Little Malcolm, etc.

at the Ex last Sunday

John Osborne's Look Back in Anger sent crowds of inspired Britishers to their typewriters. Osborne invented the Angry Young Man: his Jimmy Porter rants about the evil in everybody--especially the upper class. Arnold Wesker takes up the topic of class conflict in Chips With Everything. He pushes a well-meaning aristocrat into a group of peasants and concludes that amalgamation isn't possible. The hero of Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs has Jimmy Porter-like qualities -- he knocks the Establishment, he bruises his dearest friends, he demands to be idolized.

But David Halliwell, the playwright, gives the character a new twist. He shows in some tremendously comic episodes that his hero is a power-hungry Hitler because he's afraid he really has no power at all. Malcolm has a hard time just getting out of bed in the morning. And he has an even harder time screwing up his courage enough to accept advances from the girl he likes. Kenny McBain's production (he directed the show and played the title role) implied that hesitancy with Ann Gedge and ensuing self hatred were what spurred Malcolm on to power politics. He became the Leader of the Dynamic Erectionist Party in place of seducing the lady.

Halliwell exhibits satiric and sympathetic attitudes toward his characters, and the actors took advantage of it. James Hoare (playing Dennis Charles Nipple) delivered a magnificent speech about the lay of his life-time. She was, according to him, a dark-skinned sensuous-lipped lady who tore his clothes off. Hoare gave absurdity its due: he relished his prose almost as much as he relished the illusive charmer. But when he stood before a tribunal consisting of his pals--they gave him the choice of pleading Guilty or Very Guilty--he dropped all rhetoric, became a madman in a circle of worse madness. A ludricous, touching performance.

John Pym played the goodhearted dimwit Irwin Ingham. He too, though he's the only first-rate comedian at Harvard, did more than grub for laughs. At first you noticed the variety of expressions he used to convey dimwittedness. And how perfectly his baggy pants suited his clumsy movements. But Pym is indefatigable. At the end, when he confessed the skepticism he'd felt all along about Party success, benevolence toward his Leader radiated from his muddled face. His companion, Prentiss Claflin, wasn't as whole a man. Still, considering that he was on book for an ailing member of the cast, he donated funny bits. Francine Stone (Ann Gedge) was the only disappointment.

And Kenny McBain (Malcolm) was superb. He sulked, raged, spoke nonchalantly of impossible exploits. Occasionally he displayed an earnestness at once irrestible and absurd. Other times he sat on his throne, demanding obeisance yet remaining withdrawn. His final cry--"I can't even believe in my own fantasies"--confirmed the rightness of his characterization. The cry was a surprise, but after it came you felt you'd expected it all along.

McBain was equally happy as director. All his actors held their own while the play pursued its lively path. Larry Gage's set was appropriately scrawny, and his lighting--with the aid of the gridding and an electric fan--appropriately bizarre. Costumes looked as though they'd been worn before, unlike the cardboard casements often displayed on the mainstage.

Too bad you missed Malcolm.