John Binder has fashioned an idealistic but plodding stage adaptation of David Harris’ autobiographical journey through his student radical days in the 1960s, specifically focusing on the individual paths taken by Harris (Matt Salinger) and fellow activists Allard Lowenstein (Gerrit Graham) and Dennis Sweeney (Darrell Larson). The staging by Binder and Larson, bogged down by stilted narration and uneven pacing, fails to illuminate the period or the personalities, despite uniformly excellent performances.
Covering 1963 to 1980, the production follows Stanford U. students Sweeney and Harris, as they fall under the spell of the charismatic Lowenstein, a Stanford dean who inspires the impressionable undergraduates to become involved in the formation of the historic Student Nonviolent Coordi-nating Committee (SNCC).
From the idealistic differences forged in the violence-tinged voter registration struggle in the South, the three take divergent paths. Lowenstein attempts in vain to make his nonviolence philosophies part of the mainstream. Harris parlays his ascendance as student body president of Stanford into a much-publicized trial and incarceration for draft evasion and a marriage to singer-activist Joan Baez. Sweeney tragically descends into ever-debilitating schizophrenia.
The production has some inspiring moments, particularly the hilarious commedia dell’arte-like caricatures of the political leaders of the ’60s (Bobby Kennedy, LBJ, etc.) and Barbara Williams’ dead-on portrayal of the world-weary Joan Baez in performance. Unfortunately, the protagonists of Binder’s narrative — Lowenstein, Harris, Sweeney — are diminished by overly long, unrevealing scenes.
The fault is in the concept, not the acting. Salinger and Graham are almost eerily evocative of Harris and Lowenstein, and Larson creates a believable, if not absolutely accurate, depiction of Sweeney. Particular mention should also go to Quentin Drew and Mirron Willis for their inspired portrayals of black activists Bob Moses and Stokely Carmichael, respectively. And kudos to Drew and Alexandra Styron for their committed portrayals of the hippie lovers.
Douglas D. Smith’s set and lighting designs created more obstacles than solutions to the flow of the production, but Mitchell Greenhill’s sound design, aided by skilled guitarist Paul Lacques, offers a mood-filled flavor of the period. The accurate costuming and brilliant mask designs are by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.