With its reading yesterday afternoon of "The Devil's Art," a new play by Alan Friedman '49, the Harvard Dramatic Club revived the valuable practice of giving student playwrights a chance to see their work on a stage. Productions of student plays were conducted on a grand scale by the famous 47 Workshop under Professor Baker, but have been non-existent in the two decades since he was refused a theatre by President Lowell's administration and went off to Yale. There he established a great drama school with one of Harkness' millions which Lowell had turned down, while Harvard went its Victorian way paying little attention to theatrical matters. Today, when most of the country's major colleges have courses in playwriting and production, the void in the curriculum remains as gaping as it was the day Baker left.
The HDC's Reading Theatre promises to provide a long-awaited filler for this void, but its success demands more interest from without and more organization from within than was displayed yesterday in the Fogg Large Lecture Room. Friedman's play, victim of last-minute cutting and the resulting confusion of the actors, was hardly seen in a fair light. And the people present watched more with the attitude of a small band of die-hards than that of an audience.
These conditions did not help the production to tally with the author's conception of it as a play about "communism and sex, but which does not take sides on the question of the former." His objective, he said, was to illustrate to those who consider communism and its advocates unnatural, queer, and removed from all semblance of normality that communists can be real people with real passions and lasts and needs, "just like everybody else." His characters, however, actually are rather removed from normality, and the passions and lasts carried to a point where the communist leaders resemble potential rapists. When not engaged in love matters, they go over the whole basic question of which has more democracy, capitalism or communism, and sound more like walking pamphlets than people.
Friedman has, nonetheless, avoided many pitfalls. His story moves directly and simply for two acts, and even in the slightly confusing third act never becomes over-complicated. And more rehearsals would have brought out some commendable dialogue which was bried yesterday in a morass of bad timing and missed cues. Again because of lack of rehearsals, acting and directing was not enough in evidence to necessitate comment. But once the Reading Theatre gets fully underway, productions should be much more careful, and the project should receive the popular response it deserves.