Harvard Theater

Whine Tasting

The Cocktail Party

Written by T.S. Eliot

Directed by Todd Brun

At the Mather House TV Room

Through this weekend


IN the Mather House Drama Society's production of T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party, the three acts seem more like eight, and often the laughter does not come from Eliot's script but rather from the blunders of the actors.

Eliot's play revolves around the lives of Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne and their intimate friends. In the course of the play the Chamberlaynes work through a crisis in their marriage and learn a great deal about themselves and their friends.

When the play opens the lights come up on the living room of the Chamberlaynes. The dim lights, the cozy chairs and the attractive coffee table all do a tremendous job transforming the impersonal Mather House TV room into a semi-fashionable living space. The characters, members of a seemingly elite social set, chat amiably about basically inconsequential matters.

The blocking in the scene, however, borders on the truly boring. There is one point where everyone mysteriously stands to exit the Chamberlaynes' simultaneously. Later when Alexander MacColgie Gibbs (Dan Horch) is alone with Edward, his five minutes of pacing are enough to drive anyone up the wall.

The weak and uncreative blocking in this scene and others serves as a reminder that Cocktail Party is Todd Brun's first attempt at directing a full-length play. But while Brun's direction generally leaves something to be desired, he has moments of genuine promise. The scenes with Edward and the Uninvited Guest (Jeff Hass) and the confrontation scene between Edward and Lavinia (Ginny Marston) are wonderful. These scenes obviously are the product of talented directing as well as good acting.

Few of the actors in this otherwise undistinguished cast give truly outstanding peformances. Among these is Kristi Trostel, who plays Julia Shuttlethwaite. She plays the role of the obnoxious busybody to the hilt. Her hand gestures, her diction and her stage presence are all fantastic. Her performance is terrific except for one minor detail. It seems that a woman of Julia's social standing would not constantly let her stockings sag around her ankles.

Jeff Hass, as the Uninvited Guest, a psychiatrist, shines on the Mather House impromptu stage. Throughout the scenes in his office, his careful, even tone gives him ultimate power over his patients. Hass plays the psychiatrist as the absolute manipulator and succeeds in creating a sinster aura about his character. His is definitely the most consistent performance in the show.

OTHER actors don't give as inspired performances. In many cases it appears that the actors would rather be somewhere else. Edward, played by Randall McNeill, spends the majority of the play giving the other actors quizzical stares. There are very few moments when his attitude varies from one of bewilderment. McNeill, however, is capable of better things, as we see in his confrontation with Ginny Marston's Lavinia. During this scene he exhibits a tremendous amount of control over a wide range of emotions.

The climax of the scene comes when he shouts at Lavinia, "You are really exceptionally unlovable." His chemistry with Lavinia is exceptional. The audience genuinely believes that they are a married couple whose relationship has gone sour. Unfortunately this moment, which constitutes one of the most memorable in the play, fades quickly, as does McNeill's evident acting ability.

Horch and Marston give lackluster performances overall. Horch is often awkward and distracted on stage. It is almost as if Horch is thinking of next week's midterms.

Marston seems especially distracted, and she has a hard time staying in character. During the performance I saw, when technical problems caused the sound effects to stop working during the show, Marston led the cast in a total loss of character and presence. In a vain attempt at comedy, Marston, who was speaking at the time, started a five minute ad-lib, which the other actors failed to pick up on. The actors all began laughing and jabbing each other in the ribs.

With any luck, future performances will not reflect this lack of discipline. Brun and his cast demonstrate that they are capable of better. Nevertheless, The Cocktail Party is not cause for a blowout celebration.