>From AisleSay- Aisle Say (Boston): LargoD

AISLE SAY Boston

Largo Desolato

by Vaclav Havel
translated by Tom Stoppard
directed by Heather McNamara
designed by Christopher Scully
industrial theatre
Leverett House, Harvard/(617)257-7480

Reviewed by Will Stackman

Largo Desolato, written in 1984 by Vaclav Havel, - then a prominent Czech dissident - translated in 1988 by British playwright Tom Stoppard - whose family emigrated from Prague to England during WWW II - is the best contemporary reflection of the Kafkaesque social terror at the core of Czech writing for the last century or so. Havel's plays belong to the host of well-written scripts which appear regularly in small theaters of all sorts around the country without creating much interest on the larger commercial scene, which routinely ignores overtly political content unless disguised as history. The title of this full-length one-act is taken from the musical direction suggesting slow and stately dissolution, not exactly what goes on in this dark absurdist comedy.

The "industrial theatre", an ensemble of young actors whose winter home is the old library at Leverett House, part of Harvard University down by the Charles, regularly produces works which explore contemporary themes. The discipline the group developed in working on The Beckett Project earlier this season, which in itself was not particularly successful, pays off in this production. To the best of their abilities, they have realized the author's bleak exploration of a writer at odds with the machinery of a totaliterian society and its citizens. Most of the cast are too young and barely experienced enough to make the most of their roles, but as an ensemble, they maintain a level of consistency which brings the play to its grimly ambiguous conclusion.

Kevin Lavelle, listed as one of the group's Senior Actors, plays Leopold Nettles, author of philosophical essays, one of which contains a paragraph the state finds objectionable. Lavelle brings the requisite believability to the role, and achieves some of the comedy inherent in the situation. The rest of the cast, who may only be significant in relation to this academician's neurotic dread, have a harder time finding characterizations which might add texture to the play. The actors do their jobs, but in striving to show us that Nettles sees them all in some way arrayed against him , they miss the chance to suggest the equally absurd "real" world around him.

The women of the ensemble are generally more successful in finding some basis for their parts. Perhaps director Heather McNamara and assistant director Shelley Hager - the latter also listed as Senior Actor - were able to elicit more complete performances from the distaff side. Betsy Roe, as Nettles' sometime mistress Lucy, almost brings the show to life. Melissa Henry, as his wife Suzanna, is much less of a presence, so much so that her obvious affair with Frank Camera's Edward, the first action of the play, has little impact. Camera was even more opague, seemingly cast more for his looks than for his ability to relate to either the husband or the wife in this triangle.

Krysta Zeiset, as Marguerite, a young student, comes to see Nettles at the end of the play, after the writer has almost decided to give in and sign a statement that he wasn't the author of the offending paragraph, thereby completing the Faustian self-destruction of his critical faculties. Zeiset plays the comic potential of scene as Nettles plys her with rum; Marguerite becoming bolder and potentially amorous. But "They" arrive and she is hustled out. Unfortunately, all her character disappears once the door buzzer sounds. She makes nothing of hiding on the balcony, nor her exit. Perhaps in an effort to maintain focus on Nettles' disintegration, the directors lost sight of the possibility of using the rest of the cast to their full potential.

Two pairs of visitors further suggest missed opportunity. The Sidney's, Tim Barney and Bridget Brennan, who may be two workers from the local paper mill, eager to have Nettles write about what they see is wrong with the system - or perhaps provocateurs - handle mirrored physical movement and repetitious inane dialogue with skill. Tim is easily the most distinctive actor in ensemble and brings a kind of manic comedy to the part. Bridget's compulsive one-puff smoking is also engaging. But the relationship between their world and Nettles' internal torment is too theoretical. The more menacing Chaps, James Henderson and Shawn Patrick Twomey, representing the State, are equally precise, but do almost no acting. Cast against type, they seen like draftees just doing a job rather than members of the ensemble. While the dread in Nettles' mind does most of their work for them, some sort of characterization would have made the conclusion of the piece a lot more chilling.

The space at Leverett House is a high-ceilinged basement with elegant stairs descending to stage level. For this production, the stage was set up with about 50 seats in the round. Designer Christopher Scully uses welded steel frames holding swinging doors at all entrances, including the one the audience used, which becomes the balcony. Only the door to Nettles' apartment was solid, covered with polished metal plates. A chair, a couch, and a coffee table also designed from steel fill the center of the space, with simple tables holding household props visible beyond the entrances. Combined with fairly basic lighting and acceptable low-budget costuming by Morgan Kaegal, the show is well-turned out; only the door buzzer needs major technical improvement. Wm. Donnelly's original music displays another side of the group's resident playwright. The fact that many of the members of this organization have acted, directed, and served in technical positions over the last few years is another of its strengths. "industrial", graduates and students from around the area has, in effect, created their own advanced program in which to hone theatrical skills

The industrial theatre has a summer project in Taunton MA, where they produce free Shakespeare outdoors at the Columbia Cultural Center, combined with a Shakespeare Institute for middle and high school students. This year's effort will be A Midsummer Night's Dream, a large scale effort in August. Comparison between their attempt and Shakespeare & Company's production in Lenox MA promises to be interesting, weather permitting.

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