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AT SOME TIME during freshman year, we lost our cookies. We were all trapped by freshman year, hopelessly enmeshed in a pernicious web of commitments, dreams, dilemmas, loneliness and heartbreak.
"Lost Cookies," an original play by Tommy Kramer '79 and Adam Bellow (Princeton '79), is a satirical and thematic success because it holds up a mirror to each of us, a window into the past; it helps us to laugh at the traumas that once caused us to cry in bewilderment.
The entire play is set in the living room of a Yard suite. The set captures perfectly the atmosphere of a freshman room. The drama plays the four roommates off one another and the three girls across the hall, revealing their true characters as the play unfolds.
Tim Fitzhigh, played by John Hall, is the first roomie we meet, a promising, diligent and directed "young man" from South Boston who plans to go to law school. Unlike the other members of his family--his rebel sister is a Moonie, but the rest, devoutly Catholic and provincial, remain in Southie--Tim says he "found the real world." Stan Feitelberg is his antithetic nemesis, a loose-hanging San Franciscan who gets high and lapses into a desk-pounding imitation of Keith Moon as a diversion from his chemistry reading.
The two other male roomies are hockey player Jacques LeChien (call him "Jock") played by Sal D'Agostino and John H. Clay (call him "JC") played by Jim Smith. We don't see Jock too much during the play, but when we do he is always doing things that good jocks are supposed to do, such as drink massive quantities of beer, "hump chicks," and sap off other people's notebooks. JC wanders around the stage perpetually stoned--his first words in the play come when he lumbers into the room for the first time and sees Stan and Jim and their unpacked mess: "Oh wow, man." A contrast to the freshman goofies is provided by Jim Propp, who depicts Stan's older pre-med brother, Abe. Propp, too, plays his stereotype to the last detail, his very presence on the stage annoying the hell out of everyone in the building.
ASUBTLE BUT important theme in the play is the occasional contempt the roommates feel for each other. This underlying plot reflects the insecurities, self-doubts and envy all freshmen inevitably experience.
Tim comes down on "Jock" for his systematic "academic rip-offs" from other students during exams, and rebuffs Stan because he never seems to get any work done, preferring to imbibe spirits, smoke, and the girl across the hall. JC--as the rich, useless preppie from St. Paul's--attracts disdain from his roommates, who see him "taken care of" by his wealthy father; Tim, on the other hand, is the prim, self-sufficient perfection of the Greek ideal, envied by Stan for his diligence and direction.
The quality and substance of the drama are contained in the interaction of these four characters with the girls next door. The women include Marcie Braddick (Diana Gamser) an innocent, honest and studious girl from the midwest who enjoyed bake sales in high school, Susan Ward (Victoria Allan), a high falutin' preppie from Milton; and Maggie Cochran (Lisa Beach), an aggressive, sexy wise-cracker. Maggie tells Stanley after he shrinks in tension from her sexual advances, "How do you whistle? Just put your lips together and blow."
While the stereotypes are hilarious and wonderful. "Lost Cookies" turns into something more than a Cantabrigian "Welcome Back Kotter." The dialogue is daring--Maggie calls Sal "numbnuts," and Sal replies, "You're a tease, Miss Tight Ass"--and it never seems forced or garish.
Tommy Kramer, the playwright, has a good grasp of some of the weaknesses in the show. "It's a difficult play that's almost a non-play--episodes, a series of skits," Kramer says. Kramer is disappointed with the opening scene and rightly criticizes it: "It's eight stand-up comics at the beginning, and the dialogue could have been a lot snappier." In the opening scene, the jokes die; the players appear lifeless, like actors reading cue cards. But the dialogue quickly snaps up, the performers relax with their roles, and work with each other until the humor comes spontaneously.
After the rocky start, all the players turn in topnotch performances, with Lisa Beach standing out, intensifying her role with each word. After throwing away her opening lines like most of her cohorts, Beach ends up carrying much of the comedy and dialogue later in the play. Victoria Allan, Diana Gamser and Jim Smith have their roles down perfectly, they don't seem to be acting. The play develops occasional snags with some dead lines from Hoyt and Hall, as well as some zingers that miss. However, Hoyt and Hall center the focus of the play effectively, in spite of their deficiencies.
THE CRUX OF THE PLAY comes in the aftermath of all the freshman conversions, all the sex, the jealousy, the wasted nights. Kramer says, "The primary goal of this play is to make you laugh, but there is a dilemma endemic to freshmen--namely, what are you going to do with yourself? You have to make a decision."
Stan's surprising decision to be a doctor comes after his consummation with Maggie along with the justification "because I want to, it makes me happy." Tim, the rational one, tells Stan he is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The characters try to hash out what is reality and what is fantasy, and what is right and what is wrong. But in the end, they have the sense to do what we all want to do--even the sane and sober Tim, who finds the courage to take Marcie by the hand, leaving behind all the embarrassments of associating himself with such a "naive" woman. "She's a lot smarter than you ever gave her credit for," Stanley lectures, pointing to her innocent wisdom which paved the way to Tim's discovery of his love for her.
As you might predict, the characters come to understand their delusions, for the time being, anyway. But how could freshman year end any other way?
Writing anything about that year is a challenge, and Kramer, Bellow and friends confront this challenge with class and cleverness, providing the necessary comedy to keep everything in perspective. It is a very funny play, and it was a very funny year. And like Tim, Stan, Marcie, JC, Sue, Maggi and Jock, you can take some time to look in the mirror and laugh at yourself and say, "Sanity is such a burden."
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