Soundbites of a Generation

Harvard students praised by Seventeen

In between the love and exfoliation advice in the January 2002 issue of Seventeen is an article called “17 new voices for a new world” that features Chelsea Clinton, Josh Hartnett, Alicia Keys, Venus and Serena Williams, and two Harvard students, Julia Jarcho ’03 and Nathan R. Perl-Rosenthal ’04.

Jarcho is pictured in Seventeen peering through the red curtain of the Cherry Hill Alternative Theater in Manhattan’s West Village, where a play she wrote in high school, “Nursery,” ran from mid-November through Dec. 8. She is recognized in Seventeen as a “voice” for her talent as a playwright. New York Times theater critic Bruce Weber raved about “Nursery,” writing that Jarcho’s work “displays remarkable confidence in an oblique mode of storytelling...Terrific stuff, stunning from a teenage writer.”

Jarcho is back on campus now after taking the fall semester off to be in New York during the production of “Nursery.” She and three other playwrights (all 18 or younger at the time) were selected from a pool of 1,500 entries to have their one-act plays performed off-Broadway at the Young Playwright’s Festival.

“Nursery,” which runs about 40 minutes, is about “middle-class teenage boredom,” Jarcho said. “I investigated the idea of violence as a release from that boredom,” she explains. “There are kids, a brother and a sister, who live in New York and are comfortable and incredibly bored. A school shooting happens—which you see on the news—and the play’s about the way the two of them respond to the idea of an act of mass violence.” For instance, one of the characters envisions himself conversing with the killer. Jarcho wrote “Nursery” in the wake of the Kip Kinkle shootings in Oregon, before Columbine.

Weber’s review lavishes praise on Jarcho, singling her out from the other playwrights. “The title, with its ominously ironic suggestion of the nurturing of the very young, is a good indication of Ms. Jarcho’s sophistication,” he writes. “The playwright creates a hothouse for the misguided malevolence that might result in grievous disaster.”

A professional director, Brett W. Reynolds, directed “Nursery,” but Jarcho spoke frequently with him throughout the staging process, sometimes questioning his decisions. “The guy is brilliant, and I trusted him a lot, but when you write something, you feel very close to it,” she says. “For me, this play was something I wrote very seriously and sort of painfully, and there were things that he did that lightened it...Initially, when he said we’d use cartoon music, I said ‘no, you can’t,’ but it winded up being just what the play needed.”

In addition to the photo shoot, Jarcho spoke with a Seventeen staffer on the phone. “More than anything it was a tremendous trip. I can’t believe I’m in Seventeen magazine,” says Jarcho. “It appealed to my vanity and my sense of irony. It was a good gig. It was totally fun, and I didn’t take it too seriously.”

Perl-Rosenthal—who, like Jarcho, is an alum of Manhattan’s Hunter College High School—is featured on the page opposite Jarcho as another “voice for the new world” for his involvement in last spring’s Progressive Student Labor Movement sit-in. While Perl-Rosenthal did not move inside Mass. Hall, he was integral in organizing the involvement of campus religious groups, bringing speakers to the Yard who Perl-Rosenthal said were able to attract a different demographic to the protest.

Perl-Rosenthal says he was quite surprised at being contacted by Seventeen, having never actually seen a copy of the magazine. A Seventeen editor knew Perl-Rosenthal’s parents years ago and had read a piece he wrote about labor activism. The Seventeen article has made Perl-Rosenthal a celebrity among young female members of his synagogue at home.

The item so impressed one 18-year-old reader that she searched online for his name, located a Perspective article Perl-Rosenthal had written and e-mailed a Perspective editor, asking Perspective to forward her message to Perl-Rosenthal. “Flipping through the pearly-smiled, pop princess-inspired pages of Seventeen magazine, I would never have guessed (or be as impressed) to find words about an activist like you,” she wrote. Perl-Rosenthal says he corresponded with the girl, who he reports was very friendly.

While Perl-Rosenthal is very serious about his labor work on campus, he does not expect to become a professional activist. “I don’t have the psychology for being an activist,” he says. “[Activists have] a tendency to be bipolar and I am already of that persuasion. I don’t need it more. The sit-in was an incredible emotional roller coaster and I am fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to sustain that for a long time.” Instead, Perl-Rosenthal says he plans to enter the academic world, possibly in the field of history or biology.

Jarcho, on the other hand, plans to continue writing and directing. If their recent accomplishments are any indications of future success, they both seem destined to do well in their chosen pursuits. Well enough, perhaps, to never again be featured in the pop star-filled pages of Seventeen.

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