nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 23, 2011
In a really valuable pair of program notes, Randy Anderson and Harrison Williams (co-writer/directors of Yippie!) explain the ambivalence they feel towards their work's subject matter. On the one hand, revolution as an idea and an ideal—so joltingly pertinent right now, given events in the Middle East, Africa, and even the American Midwest—is appealing and even intoxicating in a time when ideas and ideals both seem so devalued. But on the other hand, the way that the story of the Yippie would-be revolution ended in real life (with Jerry Rubin becoming a member of the establishment and too many of the children of the '60s growing up to fuel the Reagan Revolution instead) is disillusioning to say the least. This sense of disconnectedness between the values espoused by the students and youth who disrupted the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago and their violent/drugged-out modus operandi informs Yippie!, the new play from Anderson and Williams's Beggars Group, debuting at the FRIGID New York festival.
It makes for thoughtful viewing. The play tells a version of the story of that electrifying summer, focusing in on Yippie leader Jerry Rubin and a fictitious trial examining the death of one of the young Yippies (here named John Doe; this death didn't actually happen). The romantic notions of the Yippies are depicted unapologetically and with clear eyes, which is great; but the underlying hypocrisy of Rubin and his circle are exposed just as forthrightly. Rubin was a guy who wanted to tear down the capitalist war machine, but he was also a guy who knew how to play the capitalist media machine for all it was worth. And he wasn't above using violence when it suited his supposedly pacifist purpose.
Yippie! tells its story nonlinearly but with complete clarity. You can feel the authors wavering in their desire to coax themselves/us into a new revolution in 2011; but they are straightforward and uncompromising in their storytelling skill, which is enormously effective. They've cast the play with seven excellent actors—Williams himself as Rubin's right-hand man Dave Dellinger, along with T.J. Roberts (Rubin), Morgan Lindsay Tachco (Nancy Kershon, Rubin's lover), Brian Morgan (John Doe, the teenager who falls under Rubin's sway and becomes his unintended sacrificial lamb), Elizabeth Miller (Jane, John's sister), and Jennifer Ring and Courtney Cowart in several roles apiece). The direction is movement-based and highly physical; recreations of the protest demonstrations are thrilling, and a scene in which five actors animate the empty clothing of John and Jane's aunt is stunningly theatrical.
I wanted to leave Yippie! full of vigor and heart, ready to set the world afire the way our forerunners tried to do in the mythic '60s. But The Beggars Group doesn't bring us to that place of catharsis in this production, but rather to a more distancing one where the pros and the cons of Rubin and Company's methods are too sharply brought into focus to make them feel commendable. Which is disappointing; but perhaps more useful as we ponder where America and the world may be going in the months and years ahead.