By Mimi Pollack
Full Disclosure: I met radical Abbie Hoffman at a party in Mexico City when he was hiding out there as Barry Freed. He had had a nose job, but I knew who he was as I had been following his antics since 1968 and had read his books. We hit it off immediately and spent the whole evening on a sofa chatting away. He was hysterically funny, smart and very flirtatious. He still had his rebel, radical side, but it had also softened. I never saw him again, but that evening will stay with me forever.
Several years later, I met Jerry Rubin, who co-founded the Yippie movement with Hoffman, in New York City, and what a contrast! Rubin had not only become a capitalist, he was also arrogant and mean.
Siguenza really captures Abbie Hoffman’s Jewishness, his way of talking, his humor and kindness, his lunacy and his poignancy. There is no doubt that Hoffman was a tortured soul.
However, I think Hoffman would have been proud of this play and how it conveys him. This play honors Hoffman’s influence on the radical movement of the 1960’s, and it also suggests how he could have influenced this generation, something the disillusioned Hoffman never had a chance to do before ending his own life in 1989.
The premise of the play is that Hoffman is now in heaven and serves as a St. Peter for radicals. The date is July 4, 2017 and one of the last young radicals has been shot and is now in the hospital, hovering between worlds. The question is will she wake up out of her coma or not? It all depends on if Hoffman deems her worthy to go back and truly be the radical who has enough heart and wisdom to lead the other radicals. To this end, he puts her through a series of tests.
Summer Spiro, who plays Trish the radical, is a force to be reckoned with. At first, I found her too abrasive, but she grows on you and her talent shines through. The girl can move and dance. She can also sing, and at the end, she delivers a rousing and inspiring rap song.
The third actor, Mark Pinter, was also quite good playing multiple roles, including George Burns as “God,” Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, a very fitting John Lennon, and a hilarious Julia Childs.
The music was perfect! Each song, from Cat Steven’s, “Why Do the Children Play,” to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s, “From the Beginning,” perfectly captures the feeling each scene is trying to convey.
This is a play that makes you think and question. One moment that particularly resonated with me is when Hoffman says, “It has become un-American to question the government or authority after 9/11.” I could truly see Hoffman saying something like that. The play also fits in with the socially conscious work that Herbert Siguenza, Richard Montoya, and Ric Salinas have done as Culture Clash.
All in all, this is a fitting tribute to Hoffman, the radical baby boomers of the past, and a call to the new generation who has it on their shoulders to change the world for the better.
- “Steal Heaven” runs through Jan. 25 at the Lyceum Stage of the San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown
- Tickets start at $31 and are available at 619-544-1000 or online
Mimi Pollack is a San Diego-based freelance writer.
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