Yale Cab 48 Recap

“There’s no accounting for taste,” the saying goes. Here, at the end of another season at the Yale Cabaret—Season 48, but the 7th I’ve been a witness to—it’s time for my annual recap, which might be described as a way of accounting for my own tastes.

It’s not a competitive environment, the Cab. So many names recur again and again in these lists because there’s very much a “get it done as best you can with who’s available” mode at work much of the time. So, I’ll start off with paying tribute to everyone who took the time to take part in Season 48 at what remains my favorite place for theater in New Haven. Season 48—2015-16—was a tough year for many reasons and it was good to have that little life-raft down the steps at 217 Park Street, maintained by Co-Artistic Directors David Bruin, Julian Elijah Martinez, Leora Morris, and Managing Director Annie Middleton.

David Bruin, Leora Morris, Julian Elijah Martinez, Annie Middleton

David Bruin, Leora Morris, Julian Elijah Martinez, Annie Middleton

Here are, in chronological order, my four best-remembered and, in final position, most treasured contributions to the season in the following categories: New Plays; Existing Plays; Set Design; Costume Design; Lighting Design; Sound Design; Music; Projections and Effects; Ensemble Acting; Actor (male), Actor (female) in supporting role; Actor (male), Actor (female) in main role; Directing; Production.

Here goes.

There weren’t that many New Plays in the season, which began with an adaptation of a preexisting play, and the other eligibles are here as well: We Are All Here, an adaptation of Charles L. Mee’s Wintertime by David Bruin and Jiréh Breon Holder: a large cast enacting complex relationships with a great frenetic use of the Cab space; MoonSong by Sean Patrick Higgins: a touching and gently comic look at a talented family struck by illness; Salt Pepper Ketchup by Josh Wilder: the first part of a topical tale about the tensions surrounding gentrification in food service in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood; Lake Kelsey by Dylan Frederick: a contemporary coming of age musical in which the kids are not so alright; and . . . How We Died of Disease-Related Illness by Miranda Rose Hall:, my favorite because I grew up on Monty Python and sketch comedy and this zany, rapid-fire take on current anxieties (don’t get me started on the medical profession) scored with me all the way.

For Existing Plays, there are more to choose from, and my selection is based on the kinds of things I find most fascinating in works I haven’t seen before: Boris Yeltsin by Mickaël de Oliveira, translated by Maria Inês Marques: an update of the story of Agamemnon and Orestes, sharply scripted and sharply acted, with a definite ax to grind; Cloud Tectonics by José Rivera: a lyrical love story exploring archetypal relations in a convincing way; Dutch Masters by Greg Keller: a class-and-race clash, forcing us to delve into the vulnerabilities behind the issues; The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant by Rainer Werner Fassbinder: an intimate glimpse of a diva at home experiencing life-changing love, touched with both cynicism and romanticism; and . . . Knives in Hens by David Harrower: my favorite because of its truly striking ear for the English language, and its cast and setting perfectly captured a world both elemental and deeply suggestive.

For Set Design: The Secretaries (Jean Kim), a finely worked up space able to accommodate very different settings, from bedroom to work place to lumber camp; Trouble in Tahiti (Rae Powell), an amazing cartoon cut-out look that suited the show perfectly; Cloud Tectonics (Izmir Ickbal), a surprisingly real space for this rather unreal tale; And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens (Lucie Dawkins; Sarah Nietfeld), a room can reveal and conceal, and this space did both with more origami cranes than could be counted; and . . . The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Christopher Thompson; Claire DeLiso), you can’t put a functioning turntable in a set and not get my attention, and this set was not only worthy of Fassbinder it made me want to visit.

For Costumes, the first thing I noticed was that the same person—with different nominal designations on the programs—was responsible for much of the stuff I was most impressed with: The Secretaries (Asa Benally): matching look to type is always helpful in comedy and the various takes—and take-offs—of these ladies had work to do; Boris Yeltsin (Haydee Zelideth): costuming can include use of nudity and how that played into this tale of a bizarre family romance was casual and crafty; How We Died of Disease-Related Illness (Sarah Nietfeld): if only for the transformations of Trisha, and the other quick changes before our eyes; The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Haydee Zelideth Antunano): clothes make the lady in this tale of a fashion designer, which just wouldn’t work without the semiotics of appearances; and . . .  Trouble in Tahiti (Haydee Antunano; Asa Benally): my favorite because of the look of the vocal trio and the elegant bourgeoisity of the principals.

For Lighting: Knives in Hens (Andrew F. Griffin): the look of this show stayed with me for a long time; The Secretaries (Elizabeth Green): lighting was at times a special effect in the varied moods of this wildly funny show; Trouble in Tahiti (Carolina Oritz): a show with a visual style that fully complemented its music; Cloud Tectonics (Elizabeth Mak): lighting and other subtle effects helped in this play of stopped time; and . . . Roberto Zucco (Andrew F. Griffin): with much of the action occurring behind scrims, the play of light in the show was an expressive and striking element.

For Sound: Knives in Hens (Tom Starkey): many nice aural touches to create a surround of tension; I’m With You in Rockland (Nok Kanchanabanca): balancing jazz, spoken word, and videos into a coherent whole; The Secretaries (Kate Marvin): the range of soundscape added to the exaggerated reality of this sharp satire; Cloud Tectonics (Tye Hunt Fitzgerald): the sound of the storm felt palpable and impressive; and . . . How We Died of Disease-Related Illness (Frederick Kennedy): important use of unsettling sound effects and live and recorded voices made this the most memorable to me.

For Music: I’m With You in Rockland (Ian Gottlieb; Dylan Mattingly): percussion and piano were the stars of the show; The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Frederick Kennedy; Christopher Ross-Ewart): composed music and songs on the stereo added extra levels of emotion; Someone to Watch Over Me (Andrew Burnap): fine renditions of the voice and trumpet of the great Chet Baker; Lake Kelsey (Dylan Frederick): catchy and incisive exposition through song; and . . . Trouble in Tahiti (Leonard Bernstein; Music Director: Jill Brunelle): a beautiful arrangement of a score with classical lyricism and ethnic inflections,  somewhere between opera and musical theater.

For Projections and Artistic Effects: Roberto Zucco (Rasean Davonte Johnson, projection design): a barrage of effects for the finale of a killer’s bad end; Slouch (Brittany Bland, projection design): moody, collage-like effects added much visual interest to this tale of groping interiorities; How We Died of Disease-Related Illness (Brittany Bland, projection design): video intrusions added to the spectacle of medical chaos; Do All Daddies Have Grey Suits? (Aylin Tekiner, Conceptual Artist; Kemal Gökhan Gürses, Illustrator Artist; Brittany Bland, projection design): a wonderfully involved use of video, shadow puppets, animation to tell a child’s eye view of violence and death; and . . . Trouble in Tahiti (Rasean Davonte Johnson, projection design): the visuals brilliantly created commentary and expanded on the dramatic situations presented.

