HIPPIES AND BOLSHEVIKS
Touchstone Theatre’s production of Amiel Gladstone’s play opens with a blast of Led Zeppelin and a hippie chick in peasant blouse, bell bottoms, and puka shells. From its Kitsilano crash pad and Interior commune settings, 1971-72, to bogarted joints and a draft dodger, Hippies and Bolsheviks seems to set us up for a nostalgia trip, man. But Gladstone and director Katrina Dunn mostly avoid cheap flashback sentiment. Instead they deliver a pretty groovy evening that begins as sex farce, morphs into romantic comedy, and ends as coming of age drama.
When Star (Lara Gilchrist) brings home Jeff (Keegan Macintosh) for casual sex, he gives her a little more than she bargained for. He’s emotionally needy, practically a virgin, seven years younger than her 26, and a homeless American draft dodger. His sexual awkwardness and her aggressiveness combine to produce the show’s easiest laughs. We also get the emergence of Jeff’s genuine innocence (nicely conveyed by Macintosh), the moving story of his border crossing, and the first details of Star’s serious issues.
The plot thickens when ex-boyfriend Allan (Andrew McNee) walks in on them, wanting to start over with Star. The evolving triangle offers some hilarious moments. Moon-faced McNee, in full ‘70s Afro, is an adept comedian, whether surreptitiously sniffing the sheets in a painfully funny moment of sexual jealousy, writhing with stomach pains at the word responsibility, or chewing mouthfuls of granola in an extended comic sequence that has the audience howling.
Star’s hostility and anxiety are explained in the dramatic second act, which flashes back to the commune where she and Allan met, then returns to the present in arguments about independence, adulthood, and the end of the Sixties dream. Gilchrist, perhaps underrated as an actress just because she’s so lovely, does really compelling work here.
On the cusp of a new age all three characters are embarking on unknown paths. Gladstone handles their stories with sensitivity and intelligence, and provides a sweet, unexpected ending.
But the play has some problems reconciling its different tones. And its production elements don’t always mesh. Star’s bachelor apartment is small but needn’t be as awkward and cramped an acting space as Yvan Morissette’s set provides. Francesca Granzini’s period costumes, especially the men’s underwear, sometimes seem inexact.
Still, it’s nice to have a glance back at Vancouver in those more naïve days. Despite the talk of rain, 4th Avenue, and the Pacific Coliseum, the best evocation of place is an optimistic line that got one of the play’s biggest laughs: “They’re gonna build a third bridge to the North Shore!” Some dreams never die.