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6The Daily Tar HeelMonday, April 3, 1989
'A Life in the Theatre' shows actors playing actors
"A Life in the Theatre," the first
of two plays shown as part of Labfest,
gives its audience the rare opportun
ity to see actors portraying actors as
it examines the relationship between
the dual realities on either side of the
The play, directed by Todd Dev
ries, focuses on two actors from
different generations. Scott Bowman
plays the older actor, Robert, while
Paul Dawson plays his younger
While less than emotional, the
production is poignant all the same.
Despite the vague intentions of the
director in a few key scenes, the
audience eventually relates to the
characters and the conflicts between
and within themselves.
Bowman selected a prototype for
the character of Robert an ego
tistical, eager-to-impress, self
confident older actor and he
expands from there. This gives the
audience an immediate handle to
hold, but these initially observed
attributes remain part of Robert's
behavior for much of the play. This
causes Robert's character to seem
superficial and therefore unbeliev
able at points, particularly during
the more hostile arguments between
John and Robert.
This can especially be seen during
the few serious, dramatic scenes that
reflect critical changes in the charac
ters' relationship. By this time, the
audience simply had trouble taking
Robert's character seriously, and its
response during these scenes was to
laugh. One has to doubt whether
laughter was the reaction the director
had in mind for the conflict between
the old and the new generations.
This also detracts from some
wonderfully humorous parts in the
play, such as Robert's insistence in
his relentless babbling that "one can
learn a lot if he keeps his mouth shut."
In contrast, John's character is
relatively undefined for at least half
the play. As Robert takes the dom
inant role in their relationship, so
Bowman becomes the main actor on
stage. One reason is that Dawson fails
to secure an initial set of attitudes and
beliefs that John holds about Robert,
and as a result, we are unsure about
John's role in the play, as he seems
unsettled about his role in the
A second reason might be that
Bowman seems to upstage Dawson,
but this at least reinforces the rela
tionship between the characters and
the play's theme. Robert prefers
"acting" his way through life, and
generally tries to "upstage" whomever
is around him.
The play, which focuses on the
actors' backstage lives, also features
some onstage scenes in which the
characters themselves act. While the
scenes fall arbitrarily within the play,
they relate to the play as we see it
by depicting the power struggle
between Robert and John. This idea
is hard to grasp, however, because
the audience perceives most of the
scenes as comical andor
While the comedy is intended in
a few of the scenes, even so, the
direction of the scenes sometimes
undermines Robert and John's acting
abilities, causing us to wonder why
they take their acting seriously in the
first place. The result is a group of
intermittent scenes that seem pur
poseless and thrown together.
But by the end of the play, the
audience does believe in and trust the
characters. Bowman and Dawson
both find the happy medium for tfieir
characters. In fact, the mt
commendable aspect of the produc
tion is the ease with which the
relationship between the two slides
into, out of and back into extreme
tension. Through the director's
awareness of the unpredictable and
subtle nature of these transitions, they
are effectively portrayed as parallel
ing the process of aging and of passing
time, the prevalent theme of the play.
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Time is analyzed, then defied;
reality is bounded, then undefined;
humanity is appealing, then repelling.
"Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool
Dry Place," the second of the plays
presented in Labfest, addresses tra
ditions while breaking conventions.
But while the play is, needless to say,
a very thought-provoking and inter
pretative work, the audience is left
wondering about some of the direc
The play addresses the reality of
situation and self, definitely a con
fusing and hard-to-comprehend sub
ject. What's more is that that's
probably the only decision one can
really make about the play.
Directed by Kasey Jones, the play
is by nature wide open for interpre
tation. The only givens are that there
are three men, Jaspers (a lawyer),
Michaels (the middleman) and Gre
gory (the killer), in jail for the murder
of Jaspers' wife. The rest, including
reality itself, is for the director, actors
and audience to decide.
In this type of work, the director
should aim for a presentation such
that the audience will leave not asking
each other, "Exactly what hap
pened?" but instead, "How does all
of that relate to us?" The director
should hope that, after watching the
play, each person should believe he
knows something about it, even if
everyone believes something
But this is not what happens.
Granted, the play itself makes the job
difficult. The transitions among
scenes of reality, fantasy and a
mixture of both are quick, with the
characters changing in split seconds.