For Ensemble acting: We Are All Here (Jenelle Chu, Claire DeLiso, Edmund Donovan, Brontë England-Nelson, Christopher Ghaffari, Jonathan Higginbotham, Sean Patrick Higgins, Maria Inês Marques, Victoria Whooper, Ian Williams): a rough and tumble ensemble with everyone adding to the comic tensions; The Secretaries (Jenelle Chu, Annie Hägg, Chalia La Tour, Annelise Lawson, Shaunette Renée Wilson): a ladies only night—and it was irresistible to see five of the six actresses of the class of 2016 tearing it up together; Salt Pepper Ketchup (Mia Antoinette, Jason de Beer, Eston J. Fung, Sean Boyce Johnson, Steven Lee Johnson, Tanmay Manohar, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, James Udom, Seta Wainiqolo): a sustained sense of community with delicate detentes and violent intrusions; The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Baize Buzan, Anna Crivelli, Sydney Lemmon, Annelise Lawson, Leyla Levi, Shaunette Renée Wilson): another ladies only play that lets us into an inner circle being destroyed from within; and . . . Roberto Zucco (Juliana Canfield, Paul Cooper, Brontë England-Nelson, Dylan Frederick, Aubie Merrylees, Alyssa Miller, Jacob Osborne): though there’s clearly a central character, there were many mini-cameos of a variety of types in this darkly comic tale.

Even in the midst of great ensemble work, there were roles that lit up with memorable intensity: Actor (female), in supporting role(s): Baize Buzan as the mercurial love object in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant; Chalia La Tour as the sadistic supervisor in The Secretaries; Brontë England-Nelson as several roles, including an enthralled woman and an old man in Roberto Zucco; Marié Botha for her comic shopping spree in Slouch; and . . . for a hilarious range of commentators, amazingly lucid in each incarnation, Juliana Canfield in How We Died of Disease-Related Illness.

Actor (male), in supporting role(s): Sean Patrick Higgins as the dad with wife, male lover, and nubile daughter troubles in We Are All Here; Paul Cooper as the fascinatingly dark and introspective Miller in Knives in Hens; Julian Elijah Martinez as a boyish Orestes learning to man up in Boris Yeltsin; Eston J. Fung as the harried and scheming fast food joint owner in Salt Pepper Ketchup; and . . . for two roles, equally memorable: the unnervingly patriarchal husband in Knives in Hens, and the wacky sick scientist with a song to sing in How We Died of Disease-Related Illness, Niall Powderly.

For “main role,” I’ve chosen parts that dominate the action or share center stage together: Actor (male): Aubie Merrylees, the killing fool and homicidal lover in Roberto Zucco; Edmund Donovan, the wary white boy getting in too deep in Dutch Masters; Leland Fowler, the seductive, deceiving, amusing and sympathetic black kid in Dutch Masters; Patrick Madden, the accommodating queen of her own fantasy heading for a fall in And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens; and . . . a thoughtful lover missing the cues for a full life but achieving a poetic end, Bradley James Tejeda in Cloud Tectonics.

Actor (female): Mary Higgins, as the mom with a song in her heart and a wry sense of her own frailty in MoonSong; Kelly Hill, as a wife looking for the romantic magic she never knew in Trouble in Tahiti; Stephanie Machado, as the mysterious time-stopping archetypal pregnant madonna in Cloud Tectonics; Sydney Lemmon, as a vital, successful woman with a void in her heart in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant; and . . . as Woman, on her way to knowledge and, through stylized encounters with male figures, finding her own voice, Elizabeth Stahlmann in Knives in Hens.

For Direction, thanks to everyone who takes on this task, but to single-out productions where the grasp of complex material was very telling: Jesse Rasmussen, for the mysterious, portentous world of Knives in Hens; Christopher Ghaffari, for finding a way to stage at the Cab a truncated Bernard-Marie Koltès play with a sprawling cast of characters, Roberto Zucco; Lynda Paul, for the incorporation of music, voice, acting, visuals, comedy, romance into a Gesamtkunstwerk in Trouble in Tahiti; Leora Morris, with Jesse Rasmussen, for a pacing and tone that revitalizes Fassbinder in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant; and . . . for going over the top, to the edge of chaos and back in How We Died of Disease-Related Illness, and for a slowburn control of barbed material in Boris Yeltsin, Elizabeth Dinkova.

And for overall Production: Knives in Hens: Adam J. Frank, Producer; Davina Moss, Dramaturg; Rebekah Heusel, Stage Manager; Roberto Zucco: Tanmay Manohar, Gretchen Wright, Producers; Ariel Sibert, Dramaturg; Emely Zepeda, Stage Manager; How We Died of Disease-Related Illness: Kathy Ruoran Li, Producer; David Clauson, Stage Manager; The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant: Maria Inês Marques, Producer & Dramaturg; Avery Trunko, Stage Manager; and . . . (call me sentimental, but I was born at the end of the 1950s) Trouble in Tahiti: Steven Koernig, Producer; Taylor Barfield, Dramaturg; Jennifer Schmidt, Avery Trunko, Co-Stage Managers.

Farewell, Cab 48. Howdy, Cab 49.

The Proof is in the Play

Preview of Proof, New Haven Theater Company

Though the New Haven Theater Company has stretched themselves in a variety of directions over the years—including the musical Urinetown, the fantasy Shipwrecked!, and large cast American classics like Our Town and, this past winter, Bus Stop—their bread-and-butter shows are small cast, dialogue-driven plays by playwrights like David Mamet, Conor McPherson, or the company’s own resident playwright Drew Gray. Getting back to where they once belonged after the stretch of Bus Stop, NHTC opens David Auburn’s popular, Tony Award and Pulitzer-winning play Proof next week at their performance space at the English Building Markets.

Directed by Steve Scarpa, who last directed Our Town for the Company, Proof was first considered years ago as an apt NHTC vehicle but they weren’t able to secure the rights. Fittingly, with Scarpa as director and the cast comprised of Megan Keith Chenot, George Kulp, Christian Shaboo, and Deena Nicol-Blifford, the play could be called “classic NHTC”—all four were in Our Town and have been in numerous productions. This time around, Kulp—who directed Bus Stop and typically pulls down “the father figure” parts—will play Robert, a deceased math genius who had mental problems, with Chenot, last seen as the put-upon chanteuse in Bus Stop, playing his daughter Catherine, who inherited his math smarts and, possibly, his mental problems as well. Shaboo, who often gets the romantic leads and was last seen as the harried husband in Smudge last fall, plays Hal, Robert’s former student who is trying to sort out the great man’s papers, among which is a proof that could be game-changing. Nicol-Blifford, who directed Smudge and appeared in The Cult last spring, is the older daughter, Claire, distanced from both her father and sister.

