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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
UNNATURAL ACTS: HARVARD’S SECRET COURT OF 1920
at Classic Stage Company

IVY-LEAGUE WITCH HUNT
By MATT WINDMAN

  Jess Burkle, Roe Hartrampf and Will Rogers/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Back in 2002, a student journalist at Harvard University found a strange file in the university archives labeled “Secret Court, 1920.” It contained a sordid and shameful secret that Harvard had managed to conceal for 80 years.

It was revealed that school officials had once attempted to rid the school of any and all homosexuals on campus. Several male undergrad students, including the son of a congressman, and a faculty member were accused of engaging in homosexual activity. Nearly all of them were expelled. In the style of a McCarthyist witch hunt, the boys were forced to confess to their alleged crimes and rat out the names of others just like them.

Using the original 500-page file, which consisted mainly of loose handwritten notes, director Tony Speciale and a team of writers billed as “Members of the Plastic Theatre” have imagined the students’ lives immediately before the inquisition began and how they reacted under the pressure.

Given the recent trend of gay teens committing suicide, Unnatural Acts has a harsh contemporary relevance.

The production is expertly staged by Speciale and acted with the utmost passion by an excellent all-male ensemble. The trial scenes are downright chilling, as is a dorm-room party that breaks into drunken, out-of-control hysteria.

The script could use more work. The first act pales in comparison to the end of the play, and many of the characters remain undeveloped and blend together. The play’s tone as a piece of documentary theater is also muddled, especially when an epilogue is delivered at the end that reveals the fate of each character.

 


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