The sixth New Theatre Workship production, In the Lion's Mouth by Erik Amfitheatrof, is full of sound and fury, signifying little that has not already been well explored. But it is, for all its excess philosophy, an exciting play. In fact, its main fault lies in the effort Mr. Amfitheatrof has made to achieve excitement. His characters indulge in a good deal too much swearing and beating upon one another--both gems of stock dramaturgy that are below the author's general high plane of plot construction.
Good theatre need not be didactic. Well done cavalry charges are superior even esthetically--to sophomoric preaching; but Mr. Amfitheatrof's work leans too often on loud voices and poised fists for its dramatic effect. With the innate tension of his story a sympathetic Italian police commissioner rescuing a defected Communist from the Yugoslavs and from the fascist ire of the commissioner's son's political chief--the author need not have stressed action so much.
The generally indifferent acting also hurt In the Lion's Mouth. None of the actors gave their characters warmth or feeling. Both Arnold Aaron as the policeman and Andre Gregory as the sometime communist were too intellectual in their approaches, cutting off the audience's sympathy. And in fairness to the author, lines suggesting the human quality of the characters were quite evident. Messers. Aaron and Gregory, nevertheless, were quite consistent in their portrayals, and my quarrel is rather with their conception of the characters than with their skill.
Dean Gitter, with un-sparkling competence, did some blustering as the Yugoslav colonel. But his main role was that of director. He did a good job, excepting only the spots in which he unfortunately choose to accentuate the play's pointless violence. Certainly the pace did not slacken at any point under Mr. Gitter's hand. For only brief moments, during which Mr. Gregory and Mr. Aaron decided that communism is basically evil, did boredom creep onto the stage.
As the policeman's weak dupe of a son, Donald Richards was much too strong. He stormed when he should have whimpered, but again, he was quite consistent in his performance. His pal, the fascist bully-boy, was done with minor distinction by Peter Sourian who elected to underplay a fairly meaty role.
Ina Bachman was the last, and least distinguished of the principals. Wooden and without fervor, she helped dispense some necessary exposition.
Even with its shortcomings of cast and script, In the Lion's Mouth, I should repeat, was exciting and generally enjoyable. The very fact of an all-student production on a regular New Theatre Workshop schedule is a very pleasant sign for Harvard drama. Bringing this season of locally written plays to an end, the HDC production of Mr. Amfitheatrof's work promises much for next year.