The cast of Proof: Megan Keith Chenot, Christian Shaboo, Deena Nicol-Blifford, George Kulp

The cast of Proof: Megan Keith Chenot, Christian Shaboo, Deena Nicol-Blifford, George Kulp

Chenot feels the play is particularly suited to NHTC because “it’s about family and we’re family.” Scarpa agrees: “It feeds into what we do best—shows with good parts and high stakes. Auburn said he could’ve used anything as the father’s special area; he wanted it to be a solitary undertaking in which one could be brilliant but that also has its burdens, so math here can also be, to some degree, what it takes to be an artist.” Kulp agrees, the play is “about having a certain gift and what it means, a legacy that can be passed on so that children, perhaps, do better than their parents.” Chenot has done some research into the math to sound like she knows what she’s talking about as Catherine, a brilliant woman, but she also takes seriously Catherine’s fears that genius and madness are related, “as they sometimes are for creative artists.”

It’s also helpful, in regard to NHTC’s resources, that the play has one setting: the backyard of a run-down home, where upkeep isn’t the strong point. In Bus Stop, which sold out its run, the setting was a public space where many personal interactions were taking place; this time, it’s a private space, so that the show, Scarpa says, is “even more intimate.” The whole cast is enamored of Auburn’s writing and that, they point out, is what the company looks for first and foremost: “great scripts with a lot of range.”

“We’re about the truth of the story,” Scarpa says, and Kulp adds out that the art of storytelling is ultimately what keeps the Company, who all have other jobs and pursuits, coming back to the back room at the English Building. Kulp, who is an Equity actor, gave up some professional jobs to be involved in Proof, but that’s the attraction of working with familiar friends on pet projects in their own space.

Scarpa, who sees himself as “the enabler of the process” as director, aims to be as supportive as possible of his cast. He knew from the start that Chenot was “perfect for the role” of Catherine, though it couldn’t be more different from the not-too-brainy singer she put across in Bus Stop. This time, Chenot, who has taught theater in high school, will be relying on some of that teacherly poise. As with Bus Stop, though, the drama and the humor comes from people being themselves, in the kinds of interactions that can be intense one moment and more lighthearted the next.

A play about family, genius, madness, fear, rivalry, and with a love story too. To the entire company, all of whom are involved in choosing the plays, it was “uniformly obvious” that Proof is a real New Haven Theater Company kind of play. Need proof? See the show.

New Haven Theater Company is Megan Keith Chenot, Peter Chenot, Drew Gray, Erich Greene, George Kulp, Margaret Mann, Deena Nicol-Blifford, Steve Scarpa, Christian Shaboo, J. Kevin Smith, John Watson, Trevor Williams.

The New Haven Theater Company
Proof
By David Auburn
Directed by Steve Scarpa

The English Building Markets
839 Chapel Street, New Haven
May 5, 6, 7 & 12, 13, 14

A Scholar Undonne by Death

Review of Wit at Playhouse on Park

Mortality figures as a theme in many plays, but Margaret Edson’s Wit, now playing at Playhouse on Park directed by Stevie Zimmerman, dwells on the approach of death from first to last. Dr. Vivian Bearing (Elizabeth Lande), the main character, greets the audience brightly with the inevitable query of medical care-givers, “how are you feeling today?” She is in a hospital gown with a portable IV, bald head beneath a knit cap, when she asks. However we might be feeling, it has to be better than she is.

The story of the play is well-known: Vivian, a formidable English professor specializing in 17th century poetry, particularly the Metaphysical Poets and especially John Donne and, predominantly, the Holy Sonnets, is stricken with Stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer at the age of 50. She agrees to the most vigorous treatment available, which requires bombardment with chemo, so that, while improving in some ways—her huge tumor does get smaller—she is on a downward slope that will, at best, be arrested for a time. What she is, in fact, is a test subject to determine the side effects and progress of the treatment.

Elizabeth Lande as Dr. Vivian Bearing (photo: Rich Wagner)

Elizabeth Lande as Dr. Vivian Bearing (photo: Rich Wagner)

Key to the play, which is Edson’s only play and a Pulitzer-winning play at that, is the parallel between the rigor of the medical treatment Vivian receives from Drs. Kelekian (David Gautschy) and Posner (Tim Hackney) and the rigor of her training at the hands of the august eminence Professor E. M. Ashford (Waltrudis Buck), and the rigor of her own teaching for decades. For Bearing and her mentor, the English language has never been used to more complex and concentrated effect than in Donne’s Holy Sonnets, which explore faith in the face of mortality. An early flashback shows us Vivian, an undergraduate acolyte, taking in Professor Ashford’s lesson that punctuation matters in how one reads poetry as dense as Donne’s—specifically the “Death be not proud” Sonnet. Eventually, Professor Bearing gets around to expounding a bit of the poetry, the audience helped by overheads, but Lande is better at playing wry and puckish test subject than she is at donnish academic. Sonnet IX, with its theme of the mercy of forgetfulness, seems apropos to Bearing’s late misgivings about her solitary life and ended career, but the force of the conviction, if present, feels a bit scattered.

Professor Bearing (Elizabeth Lande) with a Donne sonnet (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

Professor Bearing (Elizabeth Lande) with a Donne sonnet (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

Better is a scene of Bearing in the classroom where her lack of empathy for her hapless students is paralleled by her research-based doctors’ lack of empathy with her suffering. The point comes off because Bearing’s students, like her doctors, don’t seem to believe that the mind has its own rewards. Certainly, the comparison being pushed is that Bearing has been an overbearing teacher much as her doctors are overbearing researchers—especially Posner, who, neatly enough, was Bearing’s student when an undergrad. Still, one wishes that the very notion of metaphysical thought would clash at some point with the extreme physicality of modern medicine’s point of view; for the students, Donne “hides” behind difficulty, and the obvious parallels are the cancer cells that hide within the seemingly healthy body, until too late; or the need for human contact that Vivian hides until almost too late. Getting it all out in the open is what, schooled by illness, Vivian eventually does.

the cast of Wit (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

the cast of Wit (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

The irony that her former student, played with detached concentration by Tim Hackney, should be putting his former prof through an ever stricter barrage of tests is not lost on Bearing, but neither is it dwelt upon, any more than she would be apt to point out that her love of paradox finds its echo in being treated by a pair o’ docs. But, for the audience, the possibility of life—and, more importantly death—imitating rhetoric is some of the fun. As with the play’s willingness to both define and enact the “soporific” (high-toned English poetry and medical terminology both can qualify), the quality of Prof. Bearing’s mind is the main entertainment here. Lande is a figure of compassion almost from the start, with her childlike appearance, but the role would benefit from some less likable disdain.

