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TO MANY people the Black Star Theater is a series of little white posters announcing playreadings and such sundry cultural events to which no one ever seems to go. However, the group, founded this fall by two Radcliffe undergraduates is quickly shaping itself into a force to be reckoned with on the Harvard theater scene. Enthusiastically sponsored by the administration, in part because of the fortuitous coincidence of the Radcliffe centennial celebrations producing many grants for innovative Radcliffe women, Black Star has set itself up as a theater group for social change. It has no party line, no master plan. According to Nancy Krieger, one of the co-founders, it wants only to provide a continuum for people who want to do theater with a social/political/feminist message, and are interested in interaction with the audience, interaction with the audience.
Last week, in the Loeb Ex, it presented an interesting and ultimately intriguing picture of feminist ideology within the confines of dramatic action. Nancy Krieger, who also directed and produced this show, designed everything to foster a sense of isolation in the audience, bringing them into the experience of the plays. She intentionally contrasted the absurdist drama of Beckett with that of Myrna Lamb, less known for theater than feminism. Unfortunately, in this production, the feminist succeeded where the playwright failed.
For this show ushers guide the audience one by one into the darkened theater. People nervously shuffle their feet. Suddenly. a light flashes on in one of the halls outside the Ex; a woman (Veneitia Porter) sits on a chair facing the side. Throughout her monologue, which goes nowhere leading to nothing, lights flash in the audience. The lighting is, however, painfully predictable; Porter says "There was a flash of light," and, lo, a light flashes. As she talks about everything going black, hey, there just happens to be a blackout. These intermittent flashes light a set dotted by oppressive grey lumps of cardboard and paper mache which hang above the audience like dreary smog drenched clouds.
BENEITIA PORTER'S acting, like the set, only obscures Beckett's script. Beckett himself might see nothing wrong here; his plays need not and sometimes cannot make sense on an intellectual level. But Krieger's concept of isolating Porter in the hallway ruins the drama of the piece.
Porter lacks the dynamic presence which could drag the audience into her isolated world. Instead, we too, may be isolated, but this only makes it very difficult for us to relate to her character. The lack of rehersal time shows; Porter falters with the script often, seriously undermining the show's pacing.
The second play fares much better. After a minute break. Porter in white, black bra strap sliding down her arm, launches into a gutsy chat about her lost gloves, her almost lover, and her father's death. Here she has a character to play, and she plays it for all its worth. Her streetwise manner and stance never break as she cracks her jokes, and snares a light for her cigarette from a man in the audience, yet she is suddenly vulnerable remembering the pointlessness of her father's death. We can forgive her occasional stumbling, as she catches us up in her life. I Lost a Pair of Gloves Yesterday becomes an example of the best of feminist art.
AFTER THE SHOW, as the lights go up, Krieger invites the audience to talk to any of the cast and crew. People stay finally reading their programs. Several quotes connecting isolation and women's liberation, with the need for people to share their lives in order to "destroy the conditions of their common oppression..." The message brought by paper mache clouds and the jux-taposition of the plays starts to become clear. When asked about the set, Krieger said that it was supposed to create a slightly threatening environment. Only then does it make sense, but during the performance it has nothing more than curiosity value, distracting the audience from the play. It is too obscure a statement, something which must have looked good on paper.
Much of this production must have looked good on paper, and might have looked good on stage if there had been time for more thoughtful rehearsing. Black Star Theater was formed only this fall, and Krieger said that one of the most exciting advantages to having what is in effect a repertory company is learning and growing with each production. Not I and I Lost a Pair of Gloves Yesterday, though uneven, are valuable portents, not just for Black Star Theater, for the future of innovative theatre at Harvard.
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