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Connecticut Theater

Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford

Steve Karp, Stamford Theatre Works’ Artistic Director, is doing what he does best—that is, carefully assessing and dramatizing a political or social issue. This time around, with “Fraternity,” Karp is both playwright and director.

Drawing on his own youthful experience, Karp tells the story of a Jewish college student who is tapped for an all-Christian fraternity. Sam Katz, the student, is not sure that he wants to be the guinea pig for the fraternity, as it makes its first move against bigotry. Sam’s girl friend Betsy and his roommate Eddie are both appalled that he would bond with this anti-Semitic group. But like Hamlet, Sam Katz grapples with his very soul, to determine whether such an act would be a heroic step or a betrayal of his fellow Jews.

At first glance, “Fraternity” would seem to be both dated and lightweight. Do we care about fraternity boys while people are dying in Iraq? Do fraternities even still exist on most campuses? Aren’t drugs and casual sex and date rapes more serious college issues?

But we soon realize that darker, more universal, issues are at stake. It is the question of maintaining one’s very identity under fire—a question that is applicable to peoples in all times and places.

Generally, it is inadvisable for a playwright to direct his own play. The two roles can be at war with each other, as the playwright strives to keep his precious lines no matter what the director thinks best for the production. But this time around, Karp manages harmony in both his roles, casting wisely and directing astutely. Scenes, as written and performed, are short and sharp-edged, with a cinematic quality.

And then there are the players, all first-rate. Matthew Decapua makes an amiable and thoughtful Sam, while his roommate Eddie comes to life vividly in Jason Schuchman’s hands. Jake Mosser, Mark Thornton, and Ian Blackman all turn in capable supporting performances. But it is Jamie Proctor, as the girl friend, who shines like a rising star, putting her own unique stamp on the character in a notable performance.

There are times when “Fraternity” tends toward the didactic. But Karp saves the day by giving his characters humanity and their problems a real edge. Moreover, as writer and as director, he keeps the play going at fast pace.

For Jews, Sam’s dilemma will have considerable meaning. Jews have become more and more visible in this country, as they make significant contributions and rise to important positions, a circumstance that can be seen as both good and bad, inciting both admiration and envy. But all audiences should appreciate “Fraternity” for its skillful presentation and for its much broader ramifications.

-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 28, 2005

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