Eventually, the play, which seems to be keeping death at bay much as Bearing keeps fellow feeling at bay, succumbs to both. Vivian risks becoming “maudlin” in her own estimation for the sake of companionship with her nurse Susie Monahan, played with winning efficiency by Chuja Seo. And Susie is important because through her we arrive at the main plot point once death has been admitted. Susie cautions Vivian, in a touching scene with shared frozen popsicles, that she might want a “Do Not Resuscitate” order and that brings about a moment of medical drama. The scene struck me with a force that worked against its manifest meaning—a paradox of which, whatever death might be, both Donne and Vivian might be proud.

Staging, lighting, sound—the technical requirements of mounting this spare but shifting play—are all handled brilliantly, so much so that one barely pauses to think about how it’s done. And that takes some wit indeed.

 

Wit
By Margaret Edson
Directed by Stevie Zimmerman

Scenic Designer: Emily Nichols; Costume Designer: Kate Bunce; Sound Designer: Joel Abbott; Lighting Designer: Marcus Abbott; Properies Master: Pamela Lang

Playhouse on Park
April 20-May 8, 2016

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Review of Lake Kelsey, Yale Cabaret

The very week that so many eyes turn to Minnesota with the shocking news of the death of one of the stellar musical artists of his generation, the Yale Cabaret takes us to Minnesota and the shores of the fictional Lake Kelsey. Perhaps the late Prince, whose film Purple Rain, in the mid-1980s, created an iconic myth of youth and creative struggle based on his own experiences in the Minneapolis music scene, might be said to be smiling benignly on fellow Minnesotan Dylan Frederick’s Lake Kelsey, a musical exploration of teen angst, gender confusion, and general confusion on the path to identity.

The world of Lake Kelsey, geographically, is dominated by its eponymous lake and by Route 63, the only major roadway in or out. There, a handful of teens do the things that teens stuck in a local rut—which might be Anywhere, U.S.—tend to do: drinking, reviling parents, engaging in furtive sex, working dead-end jobs that yet provide entry into the adult world, and dreaming of escape. Their longings, misgivings and clashes are set to very catchy tunes written by Frederick and played by a skilled pick-up band: Jenny Schmidt, keyboards; Ian Scot, bass and electronics; Frederick Kennedy, percussion, and sung well by all members of the cast.

The main drama here is teens negotiating the predatory landscape that their own hormones lead them into. Elijah Evans (Michael Costagliola) is the kind of laconic bad boy that turns on a dime from easy-going to cruel or from accommodating to pushing his own relentless libido. Apparently, young girls and girly boys of all stripes find themselves helpless to resist. Except for Boygirl (Anna Crivelli), so called because of a bad haircut she had as a kid and the name, as they say, “stuck.” She’s bent upon escape from the region and, possibly, exposure of Elijah’s reign of erotic bullying.

The play we’re shown ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, but those who have been raised on the concept of sequels will accept that they’ll have to wait “till next time” to find out what becomes of Boygirl—played with an earnest, “I have that within which passeth show” manner by Crivelli, looking a bit like a female Kurt Cobain.

Anna Crivelli, Leland Fowler, Annie Middleton, Rebecca Hampe (photo: Christopher Thompson)

Anna Crivelli, Leland Fowler, Annie Middleton, Rebecca Hampe (photo: Christopher Thompson)

There’s a trio of girl singers: Annie Middleton as Virginia Virginia, the svelte blonde of the bunch with some distinct daddy issues stemming from his embarrassing tendency to want to be one of the kids—her “Daddy Dead” song is one of those numbers that could be a breakout for a musical like this; Rebecca Hampe as Sarah Sarah, a camp follower we’re introduced to at the start with her cloying “Star of the Class” presentation about herself; Leland Fowler as Sachi Sachi, a black girl whose racial difference seems to put her outside the reach of Elijah’s lechery, but “she” can really sing.

Anna Crivelli (Boygirl), Patrick Foley (Thousand); photo: Christopher Thompson

Anna Crivelli (Boygirl), Patrick Foley (Thousand); photo: Christopher Thompson

Then there’s Thousand (Patrick Foley) who seems to be Boygirl’s only real friend and possible accomplice on her escape plan, except he’s found out how popular a boy who gives blowjobs can be among working guys, and being popular, as several songs make clear, is what life is all about hereabouts. Frederick’s book and music manages to maintain both an affectionate clarity about the cluelessness of the age group, as well as a certain aggrieved sense of how, for many teens, nothing exists beyond the shared world of the kids they’ve grown up with.

The set by Alexander Woodward is an inspired mash-up of spaces: the heap of detritus that looks like the collective sweepings of a housing development’s worth of rec rooms; the mic stands that belong in a talent show or karaoke night; the desks for the school scenes; the couch for the inevitable trip to Elijah’s basement; and don’t forget the trampoline, an almost magical space that evokes memories of free pre-teen innocence in the midst of guilty teen scenes.

A work in progress, Lake Kelsey, if given a more extended treatment, might benefit from a parental cameo or two and from some onstage exploration of the woods we keep hearing about. The show as it currently stands is primarily about character depiction, with the songs as tuneful exposition, rather than plot, but that could change with more development. Not to be confused with Lake Wobegon “where all children are above average,” Lake Kelsey gives us the kinds of kids whose averageness is their best asset, even as they strive to see what possibilities exist for fun and status before the inevitable descent into adulthood. As someone once said, “whatever, whatever, nevermind.”

Lake Kelsey marks the last show of the Yale Cabaret’s Season 48. Next up, Season 49 (2016-17) to be helmed by Co-Artistic Directors Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, with Managing Director Steven Koernig. A fond adieu to the Cab 48 team—David Bruin, Julian Elijah Martinez, Leora Morris, and Annie Middleton—and a warm welcome to the new team. Fittingly, the last show of Cab 48 was directed by one of the incoming co-artistic directors, with members of the departing team working as dramaturg and a performer, respectively. How’s that for team work?

 

Lake Kelsey
Music, Book, and Lyrics by Dylan Frederick
Directed by Kevin Hourigan

Music Director and Arrangements: Samuel Suggs; Dramaturg: Leora Morris; Scenic Designer: Alexander Woodward; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Carolina Ortiz Herrera; Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy; Technical Director: Alex McNamara; Sound Mixer: Ien DeNio; Stage Manager: Avery Trunko; Producer: Rachel Shuey

Musicians: Keyboard: Jenny Schmidt; Bass and Electronics: Ian Scot; Percussion: Frederick Kennedy

Cast: Michael Costagliola; Anna Crivelli; Patrick Foley; Leland Fowler; Rebecca Hampe; Annie Middleton

Yale Cabaret
April 21-13, 2016

My Idaho Home

Review of Lewiston at Long Wharf Theatre

Family legacy meets national legacy in Samuel D. Hunter’s low-key play Lewiston, now at the Long Wharf Theatre in its world premiere, directed by Eric Ting. Alice (Randy Danson) and Connor (Martin Moran) are old friends, now roommates, who tend a fireworks stand on a stretch of interstate outside the play’s titular town in rural Idaho. The big issue in their world is when to sell Alice’s last remaining plot of land to the developers who are building condos, and for how much—the duo are hoping for a unit by the pool. Into their humdrum lives arrives Marnie (Arielle Goldman), a backpacking traveler who, it turns out, is Alice’s long-lost granddaughter. And she’s here to stay, tent and all.

