Mistakes to Enjoy

Like an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime, most of the characters in most of the plays being produced
By Diane Sherlock

Like an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime, most of the characters in most of the plays being produced at Harvard this fall could say about some aspect of their lives, "But, there must be some mistake!" Mistakes are, in fact, the only common theme running through a theater season that is so varied it is probably a mistake for me to claim that these plays have anything in common at all. But maybe, as they say, we can learn from our errors.

In The Trial of Brother Jero and Jero's Metamorphosis, at the Loeb Mainstage, the mistake is made by the other characters who think they know the true nature of Jero, an evangelist. Jero seems to be a guileless prophet saving souls. But he is really a beguiling con man who profits no one but himself. This funny moralistic play, written by Nigeria's leading playwright and directed by visiting director Harold Scott '57 gives a humorous evocation of the "temptations" in contemporary African life. And it gives anyone interested in working on production or costuming an opportunity to convey an unusual setting for those temptations. The play opens October 19

The Marquis de Sade was convinced that the French Revolution was a mistake. Or at least that seems to be the explanation behind that notorious writer's decision to stage a mock murder of one of the revolution's leaders in "The persecution and assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade." According to director Kerry Konrad '78, this play within a play, in which neither the passion of the revolution, of the marquis or of the inmates seems to know any bounds, is particularly suited to the Mainstage. When it opens there on November 2 with a cast of more than 40, its powerful "total theater" atmosphere might, in spite of the Marquis' conviction, have a dangerously revolutionary effect.

Despite its title, the mistake in Failing doesn't become apparent until the end. This new play by Guy Gallo (winner of the 1977 Anderson Prize for Playwriting at Harvard) and directed by visiting director Lester W. Thompson, is about an increasingly frail scholar who, with the help of an increasingly confused young man, is trying to discover why a plot, planned many years ago, went wrong. Together, they are writing the history of a friend of the scholar who had planned to assassinate Hitler but never did. Though I won't give away the end, I will hint that the focus of this engrossing play is not the past but the present relationship between the scholar and his assistant. It will be performed beginning November 16 in the third slot at the Loeb.

Henry IV Part I is not just wars or Elizabethan society or how wisdom can come from as unlikely a place as a tavern named the Boar's Head or from the mouth of as unlikely a character as the greedy, lusty, lazy, altogether charming Falstaff. It is basically how a prince becomes a king or, even more basically, how a boy grows up. By the time Shakespeare's play opens at the Loeb December 11, the skill of director George Hamlin will probably have worked to weld all the wicked plots and counterplots of the smaller schemes of things into the pattern of the larger theme.

Just trying to explain the plot of Gondoliers, the Gilbert and Sullivan fall production scheduled to open at the Agassiz Decemeber 1, is a mistake. It begins simply enought with two Venetian gondolier brothers falling in love with and marrying two peasant girls in the first act. But then the trouble starts. One of these brothers turns out to be the lost king of Barataria but, good Venetian egalitarians that they are, neither of the supposed brothers wants to be the ruler or knows which actually is. All of which gives them good reason to rule Barataria together and gives G & S good reason to make clever lyrics about people who do not believe in monarchy but have to be king. And this, after all, is the only important point. Gondoliers, which opens with twenty solid minutes of singing, may be the lightest, frothiest, most musical musical G & S ever wrote. And the word is that director John Lundeen is planning to do the production in the lightest, frothiest, most delightful G & S style.

If you think Gars and Goyles, this season's Radcliffe Grant-in-Aid show, is just a mispronounciation of the title of a story you have heard somewhere before, then you are only partly wrong. Writer-Jirector Andy Borowitz says that his new musical comedy based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a "a Fred Astaire-Ginger-Rogers musical except the leading man doesn't have good posture." "America has been begging for a good family musical about a hunchback for a long time," Borowitz said jokingly. With its big brassy production numbers, Gars and Goyles will not let America or Radcliffe Grant-in-Aid, which has not produced an original show in six years, down. The show opens November 3.

Complex, a new play by undergraduate Forrest Stone, is not a simple thing. You can choose the syllable to accent in the title, just for a start. If you choose to accent the first, then you arrive at the setting for the play, an apartment complex in the South. If you choose the second, then you have a description of the interaction between the two groups in the complex, a wealthy madman who lives on the brink of falling into a fantasy world and the building's maintenance crew who live on another brink, the brink of unemployment. The way in which the Harvard Premiere Society hopes to weave these two strands together by the time the play opens on October 13 at the Loeb Ex is intriguing as well as complex.

The story of Pygmalion was once that of a Greek statue that breathed. By the 20th century in My Fair Lady it became that of a woman who sang. Sam Bloomfield, director of the Leverett House production of the play that begins its run October 27, wants to restore the timeless story of the artist who chiselled away at the form of woman, only to discover he loved the substance beneath, to its Edwardian home. By presenting Shaw's play, which was first produced in London in 1913 as a reaction to Victorian morals, Bloomfield hopes to present, a picture of what Edwardian England was really like. The result should be better than any Henry Higgens ever got from Eliza--pure entertainment.

When a character can cry Stop the World I Want to Get Off, it suggests he has made not just one but many, many mistakes. In fact, quantity is the problem in this story of an English man of the lower class who has nothing but a series of misadventures with the four women in his life. The Mather House production of this modern everyman that opens November 3 will emphasize the desperate need for escape that results when all four women are played by the same actress. On a stark stage there seems nowhere in the world to turn.

You'll have to use your memory to figure out what the title Lost Cookies means. The new play, written by Tommy Kramer and expected to open in Eliot House December 1, attempts to present a humorous description of a Harvard freshman year. We all made some mistakes then; Kramer's very funny play will remind us of some we would probably rather forget. Laughter may be the only cure.

Set on an uninhabited, enchanted desert isle, The Tempest is often seen as the Englishman's version of America, as Shakespeare's testament to the belief that, starting with nothing, good people can create a whole new world. By diversifying the roles within the play and by adding lots of mime and dance, directors Laura Shiels and Rick Engelhart (who also directed A Mid-summer Night's Dream last year) hope to construct in this Adams/Quincy production of Tempest more than just another alternative to society's mistakes. What will occur on the island is nothing less than a grand Christmas spectacle that will open in mid-December.

To push a point too far would be a mistake. However, other plays being produced this season do fit (at least as well as any other would) into my scheme. Kirkland House is dong The Fantastiks, that longest running of musicals where the characters, a boy and girl who live next door, look far and wide for love only to conclude that there's no place like home. Lowell will probably be producing A Thousand Clowns, that irrepressible story about a non-conformist who hates to work but does it anyway in order to retain custody of the nephew he loves. North House might be producing Clay, an original play by a Harvard tutor that takes place in Memphis days before the assassination of Martin Luther King. Signs have just gone up to audition for a play called Errors that promises to reveal what goes on behind closed doors. And one of the plays being produced at the Ex is The Comedy of Errors which, I guess, speaks for itself