THE Harvard Dramatic Club's production of Sartre's The Flies is vigorous, engaging and very well paced, a minor flaw being its tendency toward romanticism in terms of both acting and spectacle. Sartre's play, admittedly, allows great room for high-stepping histrionics. But where an emphasis on the wild and bizarre was most needed-in the contorted antics of the "furies" or "flies"-the exaggerations became positive dividends.
Sartre's play (perhaps his greatest) draws on the lore of Greek mythology to dramatize philosophical dilemmas of "choice" central to his own thought. Unlike Girandoux and Cocteau, so often careless and fanciful in their dramatic use of Greek "gods" and fate, Sartre adopts the symbolic fable of the House of Atreus as a serious medium for analysis of social guilt. He throws the uprooted Orestes into a miasma of remorse and penitent masochism. But in portraying Orestes' collaboration with Electra to avenge the murder of their father, Sartre avoids abstraction and presents his characters concretely.
On a philosophic plane-and it is amazing how gracefully Sartre weaves his discussion of freedom into tense dramatic situations-Orestes is an iconoclast, fervently devoted to his particular historical destiny (the murder of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus). By assuming the burden of guilt for himself and others. Orestes becomes Sartre's symbol of moral freedom and nobility.
Stephen Hoye as Orestes cleverly underplays his role in the early stages of the play; then, at the point when he takes possession of his identity as Agamemnon's avenger, his demeanor hardens, in a manner as shocking to Electra as it is to the audience.
Indeed, Hoye's early scenes with Phil d'Agostino as his tutor boded ill for the overall impact of the play. Not only were the costumes of these two characters inappropriate (semi-modern as opposed to the more elaborate garb of the other characters), but Hoye and d'Agostino seemed very uncomfortable in their movements. This, like the occasional lapses in dialogue, might have been just opening night jitters.
AMY NATHAN was striking as Clytemnestra, a part which suited her gaunt figure and certainly her shrill, frenzied voice. Al Ranzio's nasal monotone was bothersome at times, but as Zeus, he combined all the self-assurance and comic undertones which Sartre wrote into the role. Norma Levin had surely the most difficult assignment as Electra. She captured the guilelessness of Sartre's very ordinary, very energetic heroine; she also got to speak some of Sartre's most beautiful set-pieces, the little speeches of reminiscence which form a motif in the play.
Stephen Tucker's simply designed set and the almost Gothic lighting effects designed by Jack Hanick complemented each other perfectly. Not since the Loeb's 1968 production of The Master Builder has a play's impact owed quite this much to its imposing physical trappings.
Watching this production of The Flies was, at times, like a return visit to Hugo's Ruy Blas with glorious howls and gloried-in blood. Especially unrestrained and awkward was the scene between Zeus and Aegisthus. Peter Gudjonsson's lumbering mannerisms didn't work well as he tried to express Aegisthus' despair. Similarly, the bodily confrontation between Aegisthus and his assassin Orestes had a uncomfortably melodramatic quality. I found myself among those laughing as Aegisthus' strangled body was dropped down a chute at midstage.
In the same general vein but extremely successful were the grotesque dances of Sartre's tragic chorus of "flies." Black costumes and subtle choreography by Wakeen Ray-Riv made the eight dancers a malevolent presence on stage. Orestes' final exorcism of remorse-his cowing of the "flies" as the symbol of fate-turned out to be a vivid pied-piper spectacle. As the "liberator" of Argos he had to put the rats (flies) on his own trail, burdening himself to unburden others.