Waiting for Julia

Green Julia a play by Paul Ableman tonight at Lowell House

THIS PLAY IS about students, but if it seems familiar to audiences around here it's probably less because its characters are like people we know than because so many plays recently have used the same sort of situation and devices (plays like Moonchildren and The Wager). What these plays have in common is the use of clever, Tom Stoppard-like dialogue as a facade, covering emotions that are revealed in a dramatic crisis. Paul Ableman is no Tom Stoppard, but his brand of collegiate wit keeps the surface of his play funny and entertaining.

In the several years that they have shared rooms, the graduate student protagonists of Green Julia have put together a lively set of two-man routines. There's a lot of humor in the comic bits, not just in the word-play, but also in the hammy mugging of Stephen Kolzak and Paul Jackel as Jake and Bob. And when the covering starts to wear thin, there's also considerable potential for pathos. Ableman doesn't have enough control over his material to bring it off, though, and some clumsy inconsistencies and bad writing keep the play at the level of melodrama.

What forces the crisis is Bob's imminent departure. He has invited his occasional lover of the past few years, a middle-aged alcoholic whore, to join him for a farewell celebration with Jake, and while they wait, the comedy routines that have sustained their relationship for five years finally begin to wear thin. Jake sees clearly for the first time that Bob is self-centered to the point of being totally blind to the people he is closest to. He makes an issue of Bob's easy and careless unconcern for truth, and in the process exposes a long standing lie of his own.

Bob and Jake are interesting characters--for that matter, so is Julia, who never shows up--and Kolzak and Jackel do their best to cover up some of the implausibility, and to fill in missing motivation. Some of the problems with the play can't be covered up though--it's hard to believe that these people have learned so little about each other in the five years they've lived together, and it's hard to understand why the issue comes to a head now, when one is so self-absorbed, and the other so frightened of dealing with people (most of Jake's sexuality, we discover, is wrapped up in his hybrid maize experiments). There's a sense of urgency lacking in their confrontation that the mystery about the missing Julia doesn't provide.

Kolzak, as Jake, has to do most of the heavy emoting, and he's entirely convincing--if he occasionally overacts, that's easy to see as part of his habitual role-playing game with Bob. He comes a long way toward bringing off the most implausible bits, as when he tosses the much-vaunted picture of his fiancee into the garbage for no apparent reason except to tell the audience what they should already know, that she is nothing more than a saving fiction.


Daniel Gales's set is a realistic approximation of a student's room, although my guess is it created more blocking problems than it should have, and the inadequate lighting should probably be blamed on the equipment in the Lowell House JCR. If the director, Robert Stier, had trouble with stage movement, though, it doesn't show. His ear for intonation isn't always accurate, but otherwise his direction is competent and unobtrusive.

Two-man theater is the hardest kind to sustain and make convincing, but this is the sort of play that is best suited to the scale of a Loeb Ex-type production. The intensity and conviction of this production shows why the witty college student genre has been so successful. There's nothing new about combining pathos with superficial wit, but something about the combination seems to be appropriate to student life in the 60's.