Sunday, 8 November 2015

Stan Richardson's VERITAS presented by The Representatives

     Some years ago I read THE CRIMSON LETTER, a somewhat plodding history of the homosexual scandals at Harvard in the early 1920s. Stan Richardson's VERITAS, co-directed by Richardson and Matt Steiner, is an absorbing docudrama based on the book. The play was presented in two large rooms in the crypt of an Episcopal Church east of Union Square. One enters a dimly lit room and is offered a glass of wine. After being divided into groups an actor escorts one's group into the large room where the first half of the play is set. At intermission the audience is moved into another room for the hearing scenes, then back to the first room, which has been reset for the epilogue. Basically the play is divided into three sections. Part one gives us a picture of a group of gay students and young faculty who gather at a dormitory room for parties with bootleg booze, dancing and sex. When one of the group commits suicide, the suicide's brother discovers a cache of letters and exposes the group to the Harvard administration leading to investigation and expulsion of most of the group. An epilogue gives us a sense of what happened to the men after Harvard.
     The book may have been dry, but the play is absorbing, not only because of Richardson's fast-moving script, but also because of the clever, fluid direction. The ensemble of ten actors create a vivid picture of what it meant to be a wealthy, privileged homosexual in a period when homosexuality was considered sick, sinful and, if possible, unspeakable. These entitled men simply think they are above the law until the light is shown on their activities. Even then, the more aristocratic feel superior to the investigation. Part of the fascination of the piece is that we don't see much of the anguish that gay people can feel in an age in which we were despised. We don't see much internalized homophobia -- except in the offstage suicides. These men were in some ways exceptional. We also see that, though they played together, they didn't necessarily like each other very much. 
      I admired the fact that Richardson didn't present these men as gay martyrs. This is not a sentimental play. Some of the men aren't particularly likable. Nonetheless watching this secret society is fascinating. 
     VERITAS had a very limited run. I hope it returns in an equally appropriate space.       

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