The Dramatic Club was founded in 1908 for the purpose of presenting new plays written here by students. Even with a student body the size of the University's, it was, of course, impossible to find one or two original plays each year that were always worthy of production. Those play's which did seem of promise, but were unsuitable for local performance, were given a "reading" by the HDC, after ample rehearsals. Eventually, the Club began to present outstanding foreign plays which were being ignored by the Belascos and the Frohmans on Broadway. Since 1919, no undergraduate plays have been produced by the HDC.
Though it has failed in its original purpose, the HDC has figured prominently in the history of the theater in this country. Not only can it claim to have first offered creative opportunity to such men as Robert Edmond Jones, Donald Oenslager, and Robert Sherwood, but many significant new plays have been given their American premieres here under the Club's auspices. A brief list of some of the more important would include Auden and Isherwood's "The Dog Beneath the Skin," Saki's "The Watched Pot," Johnston's "A Bride for the Unicorn," Coctean's "La Machine Infernale," and Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral." The Club's production of "The Ascent of FL," early in the decade, is still a topic of conversation in the theater world.
It is unfortunate that the present "generation" of undergraduates has seen the Dramatic Club in its leanest years. The fault has not been with the group, with its leaders, or with the new competition given it by the HTW. The fault has been ultimately the University's.
The plight of drama at Harvard has been frequently discussed on these pages (and will continue to be, it is hoped, until the drama is given its rightful, official recognition); it will not again be related here. However, if the HDC had had intelligent faculty guidance and if it did not have to pay high rental fees (for both rehearsal space and an auditorium)--two handicaps the University could endeavor to remove--there is little doubt but that the past few years would not have been so fruitless and bitter for the Club.
The choices of plays have not been all wise, nor even of artistic merit, at times. "Waiting for Lefty" was given the best production, but the talent could better have been lavished on a less dated play. "Amphitryon 38' was also well done, and like "Lefty" made a profit for the Club, but it was a play unsuited for amateur production, containing too few characters and demanding too much of its inexperienced principles. Anyone that tries to make a profit out of reviving Ibsen these days is very foolish, as was the HDC last year with "An Enemy of the People." But a more foolish fellow still is the one who takes a play which has just been thoroughly trounced by the Broadway critics and tried to resuscitate it in the hope that it will then prove a money-maker for him. Such was the case when the HDC offered Irwin Shaw's "The Survivors" last year in a Boston-theater.
The heavy debt from the failure of the Shaw play has influenced both selections for this year. "Amphitryon 38" was played up in the advance publicity as being very sexy, etc., and consequently must have disappointed some patrons. This spring, the HDC took a very daring step it brought in a Hollywood actor and a press agent with a limitless credit account. The amount of money spent on "The Man Who Came to Dinner," is rumored to be up in the 5-digits, but the Club apparently is going to be able to meet its old debts from the profits. If the HDC can begin its new production next fall with a clean financial slate, then perhaps it will be able to chalk up something more creditable on its artistic slate, which is rather smudged of late.