Based on true events, Unnatural Acts is a fairly well crafted and directed production that delivers on most of what it sets out to do. The true story behind the play is that in 1920 a Harvard student committed suicide and an investigation into his death was held by a five man team who questioned the group of men who were associated with him. These men, including the student who killed himself, often frequented parties in a dorm room on campus where "unnatural" things were believed to be happening. These undercover interview sessions spiraled into an elaborate witch hunt into the intimate natures of those relationships, with the panel using fear to pressure the men to name names and ultimately expose them and expel those involved. The notes from this investigation were filed away and not discovered until eighty years later when a student reporter stumbled upon a reference to "Secret Court" - the name Harvard administrators gave to these interrogations. Further research and petitioning for the papers to be released resulted in that student, Amit Paley, writing an article for the Harvard student paper that got national attention into this dark spot in Harvard's past. Director Tony Speciale read one of the articles about this story and with a team of writers from The Plastic Theatre researched the events and recreated the timeline into the investigation and also discovered what happened to the students after they were expelled. Speciale and his team crafted Unnatural Acts from this extensive research and three of those who wrote it also appear in this production.
|Jess Burkle, Roe Hartrampf and Will Rogers|
There is not a weak link in this ensemble. Everyone gets at least a moment or two to shine. My favorites were Jess Burkle who plays the slightly more "fey" member of the group, Nick Westrate, the congressman's son who feels no shame in being who he truly is and provides the venue, his dorm room, for the parties where most of the "unnatural acts" begin, Roe Hartrampf who is the "jock" who finds himself drawn to the men he sees go into that Perkins Hall dorm room, Will Rogers as the "straight" man who eventually finds himself an attendee at the parties that Westrate's character throws but mainly for the friendship the people there give him and Max Jenkins who is the one "villain" in the group who does what he needs to do to take care of his best interests. I also liked Joe Curnette and Frank De Julio as the one "couple" of the group. We see their relationship begin in a sweet way as well as the ultimate betrayal and doom that the "secret court" investigations thrust upon it. The two of them perfectly capture young love as well as fear and sadness. Burkle and Curnette are two of the three writers who also appear in the show.
|Joe Curnutte, Frank DeJulio, Will Rogers, Max Jenkins |
and Jess Burkle
|Nick Westrate and the cast|