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Strolling Players

By Wendy Lessfr

The South House Players haven't been around long, and they're not widely advertised. But sooner or later, heralded by three rounds of leaflets and posters in every entry, they'll probably show up in your House, and you'll have a chance to see Harvard's only travelling theater company. This unpretentious group bills its program as "after-dinner entertainment" and offers a morsel of culture to those who are too lazy to go any farther than the floor of their JCR.

The idea originated with Glenda Hobbs a graduate student in English and a nonresident tutor in South House. For the company's first production the selected Israel Horovitz's Rals, a one act play which was topical when originally performed in 1968, and then held open auditions in South House. Two freshmen and a junior won the three parts (two tats and a baby): none of them have ever done any dramatic work before.

"This is the first time South House has ever had any kind of drama society." Glenda said, "and I didn't know how well it would be able to compete with any of the more established groups, like Dunster House's I wanted a play that would be good enough on its own merits so that it would be successful even if the actors were bad. As it turns out they're really great."

Which is lucky--the play itself is actually nothing to rave about. Forty-five minutes long, it takes place entirely inside a baby's crib in Harlem. The social message is about what you'd expect, and one character even has to come right out and any it: "Too many babies are bitten every day!" ("Sometimes I'm afraid I'm going to start laughing at that line," said Kit Williams, who plays the baby and at that point is waiting with amazing realism. "It reminds me of a Unicef ad or something.") The tragic parts of the play tend of be melodramatic and over-sincere, and the come lines are often trite (there are basically two kinds of jokes rat-human analogies and snide references to New York suburban stereotypes)

But the acting is surprisingly good, Highest praise goes to Kit Williams for a cry that even its own a mother couldn't tell apart from a real baby's. Dressed in white diapers over a black leotard and tights (it's supposed to be a black baby, of course, just to punch in that social message), she's the only one of these casual performers who wears a costume. Bruce Kraus plays a successful old rat with a crusty exterior covering up his sentimental inside, and Rees Morrison is the innocent young rat who's just migrated from Greenwich. Connecticut to make his way up in the big city. The two play well opposite each other moving quickly back and forth from over acted melodrama to flip humor and they've already learned how to adjust to the specific atmosphere generated by each audience.

The company has already strolled through four Harvard Houses--South Currier, Lowell and Eliot--and plans to cover two to four more before quitting for the season. Reactions have varied greatly among the Houses, although the audiences have generally seemed pleased (who's going to complain about forty-five minutes of free entertainment".) South House had the biggest turn-out--100 to 125 people--and the audience laughed uproariously through the whole play. Currier House was much more sedate--people didn't laugh much during the play, but made polite, intellectual comments afterwards--and at Lowell House the audience wouldn't sit on the floor, even after being invited to do so. "We're finding out that the Houses really do live up to their stereotypes," the players remarked.

The audience often has a hard time deciding whether the play is a comedy or a tragedy (despite all the jokes, one of the rats kills the other in the end), and the actors tend to vary their technique according to the prevailing mood. At Fliot for example they began to exaggerate the melodrama when they found it provoked laughter. "I think the play is funnier than Currier House thought it was, but not as funny as they thought it was at South House," said Glenda. The cast, on the other hand, enjoyed the South House performance tremendously. "When everybody's laughing, people don't feel so self-conscious about laughing at individual lines," said Kit. "It's not the kind of play you would laugh at if you just read it to yourself." A lot of the humor depends on the actors' facial expressions and physical motions, so the cast can pretty-well make the play into whatever they want, despite Glenda's as director to impose her own interpretations "You're over-interpreting," they accuse her, and go ahead with their own version.

One of the nicest things about the whole enterprise is its informality. The audience sits close to the stage, which consists merely of an area of floor bounded by four lamps and their cords. "It works best in a small room." Rees said, "where the audience is right up against us." After the play the audience gets served choose (provided by each House at ten dollars per performance) and has a chance to talk to the actors. That's when you find out that Bruce, who mocks Rees throughout the play for being a "madras commuter" rat from Greenwich, actually comes from Fairfield County himself. You may also find out what the actors thought of you as an audience, and where they disagreed with Glenda about how to say the lines, and how they view this Strolling Players business.

It's highly appropriate that South House's first major contribution to the Harvard dramatic community should be informal and intimate rather than coolly professional. Ever since the dorms went co-ed three years ago. Radcliffe has been the place where people live who want to be part of a relaxed, close-knit community. In that same personal tone, the South House company now asks its audiences to "Enjoy the cheese and the play in the comfort of your own House."

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