Theatre Review: Hippies succeeds where communism failed

The subject matter in Hippies and Bolsheviks could easily lend itself to overwrought cliches, resulting in an unsatisfying theatre-going experience. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Instead Hippies and Bolsheviks lures the audience in with the opening scene where Star (Daniela Vlaskalic) brings young Jeff (David Beazely) back to her apartment for a one night stand. The scene establishes a predator/prey relationship, as Star sees Jeff as a roll in the hay and nothing more. The scene evolves the way you’d expect, as Jeff gets as excited as a kid on Christmas morning when it dawns on him that he’s about to get busy with a gorgeous woman. The post-coital conversation leads to Star allowing Jeff to sleep at her place, and this one decision leads to a whole ball of interesting scenarios.

The single most surprising thing about this production is how not by-the-numbers it is. Despite a story involving draft-dodgers, hippies, pot-smoking, love-triangles, sex, pregnancy and responsibility issues, none of the scenes unfold in a predictable way. Furthermore, writer Amiel Gladstone has crafted multi-dimensional characters and the various actors have taken great pains to bring them to life in believable ways. Nothing in the resulting play feels like something crafted by a writer. The structure of the play and the setting–an apartment set up so audiences seem inside of it–results in a very intimate environment, where audiences eavesdrop on three lives rather than just watch the play.

This said, Hippies and Bolsheviks would be tiresome if the three lives weren’t very interesting. Luckily, the three actors all deliver strong performances. Daniela Vlaskalic’s portrayal of Star is dynamic. She fills the character with equal doses of ferocity and vulnerability, alternating between the two without the shifts feeling false. Jeff is equal parts wise and naïve, and Beazely delivers both well. Shaker Paleja displays restrained rage and surprising vulnerability as Allan, Star’s ex. Director Rachel Ditor should be proud, as the performances are seamlessly intertwined with sound effects, music and great lighting to construct a vivid and engaging world.

Still, Hippies and Bolsheviks will not be loved unconditionally by all. While this is not a political play by any stretch, there’s one exchange between Jeff and Allan about the direction of American foreign policy–meant to be an argument about the Vietnam War–that sticks out like a sore thumb. Considering Jeff is a draft-dodger the war had to be addressed, but the obvious parallels with present day detract from the insular nature of the play.

The big problem some may have with this play is the ending, or lack thereof. There is some ambiguous symbolism involving a whole lot of umbrellas and then the play is over. While some may whine about the lack of closure, the umbrellas provide a very cool visual and, given the story, any ending tacked on to give closure would’ve felt false. Despite the lack of a clear ending, Hippies and Bolsheviks is a fun thought-piece on people and their choices, featuring all three leads in their underwear.

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