour; CSULA Conference; On-Line Floricanto 1/11/11

Michael Sedano

HAIR The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
The Pantages Theatre Hollywood, January through January 23, 2011.

A fellow who looks a lot like me looks across rows of people from QQ center to the distant stage, where the Pantages Theatre hosts a revival of the c. 1968 vintage rock musical, Hair. The fellow smiles with brimming nostalgia. When an actor brandishes that “Stop the Draft” sign the fellow’s eyes glisten with remembrance and an echoing terror. Like so many in the audience Sunday afternoon, he remembers.
Long hairs v. straights.
The war.
The Draft.

Mostly, the performance does a good job of evoking for the fellow the rage that defined the counterculture. It’s in “Christmas in Niggertown,” rage. It’s in the antiwar attitude, rage. Sadly, that rage isn’t really on stage. But maybe that sentiment won’t be missed unless you have seasoned 40 post-Aquarius years and recognize its absence. From the production. Obviously, today’s antiwar movement is fueled with a similar rage.

The actors have not yet grown into their roles. The cast would do well to look for that rage resting just under the surface of the glittery rhythms and lightshows that make their Hair a pleasant two and a half hours in the auditorium. They will sizzle if they “get” it. Break a leg, gente.

I suppose you had to have been there, the 1960s, to comprehend the amalgam of sentiment churned up by the glitter and lights of today’s spectacular revival. One of the many young people attending wouldn’t know any of that. This is fun. Anyone will find Hair a gem of musical theatre, and with this production launching a nationwide tour, widely accessible. Although updated in places--there's a clever allusion to The Fugs' "slum goddess from the lower East Side"--Hair's a grand historical artifact of its day, serving up a mostly groovy way to identify with grandpa's generation.

The sound sucks. There’s a reason “background” is called that. Maybe the sound person called in sick. Hair delights with showstopper after showstopper after showstopper. Big numbers, big solos, big problem. Although some of the performers are equal to a big number, others suffer from articulation and projection difficulty. Peor, the mic’ing is problematic, worsened by board control and balance. I was especially disappointed I could not decipher the give-and-take of the ordinarily hilarious “aint got no” establishing number. As a result, the “tribal” element fails to develop, leaving many numbers stand-alone knockouts by a bunch of singers.

By the time the company plays Peoria I trust these hiccups will be mastered and adult audiences get the grand event major theatre ought to provide. Hair is not for kids, with nudity and lots of simulated sex. In El Lay, age 13 and above only can get a seat.

Spectacle and light make the show a visually thrilling experience. Above the action, particulates in the air catch the hard focus spotlights that appear to cut sharply through dusty sky. Down below, the actors spread across the stage, climb scaffolds, spill into the aisles. All those bodies contorting in choreographed unity. Cast clusters are staged particularly effectively.

My heart goes out to whoever choreographed the piece. I lost my Playbill and I have yet to find good web resources giving any but cast names. Staging eighteen or so dancers on stage makes for too big a challenge. I’m not sure everyone was having fun. Several dances were clumsy, both staged clunky and danced by rote. With time the latter fixes itself.

Several leads had a blast playing with the audience in the front row and aisles. Bringing cast members into the seats to play the house is engaging and fun for the right patron. The actor sits in one’s lap or stands on armrests, runs fingers through the playgoer’s hair or smooches. Latecomers get special welcomes, an escort, a kiss, an impromptu waltz. Totally trippy, to be an actor in these roles.

I bought the original cast album back in ‘68 and have enjoyed the album’s sequence of songs. I saw Hair in Tokyo for new year 1970, but that was in Japanese so I’d never realized how damn many numbers make up the full book of Hair. And my gosh, the Pantages staged every single song and number for a full two and a half hours (though I do not recall their using the “hare krishna” lines). I imagine when Hair conquers Costa Mesa it’ll run shorter. A lot shorter.

It was a short drive from the Pantages to Musso & Frank for some local color and Musso’s fabulous anchovy dressing. You can taste it if you’re in Hollywood. If not, at least you’ll enjoy the musical. Hair The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is making a multi-city tour that opens in Los Angeles and goes into short runs here and there until June in Orlando FL.

CSULA Conference on Modernity, Critique, and Humanism

Roberto Cantú, CSULA's indefatigable academic conference organizer--whom I last saw risen from his sick bed to join the celebrants at the Latino Book & Family Festival Roberto helped sponsor at CSULA--has organized the Conference on Modernity, Critique, and Humanism slated for February 12-13 at the El Sereno campus.

Roberto points out "We will have speakers and panelists representing 17 different countries and 38 universities, from Denmark to South Korea and Turkey, among others."

The conference website offers its own visual treats, in addition to some adventurous panel topics.

On-Line Floricanto. One one one one one.

1. "HB 2281/Listen Child" by Esme Bernal
2. "I Am What I Am, So What?" by Leslie Ross-Cantu
3. "Immigrant Crossing" by Daniel Garcia Ordaz
4. "Calling In The New Year" by Devreaux Baker
5. "Your Life or Hers" by Norma Liliana Valdez

Listen Child
by Esme Bernal

for mijo: ThunderLightning

listen child,
do not worry,
your red skin
has been the robe
of ancient wisdom.

what does your
teacher know
or does your teacher know
hate is her lecture.

do not cry,
wipe your tears
of many generations.
the universe
is your school.
let your teacher be
what she must be:
an example of
what not to be.

~Esmeralda Bernal

I Am What I Am, So What?
by Leslie Ross Cantu

I am a mixture
A little bit of white
A little bit of brown

My worth is determined by
the color of my skin

I am from my mother, the mestiza
Physically born to the oppressed
Soy de mi papá, el Gabacho
A direct product of an oppressor

I am carrying my dignity
and both races on my back

I am from the bleeding Borderland
A wall of barbed lies
A chain of sighs

A heart pounding to the beat
Of an old wound
…forces me to make room in my soul for two countries

I am, La Llorona
The oppressed one
I am, La Virgen
I don’t need machos to defend me
I am, La Malinche
A traitor for becoming Americanized

I am Mexican without being one
Choking on worthlessness
I am American without feeling like one
Dissolving into the melting pot

I love to listen to George Strait’s twang
and think of my perfect lover
But tribal-barrio dances to
Los Tigres Del Norte
Set me free.

I believe in the American flag
tamales at Christmas time
…and code switching to make them wonder

Displaced in the United States in 1848
I am the clash of two cultures
But the ground is mine

I am the an aware mind amongst the persecuted
…the American Dream

I am a hybridity
…a walking contradiction

I am a Chicana
…leaving my imprint on the world

I am a Mexican born American
In society’s own name…
I am what I am, so what?

Immigrant Crossing
by Daniel Garcia Ordaz

My father’s feet
Carried the sesquicentennial stench of
Mexico, turned Texas, turned United States of America.

He labored in 24- and 48-hour shifts
Irrigating arid citrus groves,
Working under the bellies of navel orchards
In trenches that emanated a stink
That America could not stomach.

Mother Nature painted on my father’s immigrant feet
Socks of earth, wind, and tire,
Then drowned them in her melting pot,

Ankles aching,
Bunions burning,
Blisters bleeding,
Calluses calcificating,
Nails embedded with myriad funguses
Frolicking frivolously
Only to become penitent parasites.

My father left
Mexticacán, Jalisco—
Less than a spec
On the Mexican map—
And crossed the Rio Grande
For the privilege of standing on American soil,
For the privilege of owning an American acre,
For the privilege of raising his American children,
For the privilege of ruling
Over endless, waveless American ditches.
For the privilege of working
For endless, thankless sonuvabitches.

On toasty Texas summer nights
When he’d come home at dawn,
We knew he was home upon smell,
As he shed his black boots
With a sigh of repose,
Crossing his feet
Under Uncle Sam’s nose.

Note: A similar but different version poem first appeared in Boundless 2010, the official anthology of the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival.

Macedonio Garcia, Sr. (Q.E.P.D./R.I.P.)

Calling In The New Year
by Devreaux Baker

Dear Francisco,
This morning I wanted a poem that could save me
I wanted to swim across the current of despair
That washes against my soul
I wanted a boat with red sails to lift me
Beyond the ghetto of my Grandfather’s life
Beyond the midnight song of guns and drugs
My sons have come to love
I wanted a poem with a migrant voice that is filled
With so much duende the floorboards of my heart
Reverberate with dance
I wanted a poem that begins in persecution
And ends in a place where hope collides
With infinite possibilities
I wanted a poem that braids ours lives together
And chants the words that live beneath earth
That fly away as echoes from the ears of mountains
That wait in hidden springs
For a passing poet to discover consonants
And syllables and transform them into lyrics
for a song we can drink as coffee and eat as bread
I wanted all the streets of my heart to keep time
With this lost beat until the sleeping gods
Wake up and welcome us home again.
This morning I call down blessings from
The long line of grandmothers that stretches
Out as wings on either side of my body
I call in all four directions and dance this poetry
In the subways of New York and in the alleys of L.A.
In the hip hop body of soul and the wide open arms
Of my lover’s flamenco guitar
Until my spirit is infused with the rhythm of words
That taps golpa, a beat against the body of our lives
and I am shown that anything is possible
in the land where poetry dwells.

© Devreaux Baker

your life or hers
by Norma Liliana Valdez


1. "HB 2281/Listen Child" by Esme Bernal
2. "I Am What I Am, So What?" by Leslie Ross-Cantu
3. "Immigrant Crossing" by Daniel Garcia Ordaz
4. "Calling In The New Year" by Devreaux Baker
5. "Your Life or Hers" by Norma Liliana Valdez

Devreaux Baker
Devreaux Baker's work has been published or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including; The New Millenium, ZYZZYVA, The American Voice, Borderlands Review of Texas Poetry, The Guadalupe Review, Bloomsbury Review, High Plains Literary Review, Counter-Punch,El Tecolote, and the Inheritance of Light Anthology . She was an editor of Wood, Water, Air and Fire: The Anthology of Mendocino Women Poets and produced The Voyagers Radio Program of Original Student Writing for National Public Radio. She taught poetry in the schools for many years and has published three books of poetry; Light at the Edge, Beyond the Circumstance of Sight and Red Willow People. She is the recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship, A Hawthornden Castle International Poetry Fellowship, three California Arts Council multi-disciplinary fellowships, and the Helene Wurlitzer Writing Fellowship. She has conducted workshops on creative writing in France,Scotland and Mexico. She currently directs the Mendocino Coast Poets Reading Series.

Norma Liliana Valdez
Norma Liliana Valdez arrived to California from Mexico in her mother’s pregnant belly. She was born and raised in the Bay Area. Her poetry seeks to disentangle the tradition of women’s oppression and pain through the personal intersection of the psyche with the page. She is an alumna of the Voices of our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) writing workshop for writers of color and the Writing Program at UC Berkeley Extension. She holds a Master’s degree in Counseling from San Francisco State University and works with first-generation, underrepresented students as a community college counselor.

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