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Acting Transcends Technical Weakness in 'Carousel'

By Patrick D. Blanchfield, Crimson Staff Writer

Despite solid performances, the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Company’s (HRDC) “Carousel” was technically disappointing, even by somewhat relaxed standards.

Granted, mounting “Carousel” is a challenge in any cirumstances, since the Rodgers and Hammerstein book, “Carousel,” is written at a third-grade reading level. In fact, by my count, there were only five words over two syllables; and lyrics like “this was a real nice clambake, and we all had a real nice time!” can grate even on ears that prefer minimalism.

However, the play’s subject matter is challenging: the themes of violence, poverty, and disillusionment give “Carousel” a complicated darker side that is seemingly at odds with the simplicity that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s moralism stereotypically conjures. The HRDC production, directed by Matt J. Weinstock ’05, though cute and well-intentioned and marked by several standout performances, does little to overcome the book’s limitations and fails to exploit its challenges.

Furthermore, the performances in “Carousel” run the gamut from forgettable to very solid. Evan D. Siegel ’07 as the male lead, the cocky carousel barker Billy Bigelow, lopes about the stage with a plausible bravado and carries his tunes well enough; Siegel is genuinely striking in his “Soliloquy” at the end of Act I, though his character’s development from immaturity to emotional earnestness comes off as a little forced. The chemistry between Siegel and his love interest, the long-suffering Julie Jordan (Jennifer H. Rugani ’07) is believable enough, though Rugani has a pathos and emotive range substantially beyond her partner. Additionally, Jesse A. Wiener ’08 has considerable comic presence as the rather silly Enoch Snow and possesses an ability to project that is impressive relative to the rest of the cast’s.

But perhaps, above all, praise is due to Brittany Bara’s Mrs. Mullin, the lovelorn and salt-of-the-earth owner of the title namesake carousel. Not only does Bara have tremendous stage presence, her emotional intensity gave her character a realism and charisma head and shoulders above everyone else’s.

Though the play’s acting is decent, the staging is rough around the edges at best. Some of the set looked quite professionally detailed—the clapboard houses of the town were slightly stylized; however, other elements, from a rather childish looking tree to an unevenly-circular full moon, seemed downright shabby.

Also, not only were the lighting cues simply disconnected with the action but they sometimes seemed even downright manic. Though the finale to act one (Billy’s “Soliloquy”) ended with a nice silhouette against a black background, it took a trippy migration through the entire color wheel to get there. Also through much of the first sequence in town, everyone to the right of the stage was inexplicably caught in a harsh electric pink light very evocative of a striptease.

Finally, the all-important carousel, housed in a heavily wired gazebo of sorts, disappointingly resembled a Lazy Susan more than anything else. Though it is understandable that budget and time limitations may affect the Mainstage productions, it should be expected that these strictures should be transcended through a unifying aesthetic vision (both by the designer and the director).

Musically, the play fared slightly better. Though Mark P. Musico ’07 largely lived up to his name in his music direction, though the accompaniment, like the performances onstage, was uneven. In particular, the strings, with the exception of the synthesized harp, did a strikingly poor job, giving some of the orchestral moments a lurching, funeral cadence distinctly reminiscent of Charles Ives’s more dissonant work.

Overall, “Carousel” is well-intentioned, vanilla entertainment. At times, the play feels bare and is something that will please only if rigorous expectations are laid aside. Though the hard work of the cast and crew are appreciated, I’ll save my expectations for complicated, challenging art for the “Oresteia.”

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