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What one immigrant learned about American culture watching Trip of Love
All my life I never understood the cultural fascination with the '60s, and not just because I was born at the end of the flower power decade in 1969. For me, the disconnect was personal. Unlike many of my peers whose parents spent the era rejecting middle-class values, organized religion, and materialism in favor of love-ins, sit-ins, and communes, my parents were impoverished and persecuted for being Jewish in the Soviet Union. Their idea of "California Dreamin'" involved immigrating to San Francisco to frolic amid indoor plumbing. Until we moved to America, my parents and I lived in a single room in a communal apartment where we shared the kitchen and shower-less bathroom with another family. When I saw my first walk-in closet, I thought it was a bedroom!
As a result, whenever I encountered a romantic view of tumultuous '60s America in a book, movie, or onstage (I'm looking at you, Hair), I always heard my parents' question echoing in my head: "Why are all these rich people pretending to live like poor people?" Because of my own frame of reference, I assumed that I would never get the '60s. It was as incomprehensible to me as, say, cold fusion.
But then I saw the Off-Broadway musical Trip of Love, and suddenly the decade clicked for me.
It's odd, actually, since the show has only the barest hint of a plot. It's really just a "greatest hits of the '60s" jukebox musical, with a handful of period archetypes belting out famous songs with enthusiasm. But strangely, that did the trick. Hearing the playlist go from fun but frivolous tunes like "Wipe Out," "Where the Boys Are," and "Up, Up and Away" to Bob Dylan's seminal protest anthem "Blowin' In the Wind" drove home the societal revolution of that time in a visceral way.
Young, white, middle-class adults in the '60s grew up during America's most privileged era. They were taught that the world was a good, fair, and happy place. And then suddenly, thanks to the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the War on Poverty, they learned that wasn't true. How guilty they must have felt about their walk-in closets overflowing with stuff? Worse, why did it take them so long to figure this out?
In Act I of Trip of Love, Adam (Austin Miller) and Caroline (Kelly Felthous) get engaged in a shockingly white, clean-cut gazebo, while looking shockingly white and clean-cut themselves. Meanwhile, the song being performed in the background is "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Pretty as the melody is, this is not a romantic number. The lyrics are a bummer: "Where have all the young men gone/Gone to soldiers every one…" But our heroes don't hear them… at first. Once they realize their halcyon life doesn't extend to everyone, they feel betrayed. They know they have to do something to fix the situation. But what?
It was this kind of epiphany that inspired an entire generation of young people to march against injustice, fight for equal rights, protest the Vietnam War, set up soup kitchens, teach at inner-city schools, and even play at being poor. Maybe some of them decided the best way to eliminate inequality was to throw away their privilege altogether. Which makes me think of an old Russian joke: It's 1917 and a dowager is standing on her balcony with her nephew, watching Bolsheviks conquer the city. "What do these people want?" she asks him. "They want that there will be no more rich people," he replies. "How silly," she scoffs. "They should want that there will be no more poor people."
That's always how I saw it until Trip of Love showed me how shocking the onset of reality must have been for these kids. They must have felt like they were chasing a "White Rabbit" even without the abundance of hallucinogens. Who wouldn't want to turn on, tune in, and drop out?
"Why are all these rich people pretending to live like poor people?" my parents wanted to know once upon a time. Now I'd tell them, "Because they just found out poor people exist and they feel really bad about it." They're looking at life from "Both Sides, Now." And thanks to Trip of Love, I am too.
In addition to being an avid theatregoer, Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling author of soap-opera tie-ins, romance novels, and figure-skating mysteries.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
TDF Members: At press time, discounted tickets were available to Trip of Love. Click here to see all our discounted shows.