Hippies and Bolsheviks Provides a Rainbow Slice of Vancouver’s Past

On Saturday night, Touchstone Theatre invited me to see Hippies and Bolsheviks, a hurley gurley play set in Vancouver in 1972, written by my former classmate, Amiel Gladstone.

Hippies and Bolsheviks begins with Star (Lara Gilchrist) and a much-younger Allan (Keegan Macintosh) returning from a Led Zeppelin concert. Star (think Penny Lane from Almost Famous) is a free spirit dealing with a hippie lifestyle gone sour, and she’s brought Allan back to her Vancouver Special for a little free love. Allan is, inexplicably, highly reluctant to jump in the Hide-a-Bed.

The plot doesn’t really get started until Star’s ex-boyfriend Jeff (Andrew McNee) barrels into the house with his white man’s afro and a three-point plan for eternal happiness. What follows is an amusing extended negotiation among the three as they wrestle with the conflicting philosophies of the day.

Technically, the production is great. Realistic sets can be a cop-out, but Yvan Morissette’s is tactile and sensuous, full of dripping water and shag carpets. I liked both the sound and the soundtrack–they did well to choose a lot of psychedelic music I’d never heard before.

Director Katrina Dunn drives the performers around the space with great inertia, and devises plenty of stage business to keep them busy. It’s an intimate play, and she’s staged it appropriately.

Dunn elicits convincing performances from all the actors. Andrew McNee is more convincing as the lurching comic foil in the first act than the romantic prospect in the second. Keegan Macintosh was convincingly boyish, but he occasionally seemed to struggle with the timing of the dialogue. There was more humour in his lines than he found.

One quick note on the staging. Dunn wisely opted for a thrust staging, with the audience on three sides of the action. Every time I attend a show in this configuration, I’m shocked to watch the proscenium or front part of the seating fill up first–hardly anybody opts for the side. This is a common misconception, as the sides (preferably closer to the front corners of the stage) usually offer the best view.

The play’s plot is pretty routine, and it works best as a vignette of time and place. I’m not sure why Ami picked this period, as it’s one that our society has profounded fetishized. We’re so familiar with the aesthetic–shapeless, tie dye clothes and orange and brown curtains–and the touchstones–Vietnam, drug culture, draft dodgets. I laughed with familiarity at several points at things–the prototypical sensitive 70s man, granola, daisy chains–which I’d never experienced first hand.

I do enjoy seeing plays about my home, whether that means ‘Canada’ or ‘Vancouver’. It’s fun to hear familiar place names, and imagine them in a different era. This is one of the many reasons why Touchstone’s previous production, Life After God, was such an enormous disappointment.

If you’re having a drink with your fellow playgoers after the show, Hippies and Bolsheviks isn’t going to spawn any great debates. It’s a comforting, nostalgic sort of play, well-produced if fleeting.

On their (irk) MySpace page, Touchstone has some good-looking videos from the production, including an interview with Ami and a scene from the show. Tip to Touchstone: good work on the videos, now you should also upload your press and production photos to Flickr, so that I can easily grab one to use for reviews like this.

1 comment

  1. dude – just saw the play yesterday afternoon… I, too, am doing a quick little write-up about it, and just googled “Amiel Gladstone wiki” to locate a link for him (would somebody get that poor boy a website!), and up you came – hilarious. Why am I not surprised?

    I liked the play a lot, the writing, most of the acting, set and musak, but the audience was DEAD – so horribly so, that some of the funniest moments in the writing were lost and came across as bloody dramatic and serious. I think I need to see it again with a more packed, jovial (drunk, or under 70) crowd.
    I completely agree with your seating comments. Oh, also, you’ve mixed up your characters names – the young kid was Jeff. The ex-BF was Allan.
    ciao.

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