The actors John Bland, Tommy
Dunphy and Bob Howell, who played
Michaels, Gregory and Jaspers,
respectively are to be praised (or.
these transitions. With each one, they
create distinctly different characters
(or caricatures for the appropriate
movie-based scenes) that in some
ways relate to their real characters.
Where the audience has difficulty
is in seeing how Michaels, Gregory
and Jaspers relate to each other. The
characters are intended to represent
the Freudian ego, id and superego as
the subsystems of Jaspers' personal
ity, but this interpretation is not only
inconsistent with Freud's theory but
fails to make itself clear to the
Dunphy effectively portrays Gre
gory as the id, a basically psychotic
individual who knows no difference
between right and wrong, or between
reality and fantasy.
The superego and Jaspers can also
be related, as both are largely irra
tional and insist upon being in
command at all times. But it is
confusing to see Jaspers rely so
heavily upon the other two at the end,
because theoretically, it is the ego, not
the superego, that is supposed to be
so responsive to and ruled by the
other two systems.
It is even more difficult to see
Michaels as the ego. Like the ego,
Michaels is the most tuned into reality
of the three, but again, according to
Freud, the ego has two masters: the
id and the superego. Michaels is
greatly influenced by the various
"realities" of the other two in this way.
Yet we see Michaels' ego as the
dominating force over Gregory's id
time and time again. For this inter
pretation to work, perhaps Bland
should have portrayed Michaels as
. a weaker character.
Chances are, though, that the
relation to Freud's personality system
would have been very ambiguous
anyway. A better choice might have
been to focus on the relationships
among the characters as totally
separate individuals, in contrast to the
puzzling message that the three
characters could be part of one
character, or that they might even be
But the play is not without -its
strengths. One especially effective
technique is the use of eye contact
with the audience. The break of the
fourth wall not only holds everyone's
attention better but also invites, the
audience to think, interpret and
judge. The judgments are crucial to
the play's basic intention of turning
a group of passive spectators inio
active thinkers, so that each person
leaves with some sort of conviction
about what heshe sees.
The production fails in this respect,
however, as much of the audience
leaves pondering, "What was it?"
rather than asking the question bf
potential understanding, "What doles
it mean?" While the Lab's attempt 'at
such a complex work is commend
able, perhaps a different approach
would have better realized the play's
depths. ' ;
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Tony winner reflects on UNC years
By RANDY BASINGER
Richard Adler, Tony award
winning lyricist and UNC alumnus,
didn't want to waste a single moment
of the Chapel Hill spring, so he
stretched out on the steps of Hill Hall
to talk about his upcoming appear
ance at the Union Cabaret.
Adler, who majored in dramatic
arts at UNC, is known for his work
on "Pajama Game" and "Damn
Yankees," two successful Broadway
shows. He is also a two-time Tony
Award winner, a four-time Pulitzer
Prize nominee and a member of the
Songwriter's Hall of Fame. He will
speak tonight at 8 p.m. in the Cabaret.
Adler said it was no mistake that
he chose to attend UNC. "I read
'Look Homeward Angel' by Thomas
Wolfe and wanted to experience those
He said he felt strongly that his
experiences at UNC were an influence
on his work today. "UNC is a great
place to start and to come back to."
At the Cabaret he will sing his
songs, talk about his experiences at
the White House with John Kennedy
and demonstrate how he composes.
"Ill take the audience from the first
breath of. a piece to the recordings
process and tell some funny stories'
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along the way."
Adler has returned to Chapel Hill
every spring for the last few years and
has noticed many changes in the
campus since his four-year stint here
almost 50 years ago. j
"I remember the beautiful campus,
the Carolina springs, walks in the
countryside around the campus -j
but that has all been built up: tie
few intimate people there were
only about 3,800 when I was hete;
the ease of Finding parking space;
the 9 p.m. show on Sunday nighjts
at the Carolina Varsity Theatre n
, which just about whole campps
attended . . . and the, privilege : pf ,foir
years in Chapel Hill." j
About this time a UNC student
shouts out a greeting to Adler, who
waves back. A gleam in his eye
expresses the love he has for UNC,
despite the changes. j '
The message he conveys to thotse
wishing to follow in his footsteps!; is
to keep struggling and starving to
make it. "It's competitive, but then,
any field is. Luck has a lot to do with
it; God has something to do with ;it.
My whole career is a gift from God.
It was handed to me. Maybe I did
something right in a past life?"
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