Alice (Randy Danson) and Connor (Martin Moran)

Alice (Randy Danson) and Connor (Martin Moran)

The best thing about Lewiston is that Hunter’s dialogue plays things close to the everyday, and there are some unique aspects to the relationships revealed as the play goes along. His characters speak with a believable sense of entire lives already lived, so that when exposition is necessary it comes as one character filling another in. For Alice and Marnie, there’s much that has gone missing—the last time Alice saw Marnie was when the girl, now in her mid-twenties, was 8 or so. There’s a lot of water under the bridge, and there’s a lot of land missing from what Marnie remembers as the family spread, including her childhood home. The land has been in the family since Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, settled it.

Marnie (Arielle Goldman)

Marnie (Arielle Goldman)

Director Eric Ting’s clear grasp of how these characters should interact means developments take their time: the coolness between Alice and Marnie keeps finding new reasons for sustaining itself. It’s not a question of grudges so much as a question of expectations. We learn piecemeal the story of Alice’s daughter, Marnie’s mother—whose young voice (played by Lucy Owen) we hear on tapes Marnie plays from time to time, recorded when her mother walked the Expedition trail to the Pacific Ocean—and we see why the two women aren’t quite sure what tone to strike with each other. Marnie isn’t so much settling old scores as trying to find a place to start again, arriving at the very moment when Alice is ready to let it all go.

Connor (Martin Moran) and Marnie (Arielle Goldman)

Connor (Martin Moran) and Marnie (Arielle Goldman)

As Connor, Moran’s role is important as an interested witness and sympathetic helper and a surprised host who extends the more effusive welcome to Marnie. The drama of the play is largely about how people can either shut others out or let them in, so that much of the talk isn’t simply about what happened or what will happen, it’s about whether or not characters will confide or find a shared relation. Marnie, played well with understated intensity by Arielle Goldman, had been in Seattle where she devised and sold an urban farm and seems to have been self-sufficient until now. Randy Danson’s Alice is, as Connor says “a bit prickly,” not willing to be knocked off course by a young person’s sudden need for roots. Though for obvious reasons generational differences can be expected to intrude, they do so as contextual details and not simply for cheap laughs.

Then there’s “Mom,” on the tapes. Voiced with an incredible sense of off-the-cuff authenticity by Lucy Owen, the tapes are mostly played in darkness, making their staging a bit disruptive and their desultory commentary more ambient than dramatic. In the end, an experience told on the tape dovetails rather too neatly with the need for some kind of statement to emerge in what seems ready to be a stalemate, though some life-changing decisions are overtaking everyone by the play’s end.

Alice (Randy Danson)

Alice (Randy Danson)

For visual interest, check out the detailed set by Wilson Chin, complemented by Matthew Richards’ lighting and Brandon Walcott’s sound design, while for figural interest there are the fireworks that tend to act as ironic commentary on the lack of excitement and the limited prospects for amusement in this stretch of the interstate. Lewiston is a thoughtful slice-of-life drama that manages to suggest a Chekhovian sense of how time and change leech from us the things we value, unless we do something about it now.

 

Lewiston
By Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Eric Ting

Set Design: Wilson Chin; Costume Design: Paloma Young; Lighting Design: Matthew Richards; Sound Design: Brandon Wolcott; Production Stage Manager: Charles M. Turner III; Casting: Calleri Casting

Cast: Randy Danson; Arielle Goldman; Martin Moran; Lucy Owen

Long Wharf Theatre
April 6-May 1, 2016

Orbiting the Yale Cabaret

Review of the Satellite Festival, Yale Cabaret

The first-ever Satellite Festival at Yale Cabaret was a sampling of works-in-progress and some short pieces with very specific focus. Sprawling over three nights in three locations, the Festival events could be accessed in different sequences and required at least two nights to see everything included, since some events were limited to a particular evening. The order in which things were seen may or may not contribute to the effect, and that’s part of the fun and interest of the festival format, making each person’s path through the offerings to some extent unique.

My approach was to see as much as I could in consecutive attendance at three separate locations in a sequence commencing at 9 p.m. Friday night and concluding around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. That meant seeing the late show of the main-stage offering, at the Yale Cabaret, which seemed to suit the nature of the events on view.

Andrew Burnap as Chet Baker

Andrew Burnap as Chet Baker

Someone to Watch Over Me, created and performed by Andrew Burnap, felt, suitably, like an intimate, after-hours encounter with jazz great Chet Baker—whom Burnap impersonated in speaking, singing, and trumpet-playing. A short presentation, the show revealed something of Baker’s persona, and let Burnap display for us the lyricism of Baker’s playing, the melancholy of his singing, and the coolness of his stage patter. It was a great combo—I particularly liked the comments about the virtues of trumpet and piano unaccompanied by a drummer, the story of the try-out for Charlie Parker, and, of the tunes, “My Funny Valentine” was a highpoint.

Next up was Run Bambi, an exploratory work by Lex Brown of the Yale Art School, supported by performers Kate Ruggeri and Aarica West with lighting by Elizabeth Green. The piece, at its best, evoked impressionistic responses, as Brown’s spoken word and gestural theater riffed on racist and sexist problems in our culture, while also asserting the power of owning one’s own style and presentation. The use of props—white towels, white tires, a ladder—helpedcreate the performance space as an arena for free-form routines. An arena that Brown literally fled at one point to move through the space upstairs and back again.

the cast of Run Bambi: Kate Ruggeri, Lex Brown, Aarica West

the cast of Run Bambi: Kate Ruggeri, Lex Brown, Aarica West

 

All the movement of Run Bambi—dance was key to the show’s expressive sense of joy and defiance—was in marked contrast to the stationary nature of the next show, Christopher Ross-Ewart’s Stop Drop and Shop: Explosions for the 21st Century, a one-man monologue with sound effects. With a comic sense of inadequacy in the face of a world he doesn’t quite understand, Ross-Ewart played “himself,” a white West Coast Canadian trying to come to grips with tensions on the U.S. east coast during Election Year 2016. Ross-Ewart’s breathy, nervous delivery—punctuated by explosions and horn effects—created a sense of the put-upon, well-meaning, would-be liberal conscience of our day and age, with particular reference to that most definitive of American activities: grocery-shopping.

