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The Open Theatre...and the Closed

at the Loeb last weekend

By James Lardner

THERE'S NOT A whole lot can be said about The Open Theatre and its concoction called The Serpent: A Ceremony. They both represent an infant theatrical form as yet more of a reaction against the purely verbal drama than a definite scheme for its undoing. The guiding principles of this reaction are few but give an idea of where the form may be heading. The author, if there has to be an author, is merely one rather docile element of the collaboration; that's to say he provides the words, if there have to be words. The effect of this suppression must inevitably be to make the director supreme; but I take it to be a tenet of both The Open Theatre and its not dissimilar cohorts The Living Theatre that the director give voice to a will somehow divined from the company at large. For its part, The Open Theatre has a recorded this will through trial and error, through a continuing cycle of improvisations.

The Serpent, if one ignores the form in favor of the content (not an easy thing to do), inquires into the source, nature and existence of guilt, leaping back in time from James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan to Cain. Ideas wander idly in and out of the action. At all point's the company stretches its physical resources to the limit, and proves itself an unusually well-coordinated lot. Although The Open Theatre doesn't go in for the acrobatics encouraged by Julian Beck and his crowd, these performers seem every bit as able as their Living Theatre counterparts. And The Serpent, truth to tell, is a good deal more involving than anything on the current Living Theatre repertory.

As good as they are, the players under Joseph Chaikin's direction demand a certain degree of tolerance--for the simple reason that their medium remains largely untried and unpredictable. Moments, even whole scenes, are tedious; and some which aren't seem badly out of place. I'd quarrel specifically with the passing out of apples among the audience which, while it holds the attention tolerably, destroys a certain measure of audience identification with the players on stage, an identification which comes in handy before and after. The Open Theatre, if one can judge by this product, does not seem to be hung up on physical audience involvement, and my vote says it ought to stay that way.

THE POOH PLAYERS are back, offering their blasphemous rendition of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, each made the more blasphemous by this company's astonishing capacity for off-the-cuff stage gibberish. The few children in attendance continue to despite the Pooh Players and all they stand for, but the adults sit by in tolerant amusement. Lewis Carroll would make mincemeat of his grave.

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