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Three Plays by O'Neill

At Leverett House

By Larry Hartmann

Over-acting seems to be idiom of Leverett House theater. Although the relatively inexperienced director and actors work on three awkward bits of O'Neill with commendable vigor and theatrical awareness, their triple-barreled evening of drama is alive only slightly more often than it is awkward.

Furthermore, just as much as Leverett acting seems to adhere to some firm, intangible tradition, so does their choice of plays. To dig for little bits of dramatic gold buried by distinguished writers is a fine ideal for dramatic groups, but Leverett has perhaps over-extended the tradition. Since only one of their current trio--The Rope--has much strength, even if the acting were a bit less over-eager, two-thirds of the evening would remain interesting rather than intense or stimulating.

The Rope, which comes last in the triple bill, comes first in impact. It is the tale of a feeble-minded old man and of the noose he hangs up for his prodigal son to hang himself with if he should return. The prodigal does return, but does not hang himself--which seems too bad, because his ironic old half-wit father has tied his hidden fortune to the far end of the hangman's rope. Why he should want to help his detestable son instead of killing him is unexplained, but he fails totally. So, in a most frustrating manner, do his son, his daughter, and her husband, in their attempts to find the money.

The atmosphere of bare tenseness and frustration is powerful and constantly well-organized by Richard Cattani, the director. Although he has a slight weakness for exaggerated effects, such as the sudden turning on and off of emotion in the half-wit's granddaughter, he is usually calmly imaginative. Such touches as the long pause when the brothers-in-law are left alone together and such tableaus as the final sunset scene are most effective.

Some of the acting in The Rope, however, is a bit uncomfortable. John Sheppard works hard and often well at his difficult, mannerized role as the old man. William Searle, as his son, is fairly buoyant; his irresponsible sneer outweighs his awkward postures. Jane Connor assumes the character his slouchy sister with surprising completeness, even if her motions are occasionally static or self-conscious. By far the best person on stage is Eugent Gervasi, who plays her husband with the proud poise of a Greek statue. He is vitally alive and colorful whether soliloquizing or merely gesturing.

The other two plays are far less successful. The evening begins with The Long Voyage Home, a small story of a sailor's being shanghaied. Here, over-acting is at its highest, although Mikel Lambert, in a bit part as a barmaid, is excellent. John Baker plays a bartender with all the fervent cliches of a barber-shop tenor; Cyrus Hamlin, as the poor Swedish hero, is also exaggerated, but with an amiable naviete which suits his role surprisingly well. Jan Baltusnik, as the inevitable whore, adds occasional wistful effectiveness. The director, Edward McKirdy, shows pleasant and exceptional skill.

David Lange, on the other hand, who directed the second play, Where the Cross is Made, shows considerable adroitness with effects--the weird lighting turns out very well--but less control of his actors. Michael Medearis plays the nearly mad son of a mad sea captain with melodrama in every syllable. This sometimes comes off. John Baker, as his father, teeters between vivid strength and hamminess, but Barbara Bisco, as the captain's daughter, enters her role with fine if sometimes sudden emotion.

The sets for Cross and Voyage are adequate; for Rope, excellent. As a whole, Leverett provides a surprisingly positive evening. Two mediocre playlets lead up to one genuinely impressive play.

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