Peabody Terrace: The Watergate of Cambridge Dec. 13, 14, 15 at Langdell North Middle
NINETY PER CENT of "Peabody Terrace," written and produced by the Harvard Law (Musical) Revue, is one big Law School in-joke, ringing with parody of legalistic double-talk, full of what is probably an over-identification with said revered institution. This is too bad from an undergraduate's point of view: I had to ask someone in the men's room during intermission what in the world Ames court competition was; and it was hard to follow the constant refrain of "Langdell this, Langdell that" which runs through the show when I only get a vague image of dusty awe from the name instead of the wealth of associations the law-predominated audience obviously harbored the other night.
The Law School takes itself too seriously, and the haggard, bleary-eyed faces around me looked like they'd been saving up laughter about themselves for a long, long time. And for that audience, the evening was blissful. Small-scale Harvard drama always has a safety mechanism: If your lack of professionalism starts to show, just laugh it up, enjoy yourself on stage, and the audience--if it has any reason to feel involved--will forget they're watching a bunch of clods and chuckle along magnanimously. It's critical immunity.
This system doesn't always keep the theater here at peak performance, but in some cases a feeling of being entertained rubs off. This feeling operates in "Peabody Terrace" for the law students, to whom the sloppiness of the production was just a welcome change.
THE REST OF US, though, don't have academics on the brain so much, or find it easy to get into the "good ol' Harvard law" stuff for too long. When six actors mince onto the stage in togas and garlands (underwear, basically) hooting "We are the faculty of Harvard law," the laughter isn't so automatic to us. And because we can't excuse the lack of smoothness as lightly as the law students, the scene spoofing the Watergate committee is funny only in bursts, as when a spacey Montoya ("Professor Howaya") addresses the witness chair between snoozes to ask the dog seated there (a real dog, looking bored) if he has any advice for young puppies. Doug Altabef's performance as student Brodstein/Professor Badbore would please anybody. So would a line like, "Brandeis and Frankfurter--oh, WOW!"
But this show is confused. Law School fixation or not, there's no unity at all to 'the production--the tenuous Watergate connection, for example, is milked for all it's worth so that everything's thrown in. Sometimes the scatter-shot technique worked--there was a sense of absurdity and a liberal sprinkling of slapstick that occasionally legitimized the mess. Some of the music--especially when the score departed from the safe, cliched, quasi-forties style--like Laura Shapiro's mediocre "Onion," was completely out of context. The song could have been in any show, and should have been in none.
This revue can be accused of lack of discrimination, then, or lack of vision; but "Peabody Terrace" is by no means dumb. It treatment of sexism makes a political point and has humorous potential, but it has to fight its way out of too many wild antics. Maybe even the Watergate theme had possibilities--for the Law School appears to breed a spirit of competition not unlike that of a political campaign--laughable, sometimes.