When “Pelican” opened in the Loeb Experimental Theatre last night, it represented a unique amalgamation of less known and less recognized elements of theater: one of the plays that forms the basis of the adaptation, “The Pelican,” had not been performed at Harvard in over 30 years. The other, “The Isle of the Dead,” had never been performed in the United States.
The director of “Pelican,” on the other hand, represents an amalgamation of an entirely different sort. Throughout his three years at Harvard, Rowan W. Dorin ’07 has played an array of roles in drama here. He began as an actor in the most illustrious of venues, the Loeb Mainstage, his freshman fall. Yet despite such success, Dorin claims that his desire to act was ultimately ill-conceived. “Unfortunately, I turned out to be a truly awful actor, and I realized that I would probably never be cast in anything again,” says Dorin.
Though the quality of the competition for parts at Harvard shocked Dorin, who had attended a small high school in western Canada, he was reluctant to give up involvement in a passion that had come to define him. In a region that Dorin refers to as “more closely associated with hockey and cowboys than with great theatre,” his interest in acting set him apart. Dorin jokes that “since I proved a total failure at skating and calf-roping, I took up drama.”
So rather than quit theatre altogether, Dorin became involved in its production side. Benjamin J. Toff ’05, who was a Crimson Editorial Chair, was directing Pinter’s ‘Betrayal,” and asked me to be his stage manager,” Dorin says. “Since then I’ve tried almost every staff position, except light design, because I’m color-blind, and technical direction, because I’m petrified of the table-saw.”
Dorin first tackled the role of director last year, with Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” He describes his first experience directing as a challenge because of the extreme time constraint he and his staff faced. “My co-director Rebecca L. Eshbaugh ’07 and I only had fourteen days between the end of Common Casting and Opening Night, which is virtually unthinkable. Somehow we managed to create a really wonderful piece of theatre.”
Unfortunately, Dorin felt somewhat constrained by the rigid dictates of the play’s script. “It was a good choice for a directorial debut, because Albee spells out a lot of details—B stands here, C says this line in this fashion—but it does make it harder to leave your own imprint on the play,” he explains.
With “Pelican”—a drama about the devastation wrought by a selfish mother on her children—Dorin has been able to exercise much greater directorial creativity. “The appeal of “Pelican” was that I have had much more freedom to play with the text, rearrange the structure, create the mood as I see fit” Dorin says. And despite the play’s serious content, directing has not been entirely devoid of comedic moments.
“Rehearsing the sexual moments has been really entertaining,” Dorin says. “It’s astonishing how difficult it can be to choreograph a decent kiss, especially when it seemed like the actors in question were discovering all of this stuff for the first time. So I had them start with the basics, back massages, holding hands, and such, and then something clicked. Now they’re all over each other.”
Though Dorin has greatly enjoyed his experience with Harvard theater, he does not plan to continue directing after the Pelican. “This is my ninth show at Harvard, and it’s been an amazing experience all the way through. But when you’re spending 30-40 hours a week on a show for eight weeks, it’s hard to do much else with your life,” Dorin says.
At the same time, he admits that he will miss directing, and that he has entertained thoughts of returning as a director to the place where it all started for him—on the Loeb Mainstage, which Dorin calls “the ultimate challenge in Harvard theater.” Yet in true Harvard fashion, Dorin still considers his academics to be a priority. Rather than directing another show, Dorin jokes, “I may just settle for mastering Medieval Latin instead.”