The first two shows benefited greatly from songs and singing; the third show would’ve as well, as Ross-Ewart is a better musician than stand-up comic, but the Festival’s rationale, at least in part, was to give students opportunity to stretch their talents beyond their expected competencies.

I began the evening with Do All Daddies Have Grey Suits?, A Memory Play by Aylin Tekiner, at the Annex, that used a fascinating mixture of puppetry, shadow puppets, and projections/animation to tell a story of mourning. The author’s father, Zeki Tekiner, was the victim of a political assassination in Turkey in 1980. The short theater piece let a child, a stand-in for Aylin voiced by Dora Schwartzman, tell the story with details gleaned from adults and from her own active imagination. The question of her source for the information she imparted, in fact, kept meeting with the oft-iterated phrase, “I don’t know.” As a child, our narrator is uncertain what she knows or how she knows it; as our narrator, the child speaks with full authority. The relation between the two states—knowing and not-knowing (and knowing things you’d rather not know) informed the entire piece. The shadow puppets were creepily perfect for the Grimm’s fairy-tale-like story—complete with an actual underground city below the Castle district of Neveshir, Cappadocia, where Tekiner was killed, in a grocery store. Bracketing the child’s tale were photos of the family as well as film of Tekiner’s funeral, both providing a factual setting in the past that helped to enhance what came to seem a perpetual child’s perspective in a state of stricken arrested development.

Shadi Ghaheri’s فریادا  , the second piece at the Annex, made effective use of the stage as a place where encounter becomes theater. Two young women, intrigued by and perhaps attracted to each other, find that neither can understand a word the other says. The situation is comical and ultimately frustrating—as the piece’s title, “Scream,” indicates—but only the English-language speaker seemed to find it embarrassing. Stella Baker, as the English speaker, acted the sheepish response of the American who can’t quite overcome surprise that the whole world doesn’t speak English, while Ghaheri played a woman with a passionate insistence upon communication. Ultimately, the show demonstrated that such commitment makes for connection: communication is what happens between people who interact, regardless of what they use to do it—eating apples, dancing, screaming.

I ended my evening at the Afro-American Cultural Center where Chiara Klein played an ingratiating female political candidate named Hedda (Gabler). Which is to say: the short piece, developed by Li-Min Lin, Tracy Tserjing Huang, and Pei-Yu Chu, asked us to consider Ibsen’s heroine as a contemporary political candidate, or, put another way, asked us to consider how a certain contemporary political candidate might be like Hedda Gabler. There were a few dropped references to other characters in the play, but it seemed to me the piece could really have pushed the notion of Hedda finding fulfillment as a contested candidate. Certainly, the idea as both a take on Ibsen’s play and on some current views of women in power is intriguing.

Finally, a staged reading of Emely Selina Zepeda’s From Clay and Water, directed by Sebastian Arbodela, with Bianca Hooi as Girl, Bradley James Tejeda as Dad, and Haydee Antunano as Mom. The play looked at her parents’ effects upon a young, impressionable girl, who narrated her recollections and her parents’ interactions. She seemed to grow up questioning what kept her mother in the marriage and expressed a lingering frustration at never having intervened in any significant way. She also recalled moments about her father, such as how his drunk, amateurish guitar-playing and singing showed a vulnerable side not often shown, as he tended to be abusive or unresponsive. More than the dysfunction between the adults, however, what the play highlighted, to me, was how children, even when they become adults themselves, understand so little of the full story of their parents’ lives. The young perspective of the narrator seemed trapped in a kind of emotional solipsism, a perspective that sees the parents themselves as trapped but without realizing how limited her view is. The play worked best as Girl’s effort to overcome the limitations of her own family romance, while acknowledging her debt to her parents.

Unfortunately, I missed other offerings. The best feature of the Festival was getting a sense of the variety of talent and the many different kinds of work being done at YSD. In stretching over three days, the Festival worked best, I imagine, for students and patrons already in the vicinity of Park Street. Piling show upon show, as I did, tended to dilute the primacy of any particular event, but it created an effect a bit like a theater version of the Art School’s Open Studios, where the audience can drop by and see what students are up to, in this case receiving perspectives and approaches that may be more diverse, if less developed, than pooling all resources into one show per week.

As an interesting experiment for the Cab’s season, I wonder if the Satellite Festival will continue to develop in subsequent years.

 

The Satellite Festival

Someone to Watch Over Me
Created and performed by Andrew Burnap

Run Bambi
Music, words, movement and direction by Lex Brown
Lighting design by Elizabeth Green
Performers: Lex Brown, Kate Ruggeri, Aarica West
Project manager: Cindy Ji Hye Kim

Stop Drop and Shop: Explosions for the 21st Century
Created and performed by Christopher Ross-Ewart

Do All Daddies Have Grey Suits? A Memory Play
Conceptual Artist and Director: Aylin Tekiner
Illustrator Artist & Story Conception Collaborator: Kemal Gökhan Gürses
Artistic Director: Stuart Fishelson
Video Projection: Brittany Bland
Lighting Design: Carolina Ortiz
Sound Design: Ien DeNio
Costume Design: Katie Touart
Set Design: Izmir Ickbal & Zoe Hurwitz
Stage Manager: Francesca McKenzie
Video Composer/Editor: Gülcan Barut & Yusuf Bolat
Mandolin: Ian Scot
Artistic Advisor: Wendall Harrington
Technical Advisors: Larry Reed (Shadow Master) & Caryl Kientz
Graphic Assistant: Jessica Alva
Performers: Stefani Kuo, Li-Min Lin, Jennifeer Schmidt, Zoe Hurwitz, Jae Shin
Narrator: Dora Schwartzman

فریادا
Created by Shadi Ghaheri
Co-Directed by Chalia LaTour & Shadi Ghaheri
Performers: Stella Baker & Shadi Ghaheri
Dramaturg: Lynda Paul
Sound Design: Nok Kanchanabanca
Projection Design: Wladimiro Woyno Rodriguez
Light Design: Elizabeth Mak
Costume Design: Sarah Nietfeld
Technical Design: William Hartley
Stage Manager: Jake Lozano

Hedda, or What Will Gabler’s Daughter Do Next?
Collaboration by Li-Min Lin, Tracy Tserjing Huang, Pei-Yu Chu
Producer: Li-Min Lin
Costume Design: Sarah Nietfeld
Visual Design: Lih-Chyi Lin
Actors: Chiara Klein, Steven Koernig, Chad Kinsman
Special Thanks: Kimberly Jannarone

From Clay and Water
Playwright: Emely Selina Zepeda
Director: Sebastian Arbodela
Actors: Bianca Hooi, Bradley James Tejeda, Haydee Antunano

Yale Cabaret
April 7-9, 2016

Something New at the Cab

Preview of Satellite Festival, Yale Cabaret

With only two weeks left in its season, Yale Cabaret 48—led by its co-artistic directors David Bruin, Elijah Martinez, Leora Morris—has come up with something new. It’s called the Satellite Festival and it entails a series of performances and events at a trio of venues: the Yale Cabaret at 217 Park Street, the Afro-American Cultural Center (across the walkway), and the Annex at 205 Park Street.

