THE ENTERTAINMENT starts even before the show begins: the scramble for tickets, the quick glance for seats and the stop at the bar to order drinks leisurely. Do It Yourself is constantly entertaining and always involving the audience. Even the intermission is busy with amusement; the bar reopens and the standing crowd gathers to watch the two dazzling jugglers who get the most enthusiastic applause of the night.
Sandwiched around the bar and the jugglers is a revue of songs, skits and jokes tied together by the clever verbal slapstick of their humor, the energy and talent of the excellent cast and the fact that many of the lines of the lyrics do not end precisely when the lines of the music do.
Each of the two acts starts out quickly, hits a quick peak with a sketch about Harvard and slows down in the middle before picking up again at the end. Both of these Harvard skits are written by Paul Cantor, assistant professor of English, who should have written more for the show, and much of the middle sections are written by Mark O'Donnell '76, who should have written less. Although many of O'Donnell's sketches are very funny (T.V. Weather Report: "Lots of dashed lines in the Northeast.") his talent is spread too thinly over the 14 pieces he authored or co-authored. It is the fault of the Premiere Society that they scraped 14 numbers out of O'Donnell's barrel and only three from Camor's. (Cantor also wrote a Richard Nixon for American Express commercial--"People may know me, but that doesn't mean they'll let me sign for anything.")
Paul Rosenberg's piano accompaniment captures the proper honky tonk cabaret spirit, and the music is lively and friendly. If anyone feels about to die from reading period's caffeine irritability, the best antidote is a dose of the Viennese Coffee Song. Perfectly written by O'Donnell and David Thomas, perfectly directed by Doug Hughes and perfectly performed by Japes Emerson, Paul Redford and David Reiffel, the song is a rousing drinking tune beginning with coffee cups raised high in the air, and proceeding through late-night camaraderie ("We'll drink and then we'll stay up all night") to an exuberant and writhing finale as Emerson downs a whole pot of brew.
Emerson is easily the star of the show. His understated style meshes well with the overstated humor of much of the material. He also seems to have been given most of the best lines and is not on stage during the slowest routines. But it is not clear whether Emerson's obvious talents were well displayed in the sketches or whether the twinkle in his eye and his raised eyebrows allowed the sketches to be displayed well.
The rest of the company is good, too. And they complement each other nicely: cute and blond Paul Redford with peachfuzz, big and sympathetic David Reiffel with a mustache, socially advanced Sarah McClusky, sweeter and softer Eliza Hale and socially unadvanced Jackie Osherow combine with Emerson's sly clowning in a smooth blend.
Last year there were only four members of the cast and they wore more formal evening wear, relying on character typing to set the scenes. This year the atmosphere is more casual, the dress less structured and the costumes more varied. There is more room in each role and that works to the show's advantage--while stereotyped characters still make stereotyped jokes, more interesting and real characters make more interesting and heartfelt jokes.
DO IT YOURSELF is at its best when the characters are defined and the jokes as intimate as the Lowell House Junior Common Room. One of the advantages of a student-written production is its access to unique student jokes. General Education marshalling his committees to take over the University in The Long Day's Task, a supercilious emissary from the Financial Aid Office visiting a delinquent bill-payer to repossess his Harvard education and a review session with two nervous would-be lovers strike home during reading period more than broad gags that could just as easily be from the Tonight Show. Like the jugglers, Do It Yourself drops a few clubs, but the fun is ubiquitous. See it yourself.