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Harvard Square Theatre

Circling the Square

By Anthony Hiss

Cambridge's own Augean Stables (formerly called the University Theatre, and now the Harvard Square Theatre -- or HST for most, and non-U T for a few) have, at length, been thoroughly cleansed: what was once dirty, gilt, down-at-the-heels and 90c a shot is now sparkling, Spartan, chic and $1.25 a go.

Of the UT's former Byzantine Regency splendour, little survives; the bunched-up seats of the balcony are basically the same-although decently robed in new chintz ("There was so much to be done," explains Bud Kramer '56, the theatre's manager); and of course the wicker reserved chairs in the front of the balcony have held their own -- though they too are hidden under a fresh coat of white paint; and even the new owners, Brian Halliday and Sy Harberg, have not yet been able to clear the old vaudeville dressing room under the stage of a hallowed rotogravure print labelled (boldly) "President Hoover Greets the Society of Motion Picture Engineers at the White House, May 7, 1930."

Nothing else remains. Two hundred seats in the orchestra have been sacrificed to afford extra leg room (the HST seats 1689 to the UT's 1889), and the new seats -- covered in a cherry-red fabric -- are of the two-speed variety; the Ladies Lounge sports a heliotrope ceiling and two comfortably overstuffed chairs done in royal mauve; a new white plastic screen replaces a sickly and silvered one (the silvering, Mr. Kramer suspects, was applied early in the fifties when the UT succumbed to a brief 3-D period).

This new screen can be raised, and the HST owners hope to use the stage it hides for live (non-vaudeville) recitals and the like. On the 21st of this month for instance, Sir Michael Redgrave will read from the works of Hans Christian Andersen, and on the 18th of April, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf will sing. Mr. Kramer calls Miss Schwarzkopf's appearance "a first experiment."

But HST's regular cinematic fare, he adds quickly, will not be substantially different from the old UT Hollywood-spiced-by-Bergman entree. "This," says Kramer, "is a suburban house." And that, for Kramer, means virtually the same old diet--with the exception that the HST will strive to "pass up the lesser quality Hollywood films." On tap is La Dolce Vita and possibly Sink the Bismarck. Promises Kramer: "It won't be an art house; it will be your Hollywood films with some good foreign films spotted in."

Popcorn, happily, remains, but it comes in different paper bags now, and it's sold behind a forbidding teak counter. The walls of the theatre are what Kramer calls a "strange gray"--though the ceiling hasn't been touched yet. And of course the name is all different. Still, the redecoration is damned attractive and long overdue. And the movies scheduled are refreshingly similar to the UT's standbys. One can hand over that extra thirty-five cents in the new admission charge almost cheerfully.

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