Targeting life in the ’60s and 70s

Jim Sullivan, Boston Globe — November 20, 2003

Celia Slattery, on stage at Jimmy Tingle’s Off-Broadway in Somerville, begins “Moving Target,” her music-and-monologue show about growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, by referencing earlier, “simpler” times. Initially, this seems to be a false note – even before the Vietnam War, the touchstone for her generation, things were pretty gnarly. But it turns out Slattery is setting up that notion of a simpler time as being illusory. By the end of the 80-minute show – after taking us through her personal journey, interspersed with folk and rock songs from the era – she has come to that conclusion: No time is simple when you’ve lived through it.

Slattery, who just turned 50, grew up during a time when the personal was political and vice versa. The moment that jolted her into the ugliness of the real world was John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Slattery was informed of the president’s shooting by Sister Pauline at the Santa Barbara, Calif., Catholic school where she was being taught.

“Something has happened to our president,” said Sister Paul4ine. Slattery happened to be the class president at the time, and thought the Sister was ousting her; then the reality and gravity set in.

With “Moving Target,” Slattery, accompanied by keyboardist Mark Shilansky, takes you along for her ride through good times and bad, through naivete and anger, in a pop-cabaret getting. Beatlemania gave us a reason to be cheerful after JFK’s death. Her schooling taught her contradictory ideas about obeying authority and opening your mind; a hippie pad was a pretty cool place to crash until it seemed like a trash mound. Slattery’s hippie pad, where she lived with her boyfriend Bob, among others, was what is now the Piano Factory on Tremont Street. She says she moved 12 times in 10 years, hence the title of the show. She did yoga and moved to an isolated cabin in New Hampshire with her daughter. She studied theater, worked scads of straight jobs at which she failed, and got arrested in Washington, D.C., where she spent much of her young life, for flying a kite in the park. The hippies, you see, had a “kite-in” protest in April 1970 and four of them were arrested for violating an 1892-era law about flying kites in public. Slattery had hoisted a Red Barren kite (remember the Red Barron of World War I and, later, “Peanuts” fame?) and she got busted for it. You can read all about it in The Washington Post. Slattery copies the story for the program for her show.

The best and worst of hippie culture come tumbling out here. You may tear up, you may wince. Music, particularly soft-rock and folk, plays an important role, and Slattery starts with the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and winds through the Beatles, Country Joe and the Fish, and a medley of lounge songs she performed when she was a performer in Bangkok. Her Bangkok experience allows her to ruminate about a culture where monks and prostitutes coexist, but it seems out of context in this work. The two centerpieces of the show are a medley of Joni Mitchell songs – was there a female folk singer of this period not enamored of Mitchell? – and Cat Stevens’s “Peace Train.”

The years of protest have the most resonance and texture. Slattery, who once chained herself to a gate outside the draft board office, wrestles with the issues of nonviolence and draws inspiration from Allen Ginsberg, whose chanting of “Om” reduced the tension at a protest and led to the hippies giving the police flowers instead of pelting them with debris. There’s a sense of resolution upon hearing the Beatles’ “Revolution” played – if someone of John Lennon’s stature is making a pacifistic plea, maybe the extreme left is not going about things properly.

At the end of “Moving Target,” Slattery jumps from the mid-’70s and the end of the Vietnam War to where we are today. She muses that although Iraq is not Vietnam and George W. Bush is not Rich ard Nixon, “sometimes it feels like it.”