At Tufts Arena Theater, August 2-5
A dramatist writes one play, a director produces another, the actors perform a third, and the audience views yet a different one. Jean Anouilh's The Cavern is a play-within-a-play which blends these four perspectives into one.
At the beginning of this production, the actor who protrays the author steps onstage from the audience and presents The Cavern as a play which he was "unable to write." He proceeds to offer the audience a few alternative opening scenes, none to his own satisfaction. After the first act, his characters assume life and impose their own story upon the author, who finally becomes as much a character in the inner plays as in the outer play.
The actual plot of inner play is the story of a once-seduced cook who is murdered, of the indifference of her aristocratic employees, and of the romantic trials of the cook's son (a would-be priest). The thick plot involves murder, rape, abortion, white slavery, and class struggle. And yet the author-actor, by continually breaking and repeating scenes and by imposing comic relief, sub-ordinates the plot to his own creative concerns. At the end, the murderer is discovered by coincidence, and the plot is settled.
Until the climactic last half hour, when the actors rescue the plot from the author and make up their own lines, the numerous scenes follow no understandable pattern. But the brutal early scenes have given the characters meaning, and the brief powerful finish generates emotion in the audience. What Anouilh has done is to create a loose play and still jolt the spectators. In short, he plays with the audience. The author-actor states early in the play that "I have always thought we should make the audience and critics rehearse, too." The "Cavern" may refer to the whole theater, as well as to the kitchen where the servants dwell.
Harry Ritchie's production of The Cavern at Tufts succeeds on the whole, in playing with the audience's feelings and emotions in the Anouilhstyle. Daniel Greenblat (the Author) is well-suited for the role, though a bit too confident to be the comic intellect intended to act as foil for the Superintendent (Charles Siegel). The Superintendent is the advocate of the plot, always inquiring "Who killed the Cook?"
Karen Lynne Gorney (the Cook) is fairly convincing in her difficult role as the sometimes hardened, prideful cook, sometimes protective mother-of-the-earth. The best performance, however, is A. J. Antoon's, who is an actual seminarist playing the role of seminarist-son of the cook. His shame and cowardliness are painfully real.
The minor actors vary greatly in their portrayals of stock characters, but they do not dampen Anouilh's gluttonous delight in vice, comedy, and toying with an audience.