As the ourtain falls on a stage covered with assorted corpses, an old man--one of the survivors--says "I didn't mean no harm," a statement which can be applied to Irwin Shaw and Peter Viertel, to the management of the Harvard Dramatic Club, and to almost everybody production. Shaw and Viertel, who wrote "The Survivors," far from meaning harm, appear to have attempted to creste an allegory for our times, a dramatization of the concept that unreasonable hatred and stupidity make nations, as well as men, wipe each other out of existence. But the play itself adds up to little more than a somewhat melodramatic series of bare repetitions of this concept which, admirable as it may be in itself, requires something more than persistent enunciation to become entertainment. Similarly the Dramatic Club, far from meaning harm, has attempted to resurrect what it believed, along with a small minority of New York drama critics and theatergoers, to be a work of art. But last night's special press preview view of the play indicated "The Survivors" is neither a work or art nor even a soundly constructed play.
On the intellectual level the play is sound enough. The though that murder and war are the equally unnecessary products of ignorance and dullness, while perhaps not universally satisfactory, is at least acceptable enough to be called sound. But on the dramatic level, "The Survivors" reveals little that could be classed as sound theater, much less as entertaining or inspiring theater. The play takes place in a small Missouri town immediately after the Civil War. It concerns the perverse hatred of three brothers and their grandfather for a local rancher, who apparently contrived to have two of the brothers captured by the Rebels during the war as part of a long-range program designed to wipe out the entire family. There is some confusion as to whether the rancher actually intended the capture, and this suffices to prolong the revenge for three acts, while the merits of the case are aired with much vigor but little consequences. The trouble is that the actors all get more worked up than the audience. This reviewer, at least, could not force himself to look upon the various murders, either in their plotted or their consummated aspects, as undesirable, although it was obvious from the shouting and declaiming taking place on the stage that he was intended to consider each of them foolish and tragic.
The Dramatic Club's production is competent, considering the circumstances. The actors, almost to a man, indulge in speechifying, varying from tense dramatic whispers to semi-hysterical out-bursts. But such melodramatics seem to be inherent in the play. Similarly, co-directors Roy Erickson and Burt Kelsey have far too often permitted the actors to stand in awkward groups in the canter of the stage. If more imagination had been exerted, more realistic and fluid action could undoubtedly have been devised, but again the basic difficulty seems to lie in the play itself, which handicaps the director by substituting pseudo-eloquence for drama.
Among the actors, Robert Cipes, Fritz Lamont, and Jeanne Melchior, are the most believable, probably in part because their comparatively minor roles are comparatively devoid of pronunciamentos. That most of the others are talented was evident last night at scattered intervals. The Dramatic Club should take more care not to submerge such abilities, as well as those of John Holabird and Emory Niles, who respectively accomplished the reasonably attractive sets and lighting, under such an unfortunately, chosen play as "The Survivors."