Critics hailed the Harvard Dramatic Club's presentation of "Napoleon Intrudes" as a triumph that amateur theatrical groups seldom attain. Last night in Otto Bastian's play, "Circumstantial Evidence," the club has again earned the praise of discriminating lovers of the drama, not so much for its selection of a play, but for the superb acting which distinguishes the entire performance.
In accordance with its policy of producing plays that have never been introduced in the country previously, last night's performance in the Pi Eta theatre was the American premiere of "Circumstantial Evidence." There are few continental plays that escape the eagle eye of American producers intent on box office receipts, but there are many manuscripts on the market containing good drama that is more suited to amateur production. The club's selection is a happy one, for students cannot accuse it on the grounds that it is too artistic, a censure that has been occasionally justified in the past. It is also an astute study of modern criminology, and directed to show the weakness of circumstantial evidence by the cliche of putting the prosecutor in the boots of the prosecuted. Obviously such a theme will have as wide an appeal as a well-written detective story. Like some of the mediocre tales of crime, "Circumstantial Evidence" suffers from a plot that temerity would brand as clap-trap, but discrimination would be inclined to call well cemented. Although damaging evidence may be inextricable from the truth, a plot that is so tortuously constructed is likely to cause the spectator's credulity to totter. There are too many improbable parallels.
Through three rather long acts interest is maintained by shifting the object of attention subtly and effectively. First the persecutor's alibi depends upon a green chartreuse bottle, then an overcoat button, and finally upon establishing the presence of the same blood on a pair of gloves and a knife. Suspense rises to a pitch at the end of the first scene in act three; the last two scenes are lamentably weak perhaps because of their brevity. The author has injected several squibs in the Shavian manner, such as "today women are either supermen or twittering neurasthenics," which neither pass as humor or great intellectual truths. But these are only minor points in an otherwise sterling production.
It is difficult to award the laurels for acting. Certainly high honors go to Robert Breckinridge '35, who as the prosecuting attorney, is the central figure. To see such a part which lends itself to "strutting and bellowing" portrayed in a manner "not too tame either" was indeed a pleasure.
Jane Mast, who is rather unconvincing early in the evening, develops a personality that is persuasive. She has lines which would tax the powers of many screen stars, such as "Ah, I want only the sky, the sea, the earth, simple things," and on the whole emerges unscathed. Harry Hutchinson '33 does an excellent impersonation of a sexagenarian. John Cromwell '36 and J. R. Yungblut '35 also sustained important parts in the production with professional skill. The sets were very realistic and were cleverly handled for seven changes of scene. The Dramatic Club has brought forth another play that deserves large audiences at the remaining performances this week.