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The New Boston Theatre Season: The Good, the Bad, and the Loeb

By Frank Rich

WHEN A SHOW called Camelot opened on Broadway nearly a decade ago, one critic wrote that it was the first time he had come out of a musical humming the scenery.

If they ever do a musical at the Loeb, Harvard's lush drama center, no doubt someone else will write the same thing. Plays at the Loeb have great sets. But, oddly enough, two other things that the Loeb does not have are exciting theatre and a Harvard audience. Luckily, a lot of genteel middle-aged locals frequent the Loeb, so the Loeb has money, and with money you can build that swell scenery. But what about the rest?

This year the Harvard Dramatic Club will do three plays at the Loeb during the fall term: Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Chekhov's Three Sisters, and John Bowen's After the Rain (a sort of parable play that was a critical success and audience bomb in London and New York). Are you thrilled? Even if they are great productions, are you going to go? I doubt it. You are not going to go, because, unless you are a real theatre enthusiast, you have either no interest in seeing any of these plays in any form or you have already seen them and don't want a second helping.

Harvard has no drama department, productions for this season. The cream of the list somehow did not make it on to the fall schedule. When I saw my friend again last week, he told me the sad story of what went wrong over the summer.

Two of the plays planned for this fall, he said, could not be done because of difficulty in obtaining rights. This is a shame, since at least one of these plays is far more exciting than any of the three works finally chosen.

This same friend assured me that we could at least expect something different from Leland Moss, who will direct The Three Sisters. Moss evidently will strip the Chekhov work down to the essentials, freeing the play of such trappings as sets and costumes. So if you want to see The Three Sisters -surely the most frequently performed Chekhov play in this country-the Moss production might be a good thing.

On the other hand, the director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof made something of a mess with his previous attempt at directing a Williams work last spring.

IT LOOKS much cheerier at the Loeb Experimental Theatre, where productions are put together for peanuts and performances are given for free. While the schedule is not definite yet, all three projected programs and one of the amazing things about the Loeb is that the productions are put together by people in their spare time, most of whom have no serious dramatic training. But equally amazing is the fact that these people, with no theatre department and the crap that goes along with it, should do plays that are conventional, run-of-the-mill university theatre department type stuff.

Last spring, a member of the HDC showed me a list of prospective Loeb are good ideas.

These are an unspecified work by Pirandello and two evenings of one act plays, America Hurrah and Morning, Noon and Night.

America Hurrah is Jean Claude van Itallie's amazing trio of improvisational-styled sketches about the vulgar mechanization of American life.

As produced last season on Broadway by Circle-in-the-Square, Morning, Noon and Night consisted of plays by Israel Horovitz, Terence McNally and Leonard Melfi. Collectively these one-acters made up the finest evening of new American drama of the last theatre season and should work well in the Ex.

Like last year, the Loeb will also bring in productions from outside to help fill the main stage between HDC offerings. This year's import schedule is promising.

October will bring The Concept, a chilling piece of theatre performed by members of Daytop Village, a community of ex-dope addicts. It was one of last season's biggest off-Broadway successes. This will be followed by Le Treteau de Paris' stark production of the Anouilh Antigone, which, when I saw it four years ago, struck me as an unusual presentation of a much too frequently done play.

Surrounding these two plays will be Die Schauspieltruppe Zurich's repertory of playwrights Durrenmatt, Frisch and Goethe (late September) and the Oxford-Cambridge Players' Twelfth Night (December). Last season, only the latter troupe attracted a large student audience to the Loeb, and their work was enthusiastically received. This year's production is directed by Jonathan Miller, Beyond the Fringe alumnus and one of the funniest men alive.

Elsewhere in the area, the season looks, at best, uncertain.

At the Charles Playhouse in Boston, where productions range from dreadful to very good, the upcoming season is a mixed blessing. On the good side are O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (opens September 25) and the American premiere of Britisher Edward Bond's latest, Passage to the Deep North. Reduced-rate subscription tickets are available.

THE THEATRE COMPANY of Boston opens this week with two one-act plays that collectively make up probably the funniest evening of theatre currently running in New York. The plays are Adaptation, Elaine May's version of the game of life as viewed from the perspective of a TV quiz show, and Next, Terrence McNally's sketch about a 48-year-old man undergoing a humiliating draft physical. Two actresses near and dear to the hearts of Cambridge theatregoers, Susan Channing and Joan Tolentino, will be in the cast.

These one-acters will be followed by Harold Pinter's Basement and Mao-Box-Mao, Edward Albee's latest and weirdest piece of work.

The Craft Theatre on Brookline Avenue has also opened with one-acters, Martin Duberman's Metaphors and Terrence McNally's Tour and Sweet Eros, the latter having much nudity. Mr. McNally, by the way, is a young Cafe La Mama playwright who is crazy and vulgar and generally wonderful. It's nice to see his work being done all over the place.

Following the one-acters at the Craft will be the first Boston production of Dale Wasserman's dramatization of the Kesey novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This play was first performed on Broadway about six years ago, and flopped-presumably because this was before anyone much had heard of Kesey. The play got creditable reviews, particularly considering that it was before its time, and the Craft's decision to revive it at this time is both inspired and fortunate.

At Brandeis, surely the best university theatre around, two productions have been set for the first term. The first of these is the World Premiere of a new play, Hannalore, by Jere Admire. Admire is an ex-Broadway musical chorus dancer (He did over a thousand performances as the dancing gorilla in Cabaret ) turned dramatic actor (His first serious role was as Emory in the national company of Boys in the Band, seen here last spring) turned playwright. His play will be followed by the Sophocles Antigone.

SINCE the upcoming Broadway season is the weakest in years, it is not surprising that bookings are sparse and unexciting at the legitimate theatres downtown, which depend on Broadway for productions.

The Wilbur opens with The Price. This is Arthur Miller's most recent play, featuring the cast that closed in it on Broadway last season. If you like Miller, you'll find The Price close to his best work, and Harold Gary gives an astounding performance as a very old Jewish furniture dealer.

Following The Price into the Wilbur will be Angela (October 13), a new comedy by the idiot who wrote Never Too Late. This pre-Broadway tryout will star Geraldine Page, God help her.

And while no one at the Wilbur will admit it yet, Variety reports that an unlimited run of a duplicate of the Broadway Hair will open there in February.

The Colonial has opened with a David Merrick tryout, The Penny Wars, written by Elliott Baker and directed by a beautiful actress-comedian named Barbara Harris. Two fine actors, George Voskovec and Kim Hunter, head the cast-but the Boston notices and rampant trade gossip indicate the show is in serious pre-Broadway trouble.

December will bring the new Neil Simon play to the Colonial. Titled The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, it is the story of a seafood restaurant entrepreneur and a trio of mistresses. The middleaged hero will be played by James Coco, who made a splash last season in the New York production of Next. The director is Robert Moore, who contributed the dazzling staging accountable for much of the success of New York's current Boys in the Band and Promises, Promises.

Like the Colonial, the Shubert has only two bookings so far, a return engagement of the road company of Fiddler on the Roof (November 17), which broke all Boston box office records last spring, and the Pearl Bailey-all black Hello, Dolly! (January 12). Fiddler, if you go for musicals, is probably the best ever and this particular production is as good as any you will see.

Information on House productions and Agassiz muscial were not available as the CRIMSON went to press. Keep a look out for what these organizations are doing and pray.

Oh, and I hope you like movies, too.

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