A current celebration of Vancouver, B.C.’s radical early-70s era presents the delightful fun and conviction (in both senses of the word) of an activist spirit. My husband Frank and I saw Bob Sarti’s play Yippies in Love at The Cultch last night, and I came away so enthused, I couldn’t sleep for too many hours later. Frank, a former New Yorker, commented: “This was way better than a lot of off-Broadway stuff I’ve seen.)
This campy musical romp, “borrowed from a true story” of Vancouver history and Sarti’s own anarchic actions, recreates key public protests of 1970-71, using the ideals of a fictional Yippee household as its thematic lens. The love story begins unwittingly, when Andy (Steve Maddock), a U.S. surfer dude avoiding the Vietnam draft, decides to try and cross the border at Blaine, WA on May 9, 1970 — the same day that hundreds of peaceniks and Yippies from Vancouver invaded Blaine to protest the Vietnam war and claim the Peace Arch as their own. (Sarti still retains a small chunk of the Arch as a souvenir of his involvement that day.)
Caught up in this raucous group action, Andy meets plucky protester Julie (Danielle St. Pierre), a feminist single mom who cherishes her independence. She later invites him to join her household of Yippee enthusiasts (actors Bing Jensen, Emily Rowed and Rebecca Shoichet), who each play a series of characters, ranging from local Yippie motivator “The Wizard” to Vancouver Judge Les Bewley and the city’s former notorious hippy-baiting-and-hating mayor, Tom “Terrific” Campbell. All of the actors are excellent; my only criticism is that Bing Jensen’s singing voice didn’t project loudly enough to we folk in the last row.
One might expect a Question Authority play, which mocks The Man and slams capitalist power, to lay on the heavy rhetoric, but Sarti keeps the tone entertaining and educational, in irreverent Yippee style. His pithy lyrics are hilarious and the choreography routines, especially Dancin’ Doobies, are great. His use of news footage of police violence at events like the Gastown riot (on Aug. 9 1971) enhances the injustices rampant at the time, as do the excerpts from court transcripts that Sarti weaves into dialogue.
A retired Vancouver Sun reporter, Sarti projects above the stage numerous media headlines, including ones from The Sun, which aptly captured the public hysteria over peaceful protest. (As a cub reporter one summer at The Sun too many decades ago, I benefited from Sarti’s information-sharing and enjoyed his reporting of non-Establishment events.) In the program for Yippies in Love, he thanks the Newspaper Guild, his union at the time, “for protecting my job security while I juggled two careers — while collar worker by day, white collar Yipppie by night.”
The play runs until July 3 and I urge anyone with an iota of activism in their blood to see it. Its message of grassroots action seems especially a propos while people riot and die for democracy in the Middle East, and Vancouver reels from the yahoo riots by drunken Canuck fans. (After today’s performance, Sarti is hosting a panel “Yippies and Yahoos: What’s the Difference?”)
Yippies in Love is dedicated to the memory of Sarti’s father Paolino, who fought fascism in Spain. It’s directed and produced by Jay Hamburger, artistic director of Theatre in the Raw, which bills itself as “giving exposure to voices seldom heard” since 1994. Jay appeared onstage to introduce the play, and read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “The World is a Beautiful Place” to evoke the protest tone of the early 1970s. The third stanza reads:
Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces.
Noted pianist and arranger Bill Sample, the play’s music director and composer, joined guitarist Robbie Steininger to energize the whole show with great live keyboard action, from ballads to Hendrix. All ’round, a wonderful experience.
June 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm Comments (2)