Blyth Festival, 2003

Featuring: Sean Dixon, Gil Garratt, Mark Harapiak, Check Herriott, Tara Hughes, Kelly McIntosh, Lyon Smith
Directed by: Paul Thompson
Created by: Kelly McIntosh, Jonathan Garfinkel, Paul Thompson

‘Hippie Resurrects Blyth’s Spirit
London Free Press
Noel Gallagher

BLYTH – Hippie puts the lie to the silly idea that if you can remember the 1960’s, you weren’t there. Many memories, some pleasant, others troubling, are stirred by the play currently having its world premiere run at the Blyth Festival.

The script, co-written by director Paul Thompson, Jonathan Garfinkel and Kelly McIntosh, recalls the 1969 “invasion” of quiet Huron county by free-loving, dope-smoking, protest son-singing, poetry-spouting hippies.
Their “back to the land” philosophy quickly causes friction between these young, blithe spirits and the Blyth “locals” who are committed to the traditional values of family, farming and religion.

Instead of erecting a saccharin “Hair meets Green Acres” scenario, Hippie depicts an authentic chapter from Southwestern Ontario’s past.
The colourful period is lovingly recreated by an energetic stage ensemble led by stand-out performers Tara Hughes and Sean Dixon.

Dixon gives quite convincing portrayals of figures on opposite sides of the culture clash: Stratford coffee house owner/historian Harry Finlay and Norman Blake, a salt-of-the-earth farmer who understand the threat these strangers pose to the rural community, but also grasps the chance for change they represent.

As Alice, Hughes embodies the innocent, wonderfully naïve spirit of the Flower power era.

The young woman is a muse for her mate, the hippie band’s leader, Hector (Gil Garratt), and a source of romantic revelation for local farmboy/hockey player Andy (Mark Harapiak).

Like Dixon, playwright/actor McIntosh does double duty as bare-footed folk singer Philly and Norman’s wife Alma, who fears her secure world, will be destroyed by the hated outsiders.

Cold reality eventually bites the newcomers, who must endure an unforgiving Huron County winter with frozen water pipes and green firewood.

Music provides the major backdrop for the production, which features fragments of Perth County Conspiracy tunes, such as I Shout Love and Soul Sings Flat, Jefferson Airplane’s classic drug ballad White Rabbit and the haunting lyrics of Day in the Life by John Lennon.

Though the show is rife with creativity, its narrative occasionally wanders off track and some subplots have ragged edges that that editing would remedy.

The new play does acknowledge the positive impact “hippiedom” had on the local community, including the Blyth Festival itself.

“Without them, there would never have been the Farm Show or this theatre,” Harry reminds us.

So, with Hippie, the festival is staging an entertaining and appreciative tribute to its own roots.