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Good At It

at Eliot House May 9, 10, 16-18

By James Lardner

DONALD BLOCH'S play, which opened last night at selected locations around the Eliot House dining hall, has absolutely no exposition, begins in fact with a vow to ignore the past and sticks by it. The future is another quantity ignored, and the play between turns out in consequence to be, among other things, smartly constructed. Instead of handing us tiresomely detailed, hideously flawed cases for treatment, Mr. Bloch throws out two empty characters and spends his nine scenes in an effort to make them worth knowing. He has set and filled in the process two hypothetical criteria for the organic play, that it neither begin with a rehash of fetal murmurings nor end on the expressway to second-childhood. The plot of Mr. Bloch's work, called for reasons beyond my ken Good At It, is thus a blessedly cohesive whole.

Cohesion, however, need not preclude a little eclecticism. It has long been my intention to compile, someday, an encyclopedia of plot formulas, so arranged that a mere gloss would be sufficient to reduce even the shaggiest tale to several digits, say a "234 with a half-twist." Thankfully no such volume yet exists, for whole weeks might be lost in the effort to enumerate Good Art It, which far from being plotless, abounds with the treasured moments of myriad plots. On short count, the following old dependables seem to have resurfaced for the occasion: (a) slightly neurotic actress has stormy relationship with egotistic co-worker, breaks it off and meets nice but slightly square younger man, who proves a shade too comprehensible for her artist's blood, so she goes back to the actor and lives not happily but well; (b) girl gets pregnant, has falling-out with boyfriend when she tries to tell him, goes away in confusion, gets embroiled in family hang-ups, is at last rescued by and reunited with boys, who in her absence has achieved hard-earned success and learned humility into the bargain; and (c) beautiful girl loves no one but herself, isn't even sure about that, abandons, faithful beau on a whim, travels a long a lonely path that leads her back to the boy who has loved her all along.

THESE skeletons, the stuff of thirties dramas and fifties movies, are not the first time installed in the flesh of a Harvard play. Others with similar concerns have for all their efforts wrought neither more nor less than soap opera. But Mr. Bloch knows how to put dialogue together, not so that his characters sound like real people--God forbid--but so they sound, at best, like prize people. I think twice when one character asks hi sister, "Why did you let him touch you?" and she replies, "Why do people go to museums? Women don't make decisions like that." In my limited experience, it is precisely such decisions that women do make, but the line sticks even if it doesn't wash. And a line like "I wish to hell you wouldn't let everyone take advantage of you; what fun is it for me then?"--a line like that does both.

It remains to acknowledge that several competent performances are not sufficient to turn this craftsmanlike play into a craftsmanlike production. One suspects Marcy Schuck of being a versatile actress when she appears first as Libby, the roommate, and the suspicion is confirmed when she returns as Mrs. Fern, the mother. Sandal LaPharque also does a creditable job with the single, central role of Randy. The men, however, are somewhat more questionable. David Baughan, a James Dean of the skateboard set, sits a little too heavily on his character's affectations. Both Ken Evans and Judson St. victor do their share of honest work in lesser roles; one suspects both would be happier elsewhere, but it is in the nature of house shows to conscript all manner of participants, and this particular Eliot House production, spread over Paul Fry's efficiently inspired scenery, speaks well for the institution of house drama.

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