at Dunster House this Weekend and Next
Balloons notwithstanding, three one-act plays do not automatically a festival make. Dunster House, with the first if its two weekends under the banner "one act play festival," walks the fence between festival and funeral, sometimes tottering off onto the wrong side. Worst of all, what promised to be the sure bet of the evening, The Bald Soprano, turns out to be the biggest loser.
Director Peter Schandorff's production of Eugene Ionesco's absurdist exercise in British suburbia fails to get laughs that are usually pretty hard to avoid with this play. His actors, apparently unaware of much of the script's more subtle humor, work against the lines with an indiscriminate cuteness. Two of the funniest sequences, the exchange of coincidences between a married couple not sure they are married and the fireman's ridiculous tale of "the Headcold," fall dead. In the latter case, the actor actually reads the speech, stifling the spontaneity that is the crux of the joke. Most of what does arouse the audience comes from the drooping mouth of W. Bruce Johnson, who looks like a young Walter Matthau and acts with a delicate understatement that generally works. But he alone cannot overcome the director's static imagination.
Surrounding The Bald Soprano are two lesser creations, one camp and one original. The former, Kenneth Koch's George Washington Crossing the Delaware, recites the story of this lackluster incident in history with a super-patriotic relish, thereby mocking the origin and purpose of this country. While the actors, under the direction of Gary Byrne, do not often look at each other and usually smile or pause to forewarn the audience of a punch line, quite a bit of Koch's zaniness gets through. At one point. Terrence McNally, as the title character, heroically informs his soldiers, "We have nothing to fear but death." Any play that makes George Washington look like a run-of-the-mill fool can't be all bad.
Chris Hart, a sophomore, wrote the third item on the bill, vet another modern work called Play, a title which has been pretentious for several years now Hart, who oddly enough directs and stars as well, casts vet another glance at that eternally popular topic: who is insane, society or the non-conformist? Society, typified by Bruce (Hart), wears a tuxedo, goes to college, talks in TV commercial slogans. Bruce's friends are Harry (Nathan Taylor), who likes to screw girls, and Erica (Barbara Lanckton), who goes to bed with Harry and later slits her wrists when the world becomes incomprehensible. Intruding among them is Harry Sternberg (Jerry Winters), who is married, worth $15 million, and presumably Jewish. In other words, the playwright's conception of a non-conformist. Naturally, when Harvy starts talking about giving away his money in exchange for friendship, the others consider him a bit strange. Not until the white-suited attendants arrive is it entirely clear who belongs in confinement, but the mystery dissipates soon after Harvy's entrance.
Play does have a sound-dramatic structure, but it somehow fails to involve the audience in the problem it seeks to pose. Hart doesn't really speak his mind until past the half-way point. By then it's too late to build suspense, and the action gallops along at a choppy, unconvincing pace. Much of the dialogue aims to display the character's materialism with irrelevant wisecracks, most of which are not too amusing and some of which are completely unessential. If Hart cut down the jokes and added to the credibility and development of his central issue, Play would serve him and his theme better.
Hart's direction tends to compensate for much of the weakness in the writing, his actors working as a tightly-knit, sensitive ensemble, not the case with the other two plays.
For the restrictions of a house dining-room set-up, Jims J. Rayland's simple sets and A. Powell Symond's lighting make ample use of the limited possibilities. But where the possibilities are any-thing but limited-for actors and directors-this festival disappoints.