|Jess Burkle, Roe Hartrampf and Will Rogers star in "Unnatural Acts" at Classic Stage Company.|
In 1920, a Harvard undergrad's suicide sparked a campus-wide search into students' personal lives. It led to the expulsion of several men who confessed to or were linked to homosexual acts. ("Veritas," seen at last year's Fringe Festival, was based on the same events.)
Conceived and directed by Tony Speciale and written by members of the Plastic Theatre, many of whom appear in the show, the play is a fictionalized account informed by trial records, letters and period research. Writerly imagination filled in the gaps.
What emerges from that patchwork is a well-paced and -plotted story about intolerance, complete with an 11th-hour surprise.
The creators also infuse the play with humor and humanity. Before the investigation, the young men, each more dapper than the next in Andrea Lauer's spiffy period suits (and one flapper dress), cavort and camp it up and share tender moments that look a lot like the first blush of love.
Once the witch hunt begins, everything changes. It's every desperate man for himself. Snitching and naming names becomes a way to survive.
In a shrewd move, actors playing students also appear as the grim interrogators, faceless and scary in Justin Townsend's shadowy lighting.
The all-male cast delivers uniformly fine performances. Thanks to all the shadings, characters are more than the athletic exhibitionist guy, the fey one who rouges his face, the privileged big mouth.
Speciale's production is stylish and stirring, most memorably when choreographed movement connects the men who are forever linked by history. The impression it leaves is beautiful, even though the story is anything but.