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The Questioning of Nick and Miss Julie

At Leverett House

By Thomas K. Schwabacher

In an interesting juxtaposition, the Leverett House Dramatic Society is presenting an accredited masterpiece of the modern theater, August Strindberg's Miss Julie on the same double bill with a new play, The Questioning of Nick, by Arthur Kopit '59. And even more interesting is the fact that, without any doubt, Kopit's play takes the honors for the evening.

The Questioning of Nick is a terse, well-constructed character study of a high school hoodlum. Arrested for assaulting a fellow-member of the school's basketball team, he is subjected to a subtly-conceived interrogation by a pair of police detectives, who finally reveal the frightened boy hiding behind the facade of a tough guy. Kopit's point may be a modest one, but he makes it with skill and ends up with the most theatrically accomplished undergraduate play produced here in recent years.

The playwright is fortunate because the three actors in his work all present fine performances. As the hoodlum, Nick, Edward McKirdy not only looks right, but also hits upon just the right way of moving and talking. His is a well-observed and, at the end, even sympathetic piece of acting. Only one minor cavil could be raised: one or two of his lines cannot be understood. As the two policemen, William Gurton and Charles Potter are somewhat eclipsed by McKirdy's role and performance, but they nonetheless acquit themselves with credit.

The one real, though relatively minor shortcoming in The Questioning of Nick must be laid at the door of the director, Peter B. Kane. He prodded his actors along too rapidly at the beginning, and thus dissipated some of the energy inherent in the climax of the play. Furthermore, during this climactic scene, he permitted McKirdy to deliver some of his lines too slowly, and with his back toward the audience. These faults, however, can easily be corrected for subsequent performances.

Miss Julie is a more painful subject to approach than its predecessor on the program. Although justly evaluated as one of the landmarks of the naturalistic theater, the play today is still--even in the best of performances--something of a bore. Written in 1888, the play illustrates the conflict between a declining aristocracy and a rising middle class by focusing on the story of a valet in a decadent Swedish noble household who seduces--or, more properly, is seduced by--the daughter of the house. Appalled at what she has done, the weak-willed Miss Julie maneuvers the valet into forcing her to commit suicide.

Although the plot still contains much intensity, the point behind it all, particularly for an American audience, retains mostly only an academic importance. Furthermore, the construction of the play--particularly near the end--sags alarmingly, and some of its long speeches are made up of a questionable kind of rhetoric.

It is therefore, less surprising that the Leverett House presentation of Miss Julie fails in places than that the production succeeds as well as it does. While the show arouses no grand passions, it still stirs up some feelings--and that, given the play, is no mean accomplishment. The problem appears murkily, but it does appear.

As Jean, the valet, Eugene Gervasi gives an attractive, albeit uneven, performance. The obvious charm which Strindberg has poured into the character is visible, in Gervasi's rendering, but the cultivated polish and the sinister selfishness underneath are not. Nevertheless, when the script offers him a sharp line, Gervasi delivers it with grace and a fine sense of timing.

The part of Julie is a large one--almost operatic in intensity at times. Mikel Lambert does not quite fulfill these moments, but during the quieter passages of the play she performs satisfactorily. In the last of the play's speaking parts, that of the maid Kristin, Danute Adomkaitis suffers somewhat from stiffness.

The director of Miss Julie, Richard Klinger, is sufficiently inventive in his staging, but he demonstrates some of the same faults as his colleague in the first part of the program. Notably, the pace he forces throughout is generally too fast, thus preventing the play from building up properly.

The shortcomings of the present Leverett House presentation are all much easier to pin down than its virtues. The fact remains that The Questioning of Nick is excellent, and that the evening as a whole emerges as far and away the best theater Leverett House has produced yet.

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