Carr was encouraged in establishing the Market by Robert Brustein, Artistic Director of Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater. The two became fast friends when collaborating on a benefit performance of The Diary of Anne Frank. Brustein now serves as an artistic consultant for Carr and his theater.
At the moment, the Market is housing The Square Root of Minus One, a deeply disturbing play about sexual hazing at a 1950s boarding school. The program mentions the recent hazing scandal at Groton to underscore the play’s pertinance.
The events portrayed on stage may be hard to swallow for anyone who has not known strict, all-male, boarding school life, but the quality of the drama is extraordinarily high, and Steve Cosson, directing from a script by Peter Morris, achieves moments of intense emotion that wrench audiences in the theater and leave them with provocative images that linger. In the most shattering scene, a school boy stands stark naked on a chair with his neck in a noose, his body shaking violently with fear.
The play takes place at fictional Merion Academy, a WASPy boarding school for sons of the elite. It focuses on three blond, blazered bluebloods, seniors at the school, and their prey, Wiggins. When the boys discover that Wiggins has stolen money from other students, they blackmail, beat and bugger him in an abandoned closet in the school’s basement.
Morris centers his work, perhaps surprisingly, on one of the three aggressors, Dewis. The play’s dramatic strength comes from investigating the psychology of a boy involved in perpetrating perverse acts. He is repelled and fascinated, intrigued at the inventive evil of his friends, and ultimately uncertain where to draw the line between punishment and cruelty.
“I like the intellectual idea that runs through the play,” said Carr. “The square root of negative one is a really interesting metaphor for how we give ourselves false answers.”
Such themes fit well with the Market Theater’s mission, which involves takings risks and bringing non-traditional theater to the greater Boston area. The Market means high quality theater in our own backyard, and with special student rush tickets available an hour before the show, Harvard students should find a different kind of pre-party entertainment in the Square.