Touchstone Theatre

Hippies and Bolsheviks
By Amiel Gladstone

Date 1-11 March 2007 Venue Performance Works on Granville Island
Reviewer John Jane

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Charles Dickens’ opening to “A Tale of Two Cities” has often been paraphrased to describe the heady times of the post-Woodstock counterculture in the early seventies. Those of us old enough to remember this era will fondly recall flared-bottom pants, protest songs, marijuana and wearing flowers in the hair.

The title of Amiel Gladstone’s play might suggest some kind of theatrical time capsule. However, those that would attend expecting a nostalgia fix may be in for a disappointment. Aside from Francesca Granzini’s quaint period costumes, John Webber’s funky lighting and the odd reference to the US military engagement in South East Asia, the subject matter in Hippies and Bolsheviks could easily be shifted to the present.

In the opening scene, Star, a seemingly free-spirited woman in her mid-twenties has attended a Led Zeppelin concert where she has picked up Jeff (Keegan Macintosh), a naïve draft-dodger from Michigan and invited him back to her leaky studio apartment in Kitsilano. (Regarded at the time as Vancouver's equivalent to the Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco)

After mellowing on some “weed”, most of the action then takes place on Star’s hide-a-bed (a couch that saves space by doubling as a bed). That is until Allan (Andrew McNee), Star’s former beau arrives with a “plan” to win back his ex lover. Jeff’s presence coupled with Star’s obstreperous posture causes him to lose his focus and chaos ensues.

The second act opens with a flashback to when Star and Allan first met at a commune in the interior. It’s during this encounter that Allan bestows her with her new name - Star – prior to this juncture she was known as Maggie.

Lara Gilchrist is the actor who plays Star, and the tall, slim brunette sparkles in the role. Simultaneously comic and tragic, she is predatory and yet vulnerable and frequently outshines her co-actors. Not that McNee and Macintosh are really bad; as rivals they set up an interesting dichotomy. There is a preposterously wacky scene that has Jeff and Allan crunching on dry granola. I was less comfortable with the scrappy fight scene. It seemed poorly choreographed and indistinguishable from ragged horseplay.

Gladstone’s comedy is essentially written for a small venue production, and Katrina Dunn makes this coup de theatre dovetail perfectly into the Performance Works theatre.

The allegoric ending is ambiguous rather than definitive. The audience is left to draw its own conclusion to the outcome. I would like to believe that Star is alive and well in 2007 and living in North Vancouver.

© 2007 John Jane