The purpose of the new approach is to provide a moveable feast of experiences, many of them arranged by students working in disciplines that rarely get directly showcased. As most Cab patrons are aware, there is considerable behind-the-scenes talent on display at any Cabaret show, to say nothing of every Yale School of Drama show, and the Satellite Festival gives audiences a chance to see some of the work being done by Masters students in various disciplines at YSD, particularly Sound Design, and in other Yale graduate programs, and by visiting artists and fellows at Yale.

The festival works like this: there will be the usual 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. shows Thursday through Saturday, held at the Cab, but supplemented by several other offerings at other times at the other locations.

At the Cabaret, the multi-media and interdisciplinary program will consist of two shows: Run Bambi and Stop, Drop, and Shop: Explosions for the 21st Century. The first is written, composed, and directed by Lex Brown, of the Yale School of Art, “a poem in character sketch, song, rap, and text – a spastic movement about identity and moving through time” that explores “somebodies’ bodies.” The second, created and performed by Chris Ross-Ewart, YSD Sound Design third-year (and a regular contributor to Cab and Summer Cab shows), is a “performed sound design,” “an experimental opera” in workshop that looks at au courant consumerism, “using music, sound effects, audio and computer technology and improvised storytelling.” 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 11 p.m., Friday & Saturday, Yale Cabaret.

Previous to each evening’s Cab show, at 7 and 10 p.m. (10:15 on Saturday), the time during which food and drink is served at the Cab, there will be entertainment in the form of Someone to Watch Over Me, which features third-year YSD actor Andrew Burnap as jazz great Chet Baker, singer, trumpet player, and intense photo subject, once described as "James Dean, Sinatra, and Bix rolled into one." Burnap, who sings and plays trumpet, looks enough like Baker to provide an uncanny return of a star. Yale Cabaret

Armed with a wristband, purchased for $5 above the usual Cab show ticket price, audiences can view all of the following at any showtime.

The Afro-American Cultural Center hosts:

On Thursday at 9 and on Friday at midnight, From Clay and Water, written by Emely Zepeda, YSD third-year Stage Management, and directed by second-year YSD actor Sebastian Arboleda, a story about a family and a daughter trying to cope with the loss of her parents.

On Friday at 9: an audio storybook, The Children are Carried Off, by Ien DeNio, YSD Sound Design Intern, features a return to the abandon of childhood imagination.

On Saturday at 6, 9, and midnight: Prayers of the People / A Rite of Responsibility, created by little ray, Artist in Residence at Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and performed by little ray and Kate Marvin, YSD third-year Sound Design, combines theater and ritual practice to recreate the spiritual power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, aiming toward “reverent rememberance and principled action.”

The Annex hosts:

On Thursday at 9, on Friday at 9 and midnight, on Saturday at 9 and midnight: two shows together: فریادا  : created by Shadi Ghaheri, YSD first-year director, co-directed by Ghaheri and Chalia La Tour, YSD third-year actor and frequent Cab participant, and performed by Ghaheri and Stella Baker, YSD first-year actor, the show uses movement and media to explore how two women overcome language barriers to communicate with each other. And Do All Daddies Have Grey Suits? A Memory Play conceived and directed by Ummugulsum Aylin Tekiner, YSD Special Research Fellow, about the assassination of Turkish politician Zeki Tekiner in 1980, recreated through family memories as “a multi-disciplinary shadow performance.”

Other events in the Festival include:

Hedda, or What Will Gabler’s Daughter Do Next?, conceived by Li-Min Lin, YSD Special Research Fellow in Theater Management, and co-written with Tracy Tzerjing Huang, Thursday 8:45 p.m., Friday at 8:45 & 11:45 p.m., Afro-American Cultural Center

Vignette of a Recollection, created by Wladimiro A. Woyno R. (YSD Projection Design first-year), a virtual reality experience for audience, one-at-a-time, 2-3 minutes per person, Annex, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday between 6:30 and 8 p.m., and between 10 and 11:30 p.m.

The Chu, created by YSD third-year actor Jenelle Chu, a culinary approach to storytelling, during dinner hour at the Cabaret.

PRAYIN WOMANITS, a collective, open throughout the festival, featuring “lady hungry for institutional critique and the dissolution of the patriarchal status quo.”

So, sample the variety on view and see what avenues of experience open beyond the usual theater set-up. See you at the Cab, and environs.

For more information on each element in the festival: http://yalecabaret.org/48/shows

Buy Tickets

Yale Cabaret
April 7-9, 2016

Beware, Doll, You're Bound to Fall

Review of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Yale Cabaret

Tired of fame, film icon Greta Garbo declared, “I vant to be alone.” Petra von Kant, the heroine of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, is the kind of self-involved diva who can’t bear to be alone. Directed by Leora Morris with Jesse Rasmussen, Fassbinder’s meditation on the vagaries of passionate love is also a character study that plays into considerations of how, for instance, all of a star’s or a director’s relationships are scripted with a central player and a supporting cast.

Played by Sydney Lemmon with a lithe sense of grand dame status, Petra is a successful fashion designer who lords it over her underling Marlene (Anna Crivelli, icily Germanic in a silent role) and holds court in her bedroom. The room, in Christopher Thompson and Claire DeLiso’s lush set, is essentially a large double bed framed by chairs and settees, a table with a typewriter, a turntable with LPs, and the ever-important house-phone on a pedestal. There are diaphanous red drapes that sometimes are drawn or opened by Marlene, who acts as both factotum and voyeur.

Sydney Lemmon as Petra von Kant

Sydney Lemmon as Petra von Kant

What Marlene gazes upon, as do we, is the social and erotic life of Petra. The two sides come together quickly when a visit from her well-set-up cousin Sidonie (Annelise Lawson)—in which the two women share details of happy and unhappy marriages (Petra has had one of each)—results in Petra’s meeting with Sidonie’s young friend Karin (Baize Buzan). For Petra, the meeting seems to be love at first sight, or at least it’s a really hot meet. The next scene, when Karin calls alone upon Petra, who insists she should become a model, is filled with the expectation of seduction. Petra may be changeable and peremptory, but her attachment to Karin while egotistical is also vulnerable. Karin, played with deer-in-the-headlights allure by Buzan, seems ready to become whatever Petra wants her to be.

