WHILE REPORTERS from society pages nationwide, slavering at a whiff of Ivy League mystique, joined the herd of pompous preps pounding up the steps of the Hasty Pudding in an uncritical, intoxicated rush to see a $180,000 transvesitite musical replete with threepenny puns, a couple of mavericks saw a good show over at the Law School. North by North Middle, a musical comedy/suspense thriller presented by the Harvard Law School Drama Society, has jokes that are funny, good music with singing that you can hear, and a plot.
Written by nine students, North by North Middle parodies Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest with Roger Thornbook (Jerry Lavin) as an innocent pre-law student and the outraged victim of a mistaken identity who is pursued by police and KGB agents. Lavin pulls off an excellent, recognizable impersonation of Cary Grant, complete with a little "ih" sound before every phrase.
Hec Van Darn (Victor Patrick) directs the KGB agents within the Law School, aided by comrades Boris (Rosanna Marquez) and the bearded Natasha (Temple Dickinson), whose female name is the closest the play comes to transvestitism. The fat actor also eats from a Purina dog chow bag and smiles eagerly at the expression "you're beating a dead horse." Agent Orange (Nancy Frantz) bursts out of a frigid, schoolteacher's exterior in the sultry song Mean Streak. Dean Dean (Phil Kraft), the absent-minded administrator, sits naked in a kiddie pool and sings to his rubber duck about the comparative rigors of his job.
Despite annual accusations, there are no more inside jokes at the Law School production than at the Hasty Pudding, Besides, these in-jokes are actually funny. Anyone who has ever spent the night in the Science Center can appreciate the repeated cameo appearances of a janitor who says, while pointing at the ceiling and nodding his head in a gesture that comprehends everything and nothing, "And when you finish, de lights?" Although technically legalese, lines like "I'm going to play with my model penal code" are accessible to all.
Instead of joking for lawyers, the writers joke about lawyers, including their less well-rounded fellow students who wear white socks with loafers. Rob Okun delivers some of the play's best lines as Leroy Fibre, the class dweeb. He gives Thornbook a rubber chicken as part of some arcane Ames competition ritual and lamely jokes about fondling it. Thornbook stares him down, and Okun stammers out, a la Jerry Lewis and Peter Lorre, "I really didn't fondle it; I only said that to impress you."
THE PLAY also satirizes law school professors, one of whom describes himself as "a flake off the upper crust." "In probably the best musical number in the show, students impersonate the two famous negotiators, Profs. Roger Fisher (Ken Hodder) and Frank Sander (Jacques Semmelman) who sing a competitive, "I can do anything better than you can" duo called Getting to Yes.
Much of the satire is directed outside the domestic foibles at the Law School, deflating police brutality ("Confess you were drunk or I'll beat your brains out!"), spies, and finally the Law School's practically all-white faculty. One purported personal ad read onstage by Professor Robert Clark comes from Professor Edley, "an all Black male in the basement of Langdell," and states that the sender is tired of sixty-five ambivalent white companions.
Even the special effects are respectable. In the movie North by Northwest, Cary Grant was chased across a cornfield by a cropduster. In the law school parody, Thornbook plays a video game called "Cropduster" which seizes his leg and starts to spit out real bullets that convincingly explode against a wooden backdrop. There is even a short kickline. And where else can you get three hours with two dozen lawyers for only four bucks?