Making merry with the mundane

by Guest Blogger

Taylor Kay Phillips '15, an English concentrator and Kirkland House resident, is co-producer—with Sam Moore '15—of this year's Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre (HRST), which begins tonight at the Loeb Drama Center's Experimental Theatre. Harvard Arts Blog asked Taylor for a heads-up on what lies ahead for these warm-weather students of the stage—with each company member involved in at least two shows out of three in a technical or performance role—and their adventurous audience.

The first time Sam Moore and I met was during auditions for The Freshman Musical. After my singing audition, he asked me to read for the show’s "ditzy" character and try to channel Regina George, the famed Queen Bee from Tina Fey’s movie Mean Girls. I didn’t end up getting cast, but I still remember it as one of the most fun auditions I’ve ever had.

Last weekend, almost a year-and-a half after our first meeting, the two of us watched Mean Girls, surrounded by the 32 other theater kids that someone had foolishly elected to put us in charge of. For the next seven weeks Sam and I will be producing the 2013 season of Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre (HRST), putting up three shows over six weekends with staffs and casts comprising the same 34 company members.

Tonight our first show, The Clean House, will open in the Loeb Experimental Theatre and with that, we’ll dive headfirst into this crazy summer of theater, collaboration, and other movie nights.

Tonight's opening comes after a long couple of months selecting directors, holding auditions, building staffs, and picking shows that are challenging and fun for both audiences and company members alike. After many early morning interviews and even more late night deliberations, we are proud to announce our season and the wonderful people who will be involved with it.

The Clean House (June 28-30; July 5-6), written by Sarah Ruhl, revolves around the absurdity and beauty of things that are seemingly mundane and offers a quick-witted, funny, and magical start to the HRST season. The story concerns Lane (Brenna McDuffie '15), a successful surgeon and her recently hired Brazilian live-in maid, Matilde (Amelia Barros '13), who would much rather be a comedian. Lane’s frustration with Matilde’s unwillingness to clean is exacerbated by both Lane’s deteriorating marriage to her husband Charles (Justin Pereira '13), who has run off with one of his patients (Rebecca Bonne-Annee '13) and her tense relationship with her neat-freak sister, Virginia (Lanie Vogel '15).

Through flashbacks, jokes told in Portuguese, and a few bowls of Jell-O, The Clean House examines the extent to which humans are responsible for the messes in their own lives and the most productive ways to go about cleaning those messes up. Our director, Rachel Stephens '15, worked a lot with set designer Katherine Agard '13 and lighting designer Ethan Addicott '14 to create an aesthetic that was both neat and clean (the word "white" came out of Rachel’s mouth at least 2,0343 times throughout the rehearsal process) as well as mystical and fantastic. The result is a beautiful, eye-catching show with a brilliant script brought to life by a cast with side-splitting humor and incredible stage presence.

I had never heard of Ordinary Days (July 12-14; July 18-20) before I read the name on Rose Bailey '14 and Ethan Addicott's application for the show's director and music director, respectively. When Sam and I looked it up and read the summary, I lovingly dubbed it "Songs for a New RENT." It’s a song cycle (think Jason Robert Brown) with music and lyrics by Adam Gwon about young people living in New York (see where I got RENT?). But by talking to Rose and Ethan and listening in on a few rehearsals with the wonderful cast (Mark Heath '14, Olivia Miller '16, Justin Pereira and Kyra Atekwana '14) , I’ve come to see the as its own entity and yet another example of how theater can find the incredible in the seemingly typical.

Joey Longstreet '16 originally applied to direct God of Carnage this summer. But unfortunately, in one of the few setbacks to our season, we were unable to secure the rights. Joey kept his head up and found the silver lining in the form of An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein (July 26-28; August 1-3), a series of little-known one-acts written by America’s favorite children’s poet, Shel Silverstein. Four actors (Morgan Henry '14, Tim Moan '14, Justin Pereira, and Anna Kelsey '14) will play multiple roles in multiple shows in this hidden gem of a show that turns seemingly innocuous daily events (dry-cleaning, reading in the park, dining in a café, door-to-door salesmen) into darkly hilarious and kooky commentary on the human experience.

From a maid finding the perfect joke, to a student losing thesis notes, to a young girl getting an unconventional birthday present, the HRST 2013 season tells the story of monotony interrupted by the hilarious, the devastating and the amazing. With this crazy cast of 34 characters, three different but cohesive shows, and lots and lots of Oreos, we just might pull off an entire season of theater. We’d love for you to join us—in the words of Shel Silverstein:

"If you are a dreamer, come in. 
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
 a hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire,
 for we have some flax golden tales to spin.
 Come in!
 Come in!"

All Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre performances begin at 7:30 pm at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. Visit the Harvard Box Office to purchase tickets ($12; students and seniors $10; Harvard ID holders $8), and follow the HRST on Facebook.

[Caption: HRST co-producer Taylor Kay Phillips (photo by Jessica Roark).]

[Caption: Sarah Ruhl, author of "The Clean House."]