July 25, 2011

Harvard's Unnatural Acts

This is the Classic Stage Company where Mike and I saw Unnatural Acts on the day that same sex couples started getting married in New York state. The play is about a little-known shameful episode in Harvard history, until November 2002, when student journalist Amit Pailey wrote a 2 part article in The Crimson.
In May-June 1920, Harvard University is rocked by scandal after a student commits suicide. The student is implicated in homosexual activities, effectively starting a witch hunt on campus. A 5 man "Secret Court" is convened. They focus on Perkins 28, the room of Ernest Roberts (Nick Westrate), where the congressman's son regularly hosts parties. Attendees of these parties are called for interviews---more like interrogations---where they are subjected to extremely personal and intrusive questions. Once the investigation gets underway, loyalties and friendships are severely tested.
The play is wonderfully directed by Tony Speciale. It is a true ensemble piece. The marvelous actors move the beautiful set pieces. They play specific students but also step in to become the sinister investigators. Underneath the dapper suits, stylish choreography, artful lighting, and slick set design, is an ugly tale of bigotry and persecution. It is as relevant as today's headlines. Even though I knew this could only end badly, the powerful ending and epilogue detailing destroyed lives and shattered dreams was still heartbreaking.
Cast members after the show. (I was too shy to approach them for autographs or photographs because it seemed like they had friends or family with them.) The tall guy with the baseball cap is Will Rogers, who played Edward Say's roommate Joseph Lumbard. The guy with the glasses is Devin Norik, who played Harold Saxton. The rest of this talented cast include Jess Burkle as an effeminate Edward Say; Roe Hartrampf as jock Kenneth Day; Jerry Marsini as Philosophy Professor Donald Clark; Roderick Hill as Lester Wilcox, and Joe Curnutte as Nathaniel Wollf.
The guy in the green shirt is Brad Koed. He played dentistry student Eugene Cummings, who guided us through the events in the play. The guy with the bandanna is Frank De Julio, who played aspiring actor Keith Smerage.
The guy on the far right is Max Jenkins. I think. (In my defense, the Playbill did not have their photographs.) He played budding criminologist Stanley Gilkey.

The show has been extended until 31 July. As Mike said: "run, don't walk to go see it". With any luck, they'll keep extending its run. The story has to be told and needs to be seen by as many people as possible.


Mike said...

Thanks for the review Lani. It was a very moving and well thought out play overall. The one scene that really stuck with me was the juxtaposition of the soliloquy from Antony and Cleopatra finally being performed well by one the accused students as he is being betrayed by his lover/mentor. The young boy lives out the role he is studying.

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