I attended a local theatrical production this past weekend, Age of Aquarius, at Harrington Arts Academy in Loveland, CO.
Here is a description of the play from the playbill:
The 1960’s heaped one tumultuous event upon another which severely tested our country, and perhaps, changed it irrevocably, despite recent efforts to change it back. Whether or not that change was ultimately for good or for ill remains a major cause for disagreement. We, the people, ended up with higher standards of government, more concern about the personal well-being of all people, a better attitude toward the world in which we live, individual and social responsibility, as well as the consequence of too much unchecked power being wielded by “Uncle Sam”, the “Man”, “Big Brother”, “Mr. Char-lie”. “The times, they were a changing”…. and still the so-called war in Vietnam raged on and invaded our living rooms with gruesome and disturbing images and weekly death counts.
We entered our adolescence inspired with the misty-eyed belief in our great good indivisible nation by the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and the peerless leadership of Rev. Mar-tin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. As young adults we held self-centered illusions about dispensing with hypocritical traditions. Wouldn’t that be cool? We would challenge all convention through the mantra of “sex, drugs, rock n’ roll” and bogus notions of “alternative lifestyles” instigated in part by a Harvard Psychology professor named Timothy Leary, who fashioned himself into the pied piper of a half-witted drug-induced social rebellion. One way or another, we, the Baby Boomers, would change the world. It was our birthright….until one assassination after another, race riots, a brutal and unpopular “war” in Southeast Asia, campus insurrections, and other upheavals taught us the hard truth about re-making the world over night. We felt that we’d been denied our birthright.
Idealism faded into despair. Despair gave birth to rejection. Before this generation of immature people who’d never been told “NO” in their lives, had time to take stock, the revolution of hope became a revolution of rising expectation. If it is indeed true that the 60’s raised too many questions that no one could answer, it also turned the hope that America would soon fulfill its destiny more likely than ever before. We could also take comfort in the knowledge that if we could survive the 60’s, we could survive anything.
The 60’s were “the best of times, they were the worst of times”. But, hey, back then I was just a kid…Thank God!
Mary Bahus-Meyer, one of the players in the production, had given me a heads up that the music would bring smiles to my face and also tears. Mary had the honor of reciting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I kind of doubted that I would actually cry from a small town play. I have attended some of the most popular shows on Broadway, when I lived near NYC, and don’t consider myself someone who is easily impressed.
Mary was spot on. The music brought back specific days, when I was just a kid. Emotions rose to the surface as I watched historic photos flashing on a side wall of the theater. I remembered, as if it were yesterday, the events of my day when President Kennedy was shot. I was in third grade and everyone I saw that day was crying. We were dismissed from school and everyone went home and watched their TVs in disbelief of the tragedy. There was a blanket of sadness that lay over our nation.
Age of Aquarius was written and directed by Steve Harrington. It is a tribute to seven Veterans from Loveland, Colorado who died in the Vietnam War. As photos of each Veteran were projected on a side wall, I felt tears running down my cheeks as a flood of memories came back to me. I remembered watching Walter Cronkite on one network, and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on another, delivering the uncensored nightly news. It was almost unbelievable the graphic details they were sharing with the nation. I imagine the competition between television broadcast networks drove them to sensationalistic and vulgar levels.
I also recalled the day that my brother, Radford, boarded a train heading for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas to do his basic training. That was August of 1966 and I was going into 6th grade in the Fall. I had no understanding of what my brother was about to embark on. I only knew he looked great in his uniform and I didn’t know when I would see him again. It wasn’t a big surprise when he received his orders that he would be going to Vietnam; most of his buddies were already stationed there. Rad looked so young and innocent in the photos taken of him before boot camp.
I have a few photos of my brother that were taken in Vietnam. Something had changed in how he looked, and I guess it would have to in order to deal with the horrors of war. My brother was a carefree guy before the war, he always had a smile on his face. He was one of the fortunate soldiers; he came home without any physical injuries. I consider Rad to be a walking wounded Veteran of that military conflict. The psychological impact was great
Throughout the period of time that I watched TV coverage of the Vietnam War, and that was explicit footage, I would ask my teachers and the adults in my life why we were over there fighting. It all sounded like propaganda to me. Teachers told us that the Communists were at our doorstep and we had to fight them back.
My father was in the Navy during World War II. His ship, the USS Helena (CL-50), was damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor and sunk in the Battle of Kula Gulf (Solomon Islands) on July 6, 1943. Questions that I had about the Vietnam Conflict were not welcomed and if I had comments against the war, I was viewed as being unpatriotic. I heard horrible stories from my father about the Kula Gulf Battle. When I read the book, “Unbroken” I felt like I had a better understanding of what my father went through as he floated in the water after the Helena was sunk, not knowing if he would be rescued. He was among the over 750 men who were rescued by the destroyers, USS Radford and Nicholas. I understood why he joined the Navy and I understood the need to defend our country against an enemy attack.
To this day, I don’t understand why our country was involved in the Vietnam War and why so many young men had to die. In spite of my father’s disapproval, I became very vocal about getting our troops out of Vietnam. I had pictures of the Chicago Seven posted on the wall of my high school locker. You could also find a copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book on the top shelf of my locker. The Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, Ohio, struck me to my core. That song continues to remind me of those turbulent times. Young people were willing to lose their lives to get the attention of the government to get our troops out of Vietnam. Although I did not believe in our participation in the war, I was very proud of my brother for all he endured during the conflict.
One common thread that I saw in my father and brother was, they seemed to have lost some of their humanity as a result of what they experienced during their years in the United States Armed Forces. There is a mighty cost to freedom.
There are many lighthearted moments in Age of Aquarius play. The cast sang Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. And yes, I did sing along. Everyone I knew watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. After that show, I memorized the song, I Want to Hold Your Hand and sang it constantly to anyone who would listen.
I give this play a hearty thumbs-up! In high school I was involved in “Stage Crafters” – the students who worked on building sets for the school productions. I thought the set and props for this play were very creative, especially with the limited budget that local theater generally has to work with. When you can get an audience to engage and bring out their emotions, you have done a fine job. The play runs again this weekend, Friday and Saturday, August 14 & 15 at 7:00 pm – Age of Aquarius.
Jesus Christ Superstar will be performed at Harrington Arts Academy on November 13 to 22, 2015. I played that record album (along with Joni Mitchell’s Blue album), non-stop, in the early 70’s – I will have to attend this performance to get another flashback experience. Ah, the days of halter tops and bell bottom jeans.