FOUR TIMES a year, the American Repertory Theatre clears off the Loeb Mainstage to make room for undergraduate productions. Since most student shows are performed in dining halls or other makeshift theatres, the opportunity to work at the Loeb is indeed a great and desirable one. As the best and most sought after stage on the Harvard campus, it should be a showcase for the best of Harvard theatre. And, in fact, much of the best talent does find an opportunity to work there. However, not only should the desired high quality of the productions be important in selecting what shows will go on, but presenting a wide variety of dramatic styles that are representative of student interest should also play a role in the decision-making process.
Herein lies the problem. Each year the members of the board of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club choose which shows will appear on the Mainstage. This fall, we saw Curse of the Starving Class and Yerma; scheduled for the spring teen are A Raisin in the Sun and Love's Comedy. In spite of how good each of these plays may be, and how worthwhile it may be to produce them, there is a problem with this schedule. It lacks the one thing Harvard prides itself on: diversity. The plays are certainly different, and yet, not different enough. There is not a single musical on the list, or a comedy, or a classic. (There is an Ibsen, but Love's Comedy is one of his more obscure works and therefore would not be considered a classic of modern drama.) In fact, if you were to survey the Harvard community--those people who do not live and breathe the theatre but merely enjoy catching a show now and then--you would probably find many people who had not even heard of three of the four plays, and some who knew none of them.
There is nothing wrong, however, with doing an obscure play. On the contrary, it can be very worthwhile, but it should then be offset in the same season by a popular play. Since students only get four spots on the Mainstage, the choices should be similar to those made by any good residential theatre. They should reflect what the community wants, and in a diverse community, this means a diverse schedule of productions. It seems that the HRDC Board and Robert Brustein, who, as director of the Loeb Drama Center, has an important vote, have forgotten that good theatre and popular theatre are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Admittedly, the Board is limited in that it can only choose plays from proposals that have been submitted and therefore does not have the same variety as a typical residential theatre from which to choose. However, if the choices are really as limited to "important" or "artistic" shows as the schedule suggests, it is because most producers of musicals or popular plays have not bothered to submit proposals, which they know from past experience will be turned down. One musical was submitted this year, and was turned down, quite possibly because it had a successful moneymaking run on Broadway. (Both Working and Really Rosie, the two musicals mounted on the Mainstage last year, had short runs on Broadway and did not make money.)
This spring's productions may be excellent, which would be nice to see. But perhaps sometime soon, "musical comedy" will cease to be a dirty word, had the Loeb Mainstage productions will truly of the Harvard community.