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The Zoo

Pillow and Armadillo

By Lance Nathan

MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players

Libretto by Bolton Rowe (B.C. Stephenson)

Music by Sir Arthur S. Sullivan

Directed by Rebecca Consentino Hains and Stephanie C. Wang ’02

Starring Ishani Das ’02, Gregory Baker G, David Euresti ’01, Ana Albir ’04, Cemocan Yesil ’03, Seth Bisen-Hersh ’01, and Victoria Davis ’04

February 2, 3, and 4

Morss Hall

Walker Memorial

Last weekend, the MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players performed The Zoo, a one-act operetta by Bolton Rowe (B.C. Stephenson) and Arthur S. Sullivan from an era when villains could be recognized by their black capes and oversized muttonchops.

The Players transformed Walker Memorial into the London Zoological Gardens by means of a well-designed set that began in the lobby. An archway announced the entrance to the zoo: “Open daily till dusk --free admission!” with “Guided Tours at 3 and 8 p.m. daily.” The hall itself had, in addition to the main stage, signs scattered about the room directing visitors to the aviary, the lions, and a stage labeled “Theatre of the Zoo.” Given a difficult space, the players made the most of it.

Directors Rebecca Hains and Stephanie Wang ’02 prefaced the rather short piece with a framing story: a tour guide leads members of the British public on a tour of the zoo, with a stop at the stage to see an excerpt from the end of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. Ishani Das ’02, who played the tour guide, and Gregory Baker G, who played Edwin, both stood out among a collection of strong performances.

After a brief segue, the actors from Trial by Jury joined the public for the opening song of The Zoo. It was immediately striking that the directors had taken care to work with the chorus. Each chorus member had his or her own character and stage business that followed naturally. The chorus included a child with her grandparents, a janitor with a broom, and an alcoholic who offered brandy when someone fainted. Occasionally the chorus upstaged the main action with a little too much melodrama, but by and large the melodrama fit the tone of the piece. This is not to say that the leads were overshadowed; the chorus offered a welcome and entertaining counterpoint to the leads.

The operetta itself contains two subplots. In one, an apothecary, Æsculapius Carboy (David Euresti ’01), attempts to kill himself over his love for Laetitia (Ana Albir ’04) -- a love not unrequited, but thwarted by her father, Grinder (Cemocan Yesil ’03). In the other, Thomas Brown (Seth Bisen-Hersh ’01) woos the proprietor of a refreshment stall at the zoo, Eliza (Victoria Davis ’04), a task that leads him to consume so many sweets (and some animal food) that he collapses. Naturally, all ends well. Brown is revealed as the Duke of Islington in disguise, prompting him to propose marriage to Eliza and pay Grinder to let his daughter marry the apothecary.

Of the principals, Bisen-Hersh was perhaps the best of the lot, delightfully playing up his fainting spell and a solo-with-chorus that begins, “Unaccustomed as I am to public, ah, ah ...” Yesil, too, clearly enjoyed his role, scowling and menacing his way across the stage, frowning at the audience’s applause during the curtain call until he got his proper boos and hisses. Albir, given a somewhat less interesting part, held her own by means of a strong voice and impressive range.

If there were any weaknesses in the production, one would be Euresti’s apparent discomfort with his role. He seemed to play to the audience more than the other characters, who spoke to the onstage public. Furthermore, he often seemed startled to find himself singing. The other weakness would be Davis’s on-again, off-again Cockney accent, which distracted only somewhat from an otherwise fine performance.

But these were minor quibbles, easily forgivable in a show clearly out to have fun and a production that was, from start to finish, delightful. The acting and singing were very good, the costumes impressive, the lighting and set put to good use to accentuate the performance, and the choreography and direction well done. Though the plot may have had all the depth of a toddler’s wading pool, The Zoo was a fine production. After all, how can one fail to enjoy anything that rhymes “pillow” with “armadillo”?