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If you have been disappointed by the lack of good theater at Harvard, "Raised in Captivity" is the play that will change your mind. If you have never seen a play at Harvard, this will be the one that all others will be compared to. If you are a regular theatergoer, prepare to be amazed. "Raised in Captivity" is profound, surprisingly modern, witty, and unique. The cast in the current Loeb Mainstage production is superb, delivering Nicky Silver's quick wit and capturing the emotion and confusion that the play tries to achieve. It is able to keep the play from becoming too bizarre or weighed down by its heavy themes.
"Raised in Captivity" opens with the funeral of Miranda Bliss, the mother of Sebastian Bliss (Padraic O'Reilly) and Bernadette Dixon (Nicole Columbus). The funeral brings together Bernadette and Sebastian for the first time in years and forces them and the people close to them to re-evaluate the purpose of their lives. Sebastian, we soon learn, isn't the small-town boy made good that everyone takes him for; in fact, he's lonely and deeply in debt. As Sebastian searches for a way to change his life, Kip Dixon (Jed Silverstein), Bernadette's husband, undergoes a similar crisis: he decides to quit his job as a dentist to seek a life as an artist, feeling that he has undergone a spiritual rebirth.
This is the main theme that "Raised in Captivity" tackles: rebirth and redemption, rather than currently popular topics like abortion, politics, homosexuality or AIDS. Although all of these make an appearance in "Raised in Captivity" as well, they are not its focus; they are a part of the play because they are part of modern life.
But despite its serious concerns, "Raised in Captivity" is not a ponderous philosophical play. "Raised in Captivity" has perfected the art of maintaining serious thematic goals while still being a comedy. Although the jokes in "Raised in Captivity" are not very original--fat jokes and physical comedy prevail--it's very well done and quite witty, which is more than most plays can deliver.
But what separates this play from most of the others produced at Harvard is the quality of the cast. Chuck O'Toole, who plays both the ex-convict Dylan and the gay prostitute Roger, gives an exceptional performance, which is all the more impressive since it is his first appearance in a Harvard production. Padraic O'Reilly, coming off of a less-than-impressive performance as the Professor in Ionesco's "The Lesson" at the Ex earlier this year, does an excellent job as Sebastian, the lead role. He has a great, deadpan sense of humor, and his serious voice, reminiscent of Jim Dial from the TV show "Murphy Brown," makes him perfect for his role as the idolized older brother.
Nicole Columbus, as Sebastian's materialistic sister Bernadette, captures her character's wonderful ditziness with her rapid-fire style of speech. Jed Silverstein skillfully brings to life the whimsical, excited attitude of Bernadette's dentist-artist husband Kip. And finally, Nora Dickey shows great talent as Sebastian's psychiatrist, plagued with feelings of her own inadequacy. All the actors were exceptional; not one of them let down the rest with a bad performance.
The production also benefitted from excellent set design and lighting; set designer David R. Gammons is quite successful in creating a cemetery and an artist's studio, with rain pouring outside the windows. A moving stage keeps the scene changes smooth, and is instrumental in keeping a complex play like this as lucid as possible. Unfortunately, the sound was not up to par with the great visual scenery of the play: A few lines were inaudible, and many more were impossible to hear for those sitting in the back.
"Raised in Captivity" is one of the best plays that has been seen on the Loeb Mainstage in some time. The cast succeeds in delivering a complex, creative, subtly funny play in high style; there couldn't be a better way to start your reading period.
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