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Yippies in Love: truly a riot


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.

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June 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm
  • October 5, 2011 at 6:17 pmJay Hamburger

    Hey Heather! Thank you for what is a well written, fair, and decent review of what we consider to be a very good show, one that more people should be aware of and see. The review is so well written and informative that we are going to (with your permission) reprint it in our upcoming Theatre In the Raw “The Raw Times” free newsletter. I keep hearing a lot of Bob Sarti’s lyrics from the “Yippies In Love” show in my head all the time. I know a lot of what was in that musical that played at The Cultch is extremely relevant to the current political/social situation happening both in Canada and the US. Perhaps some of Bob’s lyrics such “question authority” and “it’s got to go” flew through the air all the way to New York City’s Wall Street and helped with the Occupy Wall Street campaign – however obliquely. Keep up with the informative blog and I understand why you are hanging out on the Sunshine Coast.

  • June 27, 2011 at 12:27 amFrank McElroy

    There is no such thing as “a former New Yorker.” As a New Yorker, with some serious time on and around the great white way, I heartily endorse this marvelous amalgamation of delightful romance and near-serious, budding anarchism, drawn into historical context, particularly by the overhead screen providing the black-and-white reality of defined past. Nicely done. This is not a play about war stories. It’s about two competing motives. The world should be honest and responsible. Some things, like having children, oddly, work against that, as does romance.

    “Yippies In Love” is a really delightful, sensitive exposition of this interplay. The cast is more than attractive and talented. The mercurial wizard so reminded me of Brian McDevitt, the art thief, I almost choked. He transcended my limitations, and like each member of the cast was thoroughly engaging. There were two really distinguished voices among the endlessly engaging scenes. My only criticism of the presentation was that the modest stage required repetitive movement. In fact it was most impressive how the group of five manufactured endless iterations of place in such a small one.

    The message of conflict between love and love and love is the essence of the souls of people who cannot ignore. I can’t say enough about the writer’s accomplishment in capturing it. The songwriting was superb, as was the choreography, to the point that I had only two involuntary references in mind, both to Dick Shawn, one in The Producers, and the other in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

    The music. Wow! The deceptively simple duo of keyboard and guitar made perfect by extraordinary talent. I’ve never heard such powerful support of a difficult musical tradition, from Dylan to Hendrix to the Beatles. It was a delight, and without percussion it worked really well. That rolling White Rabbit really intrigued.

    I’d like to thank everyone who made “Yippies in Love” work. Cheers and love, Frank L. McElroy, originally from Manhattan, and that’s in New York. And that’s in New York.

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