Park Your Car in Havard Yard
by Israel Horovitz
directed by Grey Johnson
at the Hasty Pudding Theater
through October 24
Israel Horovitz' latest, Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, is a remarkably quiet play. It's about a man who went to Harvard and went back to his hometown on the Cape to reconcile himself to teaching high school. And it's about the woman who comes to live with him as his housekeeper who still holds a grudge against him for flunking her--along with her mother, brother, and husband--in music appreciation. Music and hearing are important themes in the play--in fact, there is little else overtly discussed during the entire first act. But the two characters are learning to live together, and unavoidably reveal to each other more about themselves than they intend.
The very slow first act is saved by the fine quality of the acting. E.G. Marshall plays a cranky Jacob Brackish with vigor and sternness. His Brackish is complex enough that you're never quite sure whether he is difficult because he's malicious or just because he has high standards. Maryann Plunkett had the audience laughing at her "wicked cool" Massachusetts accent from the moment she walks onstage. She demonstrates great range as Kathleen Hogan, sometimes crumpled in tears on her bed, other times ironing fanatically or gleefully switching the radio station to rap music when Brackish's hearing aid stops working. Often unintentionally funny ("my husband's a short order cook, he's not much of a mind for long sentences"), she is equally captivating in her rare moments of self-reflection: "the repetition, that's what scares me too, the feeling waking up that I've done all this before."
The second act is much more emotional than the first, although some of it is highly implausible (some twenty years out of high school, Kathleen demands a makeup exam for her music appreciation class, which she gets a perfect score on this time around). In the first act, Marshall and Plunkett both develop their characters meticulously but in relative isolation; finally, in the second act, we see heated confrontation, intimate confessions, an intensification of their individual development through their interaction with each other.
This American variation on the My Fair Lady story has less of the glamor, but more acute and straight-forward acknowledgements of class constrictions. Gloucester, Mass. is far away from Brackish's Harvard in sensibility if not in miles, and the Hogans don't see much possibility for mobility or escape. It's not clear why Brackish returned to Goucester if he had such grand ambitions, but he too seems resigned to a preordained role: "Gloucester-born, Gloucester-bred, in two or three days, Gloucester-dead," he declares wryly. The sense of place, of stillness and smallness, is reinforced by the set, skillfully designed by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn. Pond and Senn manage to create a two-bedroom house on the cramped Pudding stage, and yet maintain the spareness of a shoreline residence.
It's hard to believe this play was on Broadway recently. To its credit, it's singularly lacking in Broadway appeal--no fanfare, no special effects, no rollerskates. Things build in a naturally inconspicuous way--after all the carping and the hostile silences and the general ill-will, it's remarkable how touching the last few scenes are. Horovitz, Marshall, and Plunkett seem to agree on something rare in American theatre--the power of subtlety.