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WHEN YOU shorten a play it's only fair that you shorten its name. America is one half the title of Jean-Claude Van Itallie's satire on the land of the free that in transit to Harvard's Loeb Experimental Theater lost its last Hurrah. While this might just look like fanatic adherence to the credo of truth-in-advertising by an over-conscientious Harvard producer, it is actually the author's stipulation that when his three one-act satires travel separately they must do so under assumed names. This production--including the original's two longer one-acts. "T.V." and "Interview." but not the shorter "Motel"--deserves more hurrahs than its incognito lets on.
The program begins with "Interview", putting its worst foot forward so that it can quickly walk and then skip to better material. One at a time the eight actors enter the all-white set. Four, two men and two women, are job applicants just as four more are interviewers Proceeding briskly from the claustrophobic initial scene, the actors spin into a series of vignettes that are always fast-paced and often devastatingly clever. Six members of the troup standing in a line plug into each other and hum like telephone circuits while the operator. Jeanette Caurant, alternates between incoming calls and a conversation with her friend Roberta. The line of humming circuit impersonators switches back and forth with each call. This line quickly becomes a row of medical assistants passing instruments back and forth in a surgical spoof.
Director Pamela Berlin moves the energetic cast through difficult transitions from one scene to the next with such skill that they smoothly glide over the weaknesses in Van Itallie's play. Amusing bits, such as Andy Rose's radio-bopping pedestrian, and perpetual motion on stage help them get over the play's pretentious stretches with only minor casualties.
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE is evidently the sort of fellow who goes around telling his friends that we must re-order our national priorities. Why he didn't leve his sentiments of social outrage back at the 1966 anti-war kaffeclatsch he found them at I'll never know. Unpleasant whiffs of stale liberal cliches, the tone of adolescent disillusionment are rusty barbs in otherwise imaginative scenes. Double-talking politicians, bullshitting psychiatrists, uncaring priests get their gratuitous going-over in an orgy of obviousness.
But despite the many ruts worn into Van Itallie's consciousness this play is without a doubt the most enjoyable I've seen at Harvard this year. The second one-act, "T.V.", easily makes up in richness of movement and fun for the flaws of "Interview". This is all to Berlin's credit, because she has choosen to play up the life in the scenes instead of making them significantly drab. Three professional television monitors are sitting together watching the screen in a T.V. rating room. The five other actors act out what's happening on the screen. Skits from Westerns, newscasts, british war movies and religious crusades follow one after another and plenty of fun is made of commercials. Marilyn Duchin, Stephen Benson and the others make the spoofs light and enjoyable while the three monitors quarrel through their conventional day at the office. The exceptional--really adorable--performance was by Laurie Glimcher who talks, flirts and whines at her office companions while she tries to decide whether or not she wants to go to the movies that night or have a late date with David Warner the married supervisor.
Not that all this is the most devastating satire--it isn't and there's no reason for it to be. With television skits and the hum-drum office drama proceeding simultaneously there is always something new to look at. Van Itallie has freed the captive audience to look at what it wants. It's as much fun as playing the radio and watching t.v. and talking to a friend and reading the paper at the same time, and you don't have to follow anything in particular. Finally overconsumption has come to the stage so that those tedious interludes are about as possible as boredom at the Ringling Brothers' all new three ring circus.
You wouldn't think they could fit it all into the ex, but undoubtably Pamela Berlin and her proteges have. And there it is, all for free at the Loeb--with real live actors. America, hooray.
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