ARTSMONDAY: ‘Fall’ Proves a Successful Leap of Faith

Carlton E. Forbes

Sophie C. Kargman ’08 and Simon J. Williams ’09 performed in the Loeb Ex show “Fall,” co-written and directed by J. Jack Cutmore-Scott ’10.

If Harvard could somehow be distilled into one play, “Fall” would be it. The good news for Harvard: it also happened to be pretty cool.

Produced by Charles A. Tremblay ’10 and Elsa A. Paparemborde ’10, and directed by J. Jack Cutmore-Scott ’10, with a original script by Cutmore-Scott and co-writer Robert E.T. Tainsh ’10, “Fall” was a dynamic and kinetic play that was as engaging as it was thought-provoking. Life philosophy, social commentary, and jabs at Harvard were on the menu, all seasoned with cute—but not too cute—wit and fantastic acting.

As impressive as the play itself is Cutmore-Scott, who brings the idea of a “Renaissance Man” back into the 21st century. He wrote, directed, and even acted in the show. On top of all that, he’s a freshman. It’s a virtually unheard-of feat for a freshman to both write and direct an HRDC play.

The plot of “Fall” might have seemed eerily familiar to more than a few audience members: an unnamed British international student (Cutmore-Scott), arrives at Harvard as a freshman and finds himself quickly launched into the careening rush of academic and social life in Cambridge. Autobiographical? Possibly, but it didn’t matter, because “Fall” left me with the impression that I was looking at my own life, albeit through a lens that has been simultaneously polished and warped.

For example: In one scene, another unnamed student (Sophie C. Kargman ’08) wants to get the attention of Cutmore-Scott’s character, with whom she is sharing a bench. She ends up informing him that Oreos cause cancer, spitting her gum into his hand as he looks on with astonishment, and eating all his chips. Nonetheless, the scene ends with Cutmore-Scott agreeing to come to a party she’s hosting. The result was an awkward situation that was, brilliantly, both believable and exaggerated at the same time.

The play was structured in a back-and-forth sequence that alternated between philosophical monologues by Cutmore-Scott and illustrative scenes enacted by a highly versatile four-member cast that included Cutmore-Scott, Kargman, Simon J. Williams ’09, and Zachary B.S. Sniderman ’09. The monologues and scenes paired up in case-studies, “Sex and the City”-style, that covered topics ranging from stressful Harvard academia and romantic issues with an archetypal ex to final clubs and the masculine image.

None of Cutmore-Scott’s energetic rants were singularly revolutionary or mind-blowing. Much like Carrie Bradshaw’s columns, they were simply fun and insightful observations about everyday aspects of everyday college life—snippets that could be taken out of any dining hall conversation, really.

Unlike Bradshaw’s columns, Cutmore-Scott’s rants were not delivered in whimsical, “what’s-a-girl-to-do” tones of enlightenment and bewilderment. And unlike Carrie Bradshaw’s columns, they weren’t illustrated by scenes that seemed to eventually meld into one big theme. Instead, the case studies that comprised each scene were delightfully nuanced, and delivered in a fast-paced current that was sharp in both wit and energy.

There were a few scenes in which the “cute” that worked bordered on a “cutesy” that didn’t.

In one such “cutesy” scene, a disruptive student annoyed a group of studiers around a table in the library. The scene froze and ostensibly moved into Cutmore-Scott’s conscience, as he got up and pulled a gun on the disruptive student, then sat back down before the scene unfroze.

A hackneyed little trick, true, but the scene still had a shot—until Kargman jumped up and corrected the student by slamming his head against the table. The bawdy physical humor just didn’t fit the sophisticated wit that distinguished the rest of the play.

Cutmore-Scott wrote a role that fit himself perfectly. All four members of the cast gave commendable performances, but Cutmore-Scott was able to transform long-winded musing into a sheer pleasure. When he took the stage, he took all of it. He was mobile, articulate, and energetic. And, of course, the British accent didn’t hurt.

The constant movement and energy onstage was even more impressive when considering the limited set. Kudos go to director Cutmore-Scott and the actors for achieving such mobile blocking and creating the illusion of a complete set with only such scanty props as the occasional table or chair.

But perhaps the greatest strength of the play lay in its subtle mixture of comedy and insight. In an early scene, Cutmore-Scott meets his freshman roommate (Sniderman). Sniderman gives an over-the-top performance as he eagerly pressed Cutmore-Scott to “do” his British accent. It was a hilarious scene, but at the same time delicately pointed out the uniquely uncomfortable situation of meeting a roommate for the first time, as well as the often-ridiculous obsession that students have with foreign accents.

“Fall” was a witty, provocative, and oh-so-proximal play that generated a perpetual flow of laughs, even as it evoked the thought: “Hold on a second, is this supposed to be deep?”

—Reviewer April B. Wang can be reached at abwang@fas.harvard.edu.