From the Pit
There must have been more to the thirties than the residue of cliches which Clifford Odets managed to preserve. A playwright with a petty temper, an unselective ear and an axe to grind, Odets savors little cliches that clutter his dialogue ("right from the word go . . .") and big ones that blur his vision ("last week I wanted to go to Russia . . .").
In the Lowell House Junior Common Room, of all places, Renato Rosaldo put Odets' Waiting for Lefty into a double-header with Geoffrey Fox's version of Brecht's The Measures Taken. The Reds won the first game, 4-2, but blew the nightcap when the Yankees came from behind to win.
It is hard to imagine two plays in such contradiction. Lefty attributes to Communists a humane approach: "the man who got me food in '32 called me comrade. The one who picked me up where I bled--he called me comrade, too." On the other hand, Brecht's play warns that Communists who indulge in isolated acts of human kindness are actually working against the process by which the hated system must fall, and therefore must not submit to the temptation of short-range goodness.
Odets' polemic, a series of personal, middle-class tragedies and individual dislocations, evokes the darkness and anger of 1935. Rosaldo, who understood the stock figures he had to work with, decided to type-cast his actors and let them exaggerate their characters. The result is some fine gusto on the stage. Bill Cloherty played Fatt, the union boss, with all the techniques of a two-bit demagogue. Ivan Light came hurtling out of the audience (Lefty is a simulated union meeting) with an inspired outburst against company spies. But of the characters who had to think, to weigh the decisions in their lives, only Gloria Pasternak and Edwin Holstein filled their scene with meaning.
For some reason, each director used only two weeks in rehearsal (and Mr. Fox devoted one to providing his cast with informal lectures on Marxism), The Odets worked because you can learn to shout properly in two weeks; but Brecht calls for real stagecraft and can't be slapped together. Fox staged the play without humor, without sense of place or time or color; he chose to emphasize only its religiosity and dogma. If Charles Breyer hadn't sung one of Hans Eisler's didactic ballads so meaningfully, the production wouldn't have been worth much.
Topicality becomes a problem for both directors, since each play was written with a timely, instructive purpose. Does Rosaldo really think Odets' desperate whining retains its topicality in these days of labor-management picnics and Taft-Hartley happiness? Does Fox think the strategic lessons which Brecht wants to impart in The Measures Taken are lessons which the Common Room audience could or should take seriously? If the answer in either case is yes, the directors failed on stage to explain why. Without that explanation their two weeks' toil seemed flat and offensive, or cute and inapplicable. Fox didn't sense the internal theatricality of The Measures Taken, and grew sententious about its external poignancy. Odets' play has neither, so Rosaldo at least had a little fun.
Mr. Eric Levenson who doubled as set-designer and an actor in Lefty is an economic, sensible set-designer. He provided some feeling for the darkness of those days.
The following is a reply to the letter from Thomas I. Jones, which was published Saturday.
[Ed. Note: Mr. Jones makes a good case for the Faculty decision on C.L.G.S., although many of his points seem rather more polemical than substantial. The CRIMSON would differ from him on two key points: (1) the experience on which the departments have based their opposition to the new system seems to us a fairly persuasive argument for the October deadline. Senior tutors and Head Tutors have offered a number of convincing case histories that might justify their invoking "some kind of academic McNaughton rule." (2) Much more important, we do not see much to be gained for the undergraduate by a Joneslan unequivocal treatment of departments as bogeymen. "The issue behind C.L.G.S.," he writes, "is freedom from the departments, not within them." No doubt he is right, but why assume that it is in the very nature of departments to block reform, that reform must perpetually be supplied by countervailing forces from the outside? The CRIMSON proposal, which predictably we think far from trivial, would try to set in motion pressures within departments to allow students to substitute some other program of study for the thesis in cases where the thesis threatens to become hollow and unprofitable. Perhaps Mr. Jones' gloomy guess is correct; perhaps the attempt to pry departments loose from their rigid and almost mystical commitment to the thesis is founded on an empty optimism. But reform of the senior year has clearly reached the point where it must be effected within the departments or not at all.]