Summer stock

by Tom Lee

Just because the lazy days of summer are upon us with beaches, barbecues and hammocks beckoning doesn't mean that the arts at Harvard take a vacation. In theater, for example, a seasonal tradition continues with three productions presented by the undergraduate-run Harvard Radcliffe Summer Theatre (HRST); this year, dramatic fare includes Escape From the Castle, The Nerd, and The Last Five Years, opening July 1 and running through August 6. Harvard Arts Beat asked the producer and directors to give us a sneak peek of what awaits audiences at the Loeb Drama Center.

What factors were considered in curating the HRST shows? Is there a "theme" for the season, or do you just like the variety of shows you chose?

[Co-Producer for each show, Mariel Pettee '14:] While making our decisions for the shows this season, we were particularly interested in picking shows that were diverse, appealing, exciting, and challenging in nature. The luxury of summer theater is the opportunity to work on shows without the stress of academia at the same time, which allows us to dive wholeheartedly into each production. With that in mind, the three shows this summer are quite different—a student-written premiere, a classic comedy, and a modern musical—but each are exploring inventive forms of set, lighting, and sound design in addition to the actors' fresh, touching performances. We chose them because we feel they will appeal to the wide array of audiences who come to see our summer shows.

Describe Escape From the Castle, which we don’t know about. Is it based on the video game?

[Writer/director Gus Hickey '11:] Oh, God, there's a video game already? I had no idea my thesis play was already so popular! But seriously, I had no idea there was a video game, and any copyright infringement is unintended. This play was written as my senior English thesis. And although it has significantly changed since I handed it in in March, I think it's still basically the same show. It's about Harriet, who is obsessed with Spanish telenovellas, and her brother Ben, who is an alcoholic actor forced to check in to a New Age rehabilitation ashram in the California desert. Harriet decides to help her brother escape, but her only way of coming up with ideas for a dramatic exit emerge from the melodramatic, hilarious, and sexy world of Mexican soap operas. Also, it's a world premiere! It was produced as a reading at the Harvard Playwrights' Festival in the spring, but this is the first full staging.

The Nerd by Lary Shue is a comedy set in the late 70s. Are you updating it in any way, or does it still seem "relevant" staged as a period piece?

[Director Bryce Gilfillian '12:] We've actually decided not to update The Nerd. While the humor itself isn't rooted in the time (so an update would definitely be possible), making the show eternally relevant, I really love the aesthetic of the 70s. Having the look of the decade to draw on will help to make the show more visually interesting and will keep the show from seeming like an outtake from "How I Met Your Mother."

The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown is a very bittersweet (perhaps more bitter than sweet) musical about the break-up of a marriage. It’s had over a dozen international productions, including one in Malaysia. Why do you think a show that is essentially downbeat is so popular across different cultures?

[Director Devon Dunn '12:] I don't necessarily think of L5Y as downbeat, so much as it is resonant. It's the story of a relationship which doesn't stand the test of time; but not all great loves are meant to be infinite. I think what draws people to the show is the raw realism of the emotions, the expressiveness of the music, and the discussion that it stirs: where and why do relationships go wrong? It's a universal plot with a multiplicity of interpretations and analyses, which is more than enough to draw the attention of actors, directors, and audience members from anywhere.

The HRST's Escape From the Castle runs July 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30 pm and July 2 at 2:30 pm; The Nerd runs July 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 pm and July 16 at 2:30 pm; and The Last Five Years runs July 29 and 30, August 4, 5, 6 at 7:30 pm and July 30 at 2:30 pm. All performances are in the Experimental Theatre at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St. Tickets—$12 for general admission and $8 with a student ID (limit 2 tickets per ID)—may be purchased at the Harvard Box Office in the Holyoke Center Arcade or by calling 617.496.2222.

[Caption: From left to right, Eli Kahn '13, Bridget Haile '11 and Eric Padilla '14 rehearse "The Nerd," presented by Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre July 15-23.]