"In Other Words" Finds All the Right Words

“You know how sometimes you say a word you know is wrong, and you’re waiting to see if someone will correct you?” asks Neil Brederman (Jacob D. Rienstra ’17), the protagonist of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “In Other Words,” running in the Loeb Ex from April 4 to 12. In a play that deals with the complexity of expressing yourself, there is a tinge of truth in Neil’s confession that is impossible to ignore: the hardest aspect of communicating is not what you cannot say, but what you cannot say correctly. It is in moments like these that make the musical, written by Samuel C. Pottash ‘16 and Mike C. Ross ’16, thoughtful and expressive. Simultaneously ludicrous and contemplative, the show creates a story that speaks to a generation not used to communicating face-to-face through a combination of excellent acting and directing by Olivia M. Munk ’16.

The musical centers on Neil, who wants to win the love of the cute girl at the bookstore, Terri Vimes (Taylor L. Vandick ’16). He goes about it by holding a fake book club with his friends. As they talk about literature and unwittingly explore their own frailties, the characters must confront their problems and learn to grow as individuals while finding more meaning to their lives.

Munk employs the space inside the Loeb Ex masterfully. With set designer Katie A. Farineau ’16, Munk transforms the small stage into a dorm room and bookstore. The use of three levels—the bookshop in front of the mainstage that is wheeled out at various times, the a common room and a bedroom in the center, and a second bedroom on the mezzanine—allows for unique staging. At one instance point, Neil talks with Rhys Kent (Cole V. Edick ’17), his roommate Grover Frye’s (Eli B. Schleicher ’17) love interest, in his bedroom on the mezzanine. Schleicher expresses Grover’s curiosity by crawling and slinking up the steps to eavesdrop—an execution impossible if every set piece were on the same level.


In a musical that is in part about awkward social relations, character interactions must be precise to naturally portray unease; fortunately Munk’s blocking as well as the cast’s interpretation of their respective characters showcase the characters’ discomfort effectively. When Terri enters his room, she becomes wedged on the couch between Grover and Beth Boylston (Kathryn A. McCawley ’17) in a cramped position. This is further complemented by Vandick’s performance as she bunches her knees together and scrunches her shoulders.

In a musical that deals with quick emotional ups and downs, the cast adeptly handle the quick vacillations of emotions. Humorous one-liners such as author Chris LeSandrini’s (AJ Unitas Jr. ’16) quip “When did everybody hates Chris become a thing?” fluidly switch to moments of self-reflection within a second. Sometimes the actors embrace their cliche roles, be it the cynical English major or the flamboyant gay roommate who can’t let go of his inner child; as Neil hurriedly prepares for Terri’s visit, Rienstra depicts Neil’s intense anxiety and awkwardness by rolling on the couch and lying dramatically on the coffee table. It is an appropriately melodramatic performance that defines his character from the opening song. At other times, the actors are more subtle, like when Vandick licks her lips during an awkward exchange; the result is a heartfelt, candid look into these characters.

The scene-stealer of the production, however, is Edick. While his character, Rhys, lacks the development the others undergo, Edick adds spice to what could be a one-dimensional role. From the moment he first enters the stage, he carries himself with a slight british accent that never falters. His vivacious, confident air serves as a fitting contrast to the other actors’ more somber performances, highlighted during “Not To Say” as he takes winking selfies while Rienstra and Schleicher rant about their dilemmas.

The performances are not without flaws. While the acting is lively, the singing is decidedly less impressive. It oftentimes sounds more like talking to the music’s beat than anything else. But there are exceptions. Schleicher holds his notes well with gusto during “I Think I Peaked in High School” as he sings the title phrase and draws out the word ‘again’ at the very end. In moderation, the speak-singing style accentuates the actors’ performances. During the song What the Fuck Are You Talking About?,the talkative feel contributes well to the characters’ frustration and confusion as they shout and argue. Pottash accompanies the actors with his fantastic piano playing; despite playing the only instrument, Pottash drives every song forward, expressing every emotional nuance with crescendos and mimicking uncomfortable lags in the conversation by slowly dragging out the melody.

Lighting by Julius G.B. Ross ’17 further enhances the production. As Beth flies into a rage in the number “Am I the Only Person Here?,” red light shrouds her, an immediate signal of Beth’s mounting anger. The light spotlights McCawley as she tangos with a limp Neil and sneers at Terri, accompanied by orchestration that is reminiscent of “Cell Block Tango” in “Chicago.” This scene is yet another example of the deft collaboration between the cast and crew. The nuances in the production’s technical elements allow a greater complexity when demonstrating the the characters’ emotions. As a result, any angsty and maudlin behavior feels less overdone and more relatable. Sometimes it might be difficult to find the right words, but HRDC’s “In Other Words” has no trouble finding the truth through comedy to create a fun, provocative production.


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