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THERE IS something Harvard steals from you; maybe it is whatever was once heroic in you, perhaps it is what was once honest. Whatever it is, once it is gone you have become like the First Minister in Howard Nemerov's Endor, who is told by the witch that men of his sort "though they have lives and deaths, never have fates." They "have their cleverness instead: their light, dry minds which blow in the wind of fortune ..."
David Blocker, the oily minister in the Dollar Theater production, manages to convince you that his mind indeed flutters with the slightest breeze, and his cleverness serves his master only when it serves himself.
And yet, it is possible to sympathize with this man who is by his own admission contemptible. That is the best measure of Blocker's accomplishment. In the end, when he, Saul, and Saul's general leave the witch, it is only Blocker's Minister who carries the burden of the vision of imminent doom she has shown them.
Although Blocker's performance was difficult to match, Leigh Woods as Saul and Frazer Lively as the witch came close. Miss Lively's witch was an imaginative if not completely successful attempt to break away from the stereotype of withered, cackling, old crones. Gaunt she is, but she displays a sensuality when she strokes Saul's cheek that casts doubt upon the depths to which she has plumbed arcane science.
THE PLAY begins with a soliloquy by Saul, which is unfortunate, for Woods seems unable to shed his self-consciousness when on the stage alone. But as soon as the other characters arrive and give his speeches direction, Saul becomes a convincingly tragic figure.
The second play in the series, Krapp's Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett, erased any doubts this viewer might have had about Wood's ability. Krapp is the only character in the play, making it difficult to determine how much of the credit for its success belongs to Woods and how much to his director, Judith Ebenstein. But there were several pieces of brilliant improvisation that clearly established his claim to a lion's share.
Krapp, despit the tangle of his mind and words, is a simple man. He traded passion for happiness and now he regrets it. The Minister was equally simple, trading happiness of knowledge. Perhaps that's what you'll be doing if you see these plays, but see them anyway. You may have already thrown away your heroism and happiness in hope of knowledge. It would be a shame to leave without the knowledge.
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