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THE HUB THEATRE Centre opens its season with Jack, or The Submission and The Bald Soprano by Ionesco, two plays with a spooky flux between motion and verbiage. Harnessing the two elements for full impact calls less for enthusiasm, which these productions have in quantity, than for measured coordination of stage blockings. In the HTC program notes, Director-Producer Rosann Weeks asserts an ideal commitment to "vital, direct, and positive communication with our audience." Somehow or other, their good intentions get tripped up in a confusion of artistic priorities, which leaves the first play choppy, the second slow-paced and staid. So the communication is murky rather than "positive," all for want of coherent style. What poses as ethical revelation fails as art.
The first portion of Jack giddily beats the old domestic horse which Albee buried in The American Dream. I found the surreal set gawky, and only slightly less distracting than the blue crustacean-like masks worn by Jack and his family. Everyone seemed too self-involved in being individually cute and grotesque; with six characters moving around in this manner on an extremely small stage, the effect is annoying.
In contrast, as the play moves into its second half, Jack is left alone with a three-nosed marriage aspirant named Roberta (Roberta's clan, incidentally, wear porcine masks which, as opposed to the others, I found really funny). Joan E. Thompson, one of the founders of HTC, is excellent as Roberta, whose task it is to win Jack's compliance in a marriage which will complete his emasculation. Jack, played with flair by Bernie Duffy, balks, then gradually weakens as Roberta titillates him with stories about a swimming guinea pig, a drowning baby and a Phoenix-like stallion. The last sequence in which Roberta snares Jack with this chimera of immortal virility is worth to anyone the price of admission.
THE BALD SOPRANO had a strangely stale effect, though the famed "Bobby Watson" segment and the opening interchange between Mr. and Mrs. Martin should, independently, justify even the most traditional revival of this play. What follows these two paradigms of verbal obfuscation is a dreary series of games which the Smiths play with their think-alike symbolic coordinates, the Martins. The caperings of Mary, the maid, seemed to contribute nothing to the action, but Victoria Fraser's quickness in that part relieved an artistic sore in the play which was repeatedly aggravated by Jim Lynch's performance as the visiting Fire Chief. He was lumbering and clumsy but so was the entire conclusion of the play.
I found, in short, not much fire in The Bald Soprano, and I began to notice trivial things like the close atmosphere in the poorly ventilated basement room in which the plays were presented. I wondered how Mr. Smith could be reading an obituary of Bobby Watson in the Times Literary Supplement. My mind was wandering from the focus hit in the first play when Jack, surrounded by swarming relatives, screamed: "Words, what crimes are committed in your name!"
What I can laud is the warm sense of cooperation which seemed to motivate the actors in these two parables of verbal aggression. They were acting in overwrought sets and from a scrawny conceptual framework. But they were acting at and with each other, in ways one could sense were both familiar and fun. Perhaps this, more than artistic polish, is what the HTC has to offer; and I intend the remark not in denigration.
Compare, for instance, the warmth and easy rapport of these obviously experienced players-now in their fifth season-with the seemingly bogus spiritual communion of the Loeb actors in last year's Grotowski experiment, The Three Sisters. Grotowski's method was salient throughout the production, but it didn't add to (frequently detracted from) Chekhov's script. If animal magnetism caused the players to embrace each other at the end of the play, their frantic hugging gave the audience at least an emblem of deep feelings which, purely as artists, they were unable to make the audience share.
The Hub Theatre Centre troupe has, I repeat, no new method of acting or stage presentation and certainly no new gloss on Ionesco. What it does have is a remarkable optimism which can be felt if not communicated. "Man can and should be a determiner of life rather than a victim," the program notes blazon. Thus, in the Old West Church in Boston, in the midst of some harrowing Urban Renewal skyscrapers, a theatrical group has thrown off the pessimist syndrome which Daniel Moynihan recently tabbed "mediocre." Unfortunately, at this stage in its development, the HTC lacks the artistic expertise to complement its inspiration.
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