Then comes the crash, by degrees. Fassbinder’s heart is in this one and Petra’s suffering for her ideal of love is a masochist’s delight. Having made Karin an arbiter of her happiness, she can only be made unhappy by the least sign of her object’s indifference. And Buzan is wonderful at rendering the kind of erotic self-possession that drives Petra wild. And she’s able to do so while also seeming to be much younger than Lemmon, whose probing questions and efforts to manage her lover’s life as she does her own career reminded me of the assured but apprehensive tone often struck by Judy Davis.

Eventually, as Karin’s background comes out—the working-class father who lost his job and killed Karin’s mother in a drunken rage then hanged himself; the estranged husband in Australia—we can see that Petra’s attempts to makeover Karin are going to have more lasting effects on herself than on her protégé. The fact that Karin has not given up men—the more casual, the better—becomes the source of the title’s bitter tears. And of the vicious abuse of the user by the used.

In the birthday scene that follows Karin’s departure to meet her errant husband’s return, we see Petra go to pieces by abusing those still close to her: her young daughter Gabrielle (Leyla Levi), Sidonie, who comes bearing a gift, and Petra’s mother Valerie (Shaunette Renée Wilson). In each case, there’s a sense of the cost of loving someone like Petra, but there’s also a sense—key to the notion of a central player—that all these females depend upon her to some degree. And all are quite able to act out in their subordinate roles: Sidonie with indignation; Gabrielle with earnest need for approval; Valerie with long-suffering attachment.

Masochism, then, is in the nature of love for one’s superiors, however we interpret the latter term, and Fassbinder lets that play out, while Morris and Rasmussen manage to find a tone between melodrama and camp. In the end, Petra’s relatives are used to her, and Karin has not, perhaps, disappeared for good (why abandon a powerful supplicant?), while Petra may learn to give Marlene her due, if not too late.

What we’re left with, I suppose, is a hope that some mutually helpful caring can be reached in a reciprocal fashion, but is that possible when the ups and downs of emotional investment are here as volatile as an unstable stock market?

Mention as well for the excellent use of songs emanating from Petra’s turntable, particularly The Walker Brother’s highly apropos “In My Room,” with its grandiose melancholy. A perfect song for when you vant to be alone with your own bitter tears.

 

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
By Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Translated by Anthony Vivis
Directed by Leora Morris

Associate Director: Jesse Rasmussen; Dramaturg & Producer: Maria Inês Marques; Co-Scenic Designers: Christopher Thompson, Claire DeLiso; Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth Antunano; Co-Lighting Designers: Andrew F. Griffin Elizabeth Green; Sound Designer & Composition: Frederick Kennedy, Christopher Ross-Ewart; Stage Manager: Avery Trunko; Co-Technical Designers: Mike Best, Mitchell Crammond, Mitch Massaro, Sean Walters

Yale Cabaret, March 31-April 2, 2016

Strange Doings in the Scottish Borders

Preview of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, Arts & Ideas Festival

Annie Grace, of the National Theatre of Scotland, has performed in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart more than 400 times, all over the place. The troupe and their signature play are back in New Haven this weekend to kick off the 21st annual Arts & Ideas Festival and to give New Haveners a newer taste of a play that first played here on its first world tour back in 2012.

There are two new cast members this time, filling the essential roles of Prudencia (now played by Jessica Hardwick) and her rival Colin Syme (now played by Paul McCole), and then there’s the supporting cast of three (Grace, Paul MacKay and music director Alasdair Macrae) who play a whirlwind variety of supporting roles and many authentic instruments—Grace plays Scottish Border pipes, whistles, ukulele and the bodhran (a drum), and sings. Her “musical husband” Macrae plays fiddle and guitar and they’ve been collaborators on many projects and performances.

There’s another member of the cast as well: the audience.

As conceived and written by David Grieg, with the original members of the cast and director Wils Wilson, the show is designed to take place in a pub and it’s meant to involve the audience in sundry ways. “The audience is in close contact to the spectacle and becomes part of the show, that’s essential,” says Grace. Last time, Prudencia played in June in the backroom of the Wicked Wolf. This time, it’s found a more suitable locale at Gryphon’s Pub, the hang-out of Yale grad students tucked away off York Street (officially it’s The Graduate and Professional Student Club—or GPSCY—at Yale). Prudencia’s tale of sparring and romancing academics at a winter conference in Kelso in the Scottish Borders region should feel right at home.

The music and story, Grace says, were inspired by border ballads, such as Tam Lin, a tale of metamorphosis at the hands of a fairie queen. There’s also a run-in with the devil and much enchantment, as well as a ribald romp of a bacchanal. As Grace says, Prudencia is a straight-laced, buttoned-up sort, who is “actually a wee bit naughty but doesn’t realize it.” Stuck in a blizzard in the Scottish Borders, she comes to learn that “hell is a bed-and-breakfast in Kelso.”

Paul McCole, Jessica Hardwick, Annie Grace, Paul MacKay, Alasdair Macrae

Paul McCole, Jessica Hardwick, Annie Grace, Paul MacKay, Alasdair Macrae

Grace says Prudencia is a play “that keeps on giving,” an extended work “dear to our hearts because we helped create it.” Initially, Greig showed up with six pages of script and the basic idea. He had been working in site-specific theater for children and was eager to do the same thing for adults. And where do adults become most like children? Why, at a pub of course. The show has gone up in small halls and theaters as well but Grace says it’s not the same ambiance. In fact, a key comic scene takes place in a pub in the play—or a pub within a pub—where the cast gets to do knock-offs of the kind of folk scene one finds in Kelso. This time the tour will end in Kelso itself. One can only imagine the devilry the locals will get up to for that event—since the scenes set in the pub there were inspired by actual local performers that Greig encountered on his “fact-finding” visit to the town. So, instead of the kinds of ancient ballads Prudencia is keen to encounter, you get a laughable bollocks of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

No matter how many times they play their roles, Grace says, the troupe members are “always finding new things. David Greig is really a genius and the play is so very clever.” Most of the script is in verse and, Grace says, it sometimes takes a while for the audience to realize it. The devil, however, speaks prose and the scenes of satanic encounter strike a different note from the rest. There are also jokes about academia and popular culture and the once cutting-edge combination called “cultural studies.” “Colin is keen to bring folk studies into the twenty-first century,” Grace says, and Prudencia is less than amused by his fast and loose approach to their mutual discipline. Which makes for a lot of fun at the expense of both. Some of the references are starting to date a bit, Grace concedes, “iPods aren’t a new thing any more and are starting to be a bit passé.” Still, it’s not as if we didn’t all live through the early 21st century.

In looking for locales for the show, Grace says, the troupe needs a big room with good sight lines. “The play was conceived as a storytelling show—like 30 people sitting around a fire.” So it’s best with an audience of 120 max and tables and maybe a bit of drinking. In explaining the show and its setting, