Two weekends ago, my father, at 71 years of age, suddenly found himself nearly face-to-face with a bunch of singing, naked people.
Nothing in my life had prepared me for that particular moment, and I’m fairly certain Dad didn’t see it coming, either. For openers, Dad is not a culture guy. He loves sports first and foremost, and his idea of high art is watching Roy Halladay pitch a no-hitter. He appreciates a good play or musical from time to time, but he doesn’t go out of his way for it. In fact, it usually takes some convincing to get him to trade nine innings for two acts.
It’s particularly impressive, then, that Mom got him to agree to see “Hair,” because the very name of the show refers to something Dad hasn’t had in years. (Not on his head, anyway.)
I wasn’t around to hear Mom’s sales pitch, but I bet she chose not to burden my father with the nitty-gritty of the plot. She probably told him it was a musical about the ‘60s and left it at that. Mom would have known that, had she offered a more complete description of the show –a bunch of hippies singing about sex, drugs and war in graphic detail –my straight-laced father might not have left the house.
Or maybe she just wanted Dad to be surprised. I could relate to that. I wanted to be surprised, too. I knew nothing about the show beyond its setting time-wise, and I intended to keep it that way. I purposely avoided reading reviews, synopses, or any other press.
On the night of the show, our group, which included two of my aunts and uncles and a few of their friends, arrived at the Keegan at 7:45. The theater is a beautiful, all-brick building near Dupont Circle. Built in 1905, it originally served as the gymnasium for a girls school.
Since its conversion to a performing arts venue, the Keegan has shed its gym image but not so much the 1905 part. Nowhere is this more evident than in its two restrooms. Located in the basement, each is a “one-holer” that features what may be original plumbing, as well as a sign above the toilet that reads: Please jiggle the handle.
My father must have felt right at home on seeing this public endorsement of his lone solution for every plumbing malady. But any goodwill he was feeling shot right out the window when, during the first ten seconds of the play, one of the male leads performed an extended pantomime of what I’ll euphemistically refer to as an act of “self-gratification.” (Hey, my mother reads this blog.)
As I sat next to my father, I was truly beside myself. I had brief hopes of escape by way of spontaneous combustion, using the heat that had sprung to my cheeks. When that didn’t work, I did what any mature, professional 42 year-old woman would do: I snickered uncontrollably. Dad’s face looked like something out of Easter Island.
The three of us somehow made it all the way through the first act, despite one song whose title and lyrics read like entries in Roget’s Thesaurus: Human Mating Edition.
During the intermission, my parents and I chatted, pointedly omitting mention of the unsavory stuff and instead praising the cast for its vocal skills, costumes, and willingness to abandon any pretense of grooming habits in order to get “in character.”
We returned to our seats and everything was going fine until the middle of Act Two, when the Hippies decided to stage a “be-in” at a park.
Since I was born in 1971, I had no idea what a “be-in” was. I quickly learned it’s short for “be in your birthday suit” as the ensemble burst into song and out of their clothes, singing as a full Monty chorus line for a minute that felt like a year. Forget “Let the Sunshine In;” the moons had taken center stage. I couldn’t bear to look at my father.
The show ended shortly after that—a mercy killing—and the cast began to take its bows. Dad, who hadn’t so much as applauded once during the show, stunned me by being one of the first people to leap to his feet and clap with genuine enthusiasm.
He saw my surprise and said, “The music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and the whole thing’s a little dated, but they gave it everything they had, and they were great.” He was absolutely right, because the production was nothing short of top-notch.
I had underestimated my father, as I’ve done many times over the course of my life. I should have known that, instead of dwelling on the stuff he didn’t like, my father would look past form, focus on substance, and zero in on the naked truth.