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THE TROUBLE WITH mounting a campus-wide Festival of the Arts is that once you set half the campus on stage in a smorgasbord of dramas, musicals and whatnot and then go on to send the other half to the wings to attend to lighting, makeup and programs, no one is left who can credibly impersonate an audience. Dunster House tried to solve the problem last Thursday night by planting the Master and his friends in the front lines center for a performance of Edward Bond's "Oedipus comedy" Saved, but it never quite came off. Despite convincing simulations of applause, the audience assembled--all dozen and a half of us--failed to impress our presence on the cast.
Which is too bad, because John Greenwood appears to have forgotten to direct his players with an audience in mind, and the sooner that they realize they are not just gesturing in the dark the sooner they can hope to bring the play to life. Greenwood's blocking is often sloppy. In one scene, the action goes on upstage while a noninvolved third character, engaged in a bit of ironing, is permitted to hold centerstage where he cancels out the conflict. Similarly, the riverside scene of the first act is played so close to the audience's feet that those seated further back would have to look under their seats to catch what's going down. Credit must be given to Greenwood for carefully instructing his cast in the Cockney accents of the play's South London milieu. And he also does well to guide them through a maze of scene changes and a dense fog of Pinteresque dialogue. But he nonetheless fails to shape the evening into dramatic highs and lows. The terrain the production travels is as flat as Omaha.
ADMITTEDLY, Edward Bond's play is not the simplest fare an amateur group could settle on. Set in lower-middle class England, the welfare state of yesterday's Look Back in Anger as well as tomorrow's Clockwork Orange, Saved is an unrelenting down. Osborne's young men were at least angry; Bond's are either brutish or defeated. Len, the Cockney whose abortive attempts to establish wife and family provide the structure of the piece, wants only to settle for a little peace and quiet, is willing to suffer living with his in-laws, even tries to look the other way as his girl leaves him to make it with a rival. There are shafts of comedy, to be sure, but it is the comedy of Beckett despite the naturalistic settings.
The performances by and large doggedly recreate the characters' hopelessly grim environment--even at the cost of a few emotional deadends. Leigh Montayne takes the part of Len and turns it into a believable, if curiously passive portrait of a nice guy just too intent on finishing last. In contrast, as his rival Fred, Frank W. Leupold enters a stylish, occasionally overly malignant performance. As Mary, the mother of Len's girlfriend, Nora Jacobson is most convincing, a catch-all of stray hairs and wasted spirits. Rounding out the household. Lynne Breslin and Richard Christenson are no less relenting in the purpose with which they attack their roles, but I think they also suffer most from the emotional monotone that characterizes the evening. Jon Miller and Bob Briggs's lighting goes beyond the minimum demands expected of house drama to make definite contributions to the understandably sketchy settings.
SAVED--banned in Britain as it's advertised--has gained notoriety for its first act climax wherein a baby is stoned to death in its carriage. Undertaken by a gang of tougs very much in the spirit of the old ultra-violence, the image is shocking and disturbing. However, this production of Saved fails to build around it. It is simply there, a part of the production, but never an element in the emotional landscape of the play.
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