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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Gaudeamus
Arcola Theatre Spring 2006

In Peter Morris's new play a student in a hippie-dippie New England college pushes through a regulation making sex mandatory - no one can say no to anyone.

(Her theory, that by being totally indiscriminate they will destroy prejudice and discrimination, is just sophomoric enough to be believable, as is the stuck-in-the-sixties atmosphere of the place.)

At first everybody, students and faculty alike, revels in the debauchery, but gradually they discover that sex is not love, license is not freedom and random coupling in the dark is less comforting than marriage, nonsexual cuddling, or even celibacy.

In short the play is both very retro and at its heart very conservative. Connoisseurs of trashy old novels might already have spotted a resemblance to Robert Rimmer's late-sixties best-seller (or the 1973 film) The Harrad Experiment, and there is a strained, forty-year-old mustiness to the satire that is only partly made up for by Morris's fresh wit and verbal fluency.

There's also an absolute minimum of dramaturgy to the piece. In a gimmick that wears very thin very fast, the three characters - the African-American girl who masterminded the experiment, a dim-witted stud, and a 68-year-old virginal classics professor - never interrelate or even appear onstage together, instead just taking turns doing ten-minute monologues.

Chipo Chung, Travis Oliver and Kika Markham go further than you might imagine in making their somewhat one-dimensional characters fun to be with, but you can't help feeling that there is something going on here that isn't quite a play.

You may not mind any of this, since Morris certainly has a way with words, and the text is very liberally peppered with lines like the girl's reference to her upper-class black background as Guess Who's Coming to Brunch, dismissing a guy as a straight version of Ben Affleck, or discovering it's not much fun being a fag hag because 'The gays don't give a girl the gaze.'

So there's a lot of fun to be had along the way, even if the journey itself doesn't really go anywhere you haven't been before.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Gaudeamus - Arcola 2006