The Ruling Class
Written by Peter Barnes
Directed by Andrew Watson
At the Loeb Mainstage
Through this weekend
THERE'S something a little cheap about the old gift in-a-box-in-a-box-in-a-box and so on trick. You open stupendously-wrapped gigantic box after stupendously-wrapped less gigantic box expecting to find something wonderful each step of the way. But after opening countless stupendously-wrapped boxes, each small enough to fit into the last, you're left with a really obvious and dull present, like a pair of socks. Brown socks.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club's production of The Ruling Class is something like receiving a dull gift in elaborate wrapping. While the individual layers of the production are top quality, the overall effect of the play, due mainly to an ovewhelmingly heavyhanded script, is downright annoying.
Ironically, the fine set and acting in this play almost manage to overcome the faulty script. However, by the end of the play, Peter Barnes' preachy threehour script, a very obvious parable about the evilness of human nature, renders the play incredibly tedious and painful to watch.
The Ruling Class tells the story of a Jack, a British aristocrat who also happens to think he's the god of love. When Jack's father, the 13th Earl of Gurney, dies by hanging himself accidentally--don't ask--Jack returns from the mental hospital to inherit his peerage. The other members of the Gurney family move to have Jack committed so that they can oversee the estate. While they plot for the majority of the first act, Jack preaches about love.
But when the family members, aided by Jack's doctor, manage to convince him in an overly dramatic end to the first act that he is not actually the god of love, Jack naturally becomes the devil. Of course, Jack as devil conforms much better to the expectations of British nobility than did Jack as god of love. Message: man, or at least members of the British ruling class, is essentially evil in his inability to love, and sanity can be inseparable from insanity. A simple enough concept to grasp, but it takes the play the greater part of three hours to convey it, accompanied by incredible histrionics and overdramatic scenes.
Samuel Sifton, as Jack, almost manages to rescue this script from its inherent inanity. He executes a brilliant performance as the paranoid schizophrenic, yet appealing, Jack. Sifton's high level of energy as the frenetically-crazed Jack never drops. Even during Jack's saner moments, Sifton shows how Jack is fundamentally disturbed.
Sifton would steal the show were it not for Adam Barr, who steals it from him. Barr, in the role of Tucker, the Gurney family manservant, injects the production with a dose of much-needed comic relief. As Tucker degenerates from perfect manservant to drunken, pitiable fool, Barr maintains his command over the stage and the audience.
Compared to Barr and Sifton, the other members of the Gurney family--Peter Ocko as Jack's uncle, Leta Hong Fincher as Ocko's wife and *** Tremoulet as their son--pale. While the three are adequate to good, Barr and Sifton save the play from being painful to watch.
The Mainstage set, designed by John A. Claflin, is also both professional and creative. Excepting the obvious creaking that accompanies all set changes, the set rivals any found in an off-Broadway production.
But despite the efforts of the actors and crew, The Ruling Class falls short. After all, packaging isn't everything, because after you've peeled off the fancy layers of the production, what's left is something you might want to send back to the store.