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Its off-Broadway performances last winter at New York's Circle-in-the-Square brought handkerchiefs to the eyes of virtually the whole audience, male as well as female. But since the play is intimate and fragile, its emotional effect depends heavily on the skill and subtlety with which it is acted and directed. In this respect the current production at Tufts is only a partial success.
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The main trouble is that Director John R. Woodruff and his cast have failed to make their acting natural and spontaneous enough. Almost every role is tinged with didacticism; the actors seem obviously to be reciting lines from a play.
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This difficulty leads to a considerable loss of emotional content and also of humor--the play is, after all, billed as "a comedy. The director has also missed an important element of the play by neglecting the time dimension; he has failed to effect any change in his characters in the second act to indicate that they are now eighteen years older.
True, he does give the doctor a more feeble walk, but he should have made evident a subtle but important change in the character and outlook of all the "young" nuns--a quieting of zest and a resignation to their way of life. Apropos of the time gap between acts, the Tufts people have been ill-advised in dropping the "poet's monologue" that is supposed to follow the intermission.
This speech was used to great advantage by the Circle-in-the-Square. It not only helps to bridge the eighteen years, but focuses on what is going on in the minds and hearts of the nuns, and happens also to be beautifully written.
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It was a pity to see it left out. Although the Tufts cast was young and relatively inexperienced, several of the actresses gave admirable performances.
Judith LaFrance, as the Prioress of the Convent, was an impressive combination of patience, understanding, and mild authority. Margaret Smith as the crotchety but good-hearted Mistress of Novices rendered the part excellently--quite as well, I thought, as it was done in New York. And Carol Ganem, as "Sister Crucifixion," captured that character's holier-than-thou attitude very well. In the second act, however, she failed to demonstrate the latent love and sympathy that should surge up when she says farewell to Teresa.
The other roles were less successful. Jacquelyn Zollo was disappointing as Teresa.
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She lacked the spontaneous, gay, zestful spirit that the young girl should bring into the convent to contrast with the cool resignation of the nuns. In her interpretation of the role, lines and actions that should have seemed perfectly natural appeared as blatant overacting. No one, for example, could envision her climbing a tree, as Teresa is supposed to have done. Already a subscriber or registered access user?
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