“We have no other choice—socialism, or SMASH!”
This call to revolution was not made during a campus rally, but rather is a line from “SMASH!”, a play read on Monday night by the all-student Playwrights Repertory Company at the ’92 Theatre. The reading was held in honor of playwright and screenwriter Jeff Hatcher, who was in residence at the University Dec. 3 and 4.
Hatcher, whose work includes the screenplays for “Casanova” (with Jeremy Irons) and “The Duchess” (with Ralph Fiennes), was brought to campus through the work of Professor of Theater Gay Smith for the University’s Playwright’s Program. Smith organized the all-student reading of Hatcher’s play, as well as a Dec. 4 screening of the film “Stage Beauty” (starring Billy Crudup and Claire Danes), based on Hatcher’s play “Compleat Female Stage Beauty.”
Though without costumes or a set, the ensemble of students—Tadd Gero ’08, Jessica Green ’09, Arielle Levine ’11, Rudisang Motshubi ’11, Grace Overbeke ’08, Danica Pantic ’09, Carter Smith ’09 and Hansel Shen-Wei Tan ’10—put on a charming and engaging performance, despite occasional stumbles and hesitations. Overbeke, who also directed the reading, said that she and the company ultimately chose to perform the three-act “SMASH!” over Hatcher’s other plays because “it is bright, witty, entertaining and a great introduction to Hatcher’s style.”
“SMASH!”, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s novel “An Unsocial Socialist,” is a Shavian comedy about Trefusis (Tan), a wealthy but earnest socialist who attempts to instigate revolution by invading a women’s boarding school in early-20th-century Britain. As posited by Trefusis early in the play, “Love and politics don’t mix.” So, when a romance is kindled between him and his feisty protégé Agatha (Green), troubles and hilarity ensue.
Although the students read from scripts, they aptly delivered Hatcher’s trademark wit and urbanity, with particularly humorous performances by Tan and Gero. While Overbeke pared down the play from its original three-hour-long run time, the performance flowed naturally and retained its spirit of cleverness and absurdity.
After the show, Hatcher held a brief question-and-answer session with the audience, speaking on the process of adaptation for the stage and the screen. He spoke candidly, with liberal displays of his dry wit, but also shared his wisdom as a writer.
“[When adapting,] my goal is to retain the spirit, the essence, the feeling of the work, rather than to adhere strictly to the plot,” Hatcher said.
Post-discussion, Hatcher conducted a writing workshop that students could sign up for beforehand. Despite Hatcher’s reputation in the theatre world, however, there was a paucity of attendance.
“The few people who went to his workshop loved it,” said Overbeke. “[But] as great as it was to have such a small group and be able to really engage with him, I feel a bit disappointed that he didn’t have a wider base of support on our campus.”
Don’t miss the next reading in the Playwright’s Program, featuring esteemed playwright Elizabeth Swados’ “Alice in Concert.” The play will be read today, Dec.7, at 7:30 p.m. in the ’92 Theatre, followed by a workshop with Swados.