The Male Animal
At the Pl Eta Theatre
In the HDC production of The Male Animal, it is the least animalistic of the cast's nine males who gives this version its spirit and drive. Actors in the play should have the teamwork of the football squad at mythical Midwestern U. And if this time there are a few too many fumbles, the HDC evens the score by coming up with a triple threat in the lead role.
Robin Homet, as Professor Tommy Turner, is called upon to be drunk, to be eloquent, to be amorous. Homet not only handles all these individual assignments excellently, he ties them into a sharp, consistent characterization. Too often actors playing the crusading professor let the wit of authors James Thurber and Elliot Nugent carry scenes for them. In Homet's battle with liquor in the second act, however, there is no coasting. It is his highest point in an evening of good touches.
The acting of Wendy Goodell, who plays Turner's wife, is marred by her social worker delivery. She is bright, cheery, and distantly friendly. As she talks at Tommy, the necessary intimacy of a decade of married life is lacking.
The authors, turning from the question of whether a professor should teach as he pleases, examine also that phenomenon of college life, the aging athlete. Pirie MacDonald Tutchings gives a good overall performance in the part, but his Joe Ferguson becomes too introspective in later scenes. He blusters well in act one, but later in the play when Ferguson tones down, even reforms a bit, Tutchings destroys the unthinking, impulsive protrayal so necessary to the play.
Two parts in the play are only caricatures and hard to make anything more. Thomas Gaydos, as the narrow-minded trustee, manages to combine his own talents with the role and come out with a believable, repellent Ed Keller. Herbert Appleman as a doltish undergraduate football ace, does not fare so well. His part remains a caricature and at times an embarrassing one.
Lucy Barry as Patricia is best when she's being quietly ironic; Rosa Roscnbloom and Suzzanne Chappell Finch also add much to the mood of the play in their brief parts.
In a minor part, Herbert McGregor gives one of the evening's major performances, wry and crisply professorial. Director Theodore Gershuny had good luck with two of the play's liberals, Homet and McGregor, but he should remind Steven Banker that he is playing a hot-headed college radical. Banker is neither earnest nor intent enough; he appears always on the verge of a smile.
Aside from spotty acting in lead roles, Peter Shoup's production has few weak spots. And Linda Roberts' set is a comfortable place to spend an evening. The Male Animal is a spirited defense of academic freedom and married life. But the play has not lasted ten years for its ideologies. It is primarily a comedy, the HDC has accomplished comedians for most of the key roles, and the production comes out an amusing, pleasant two hours.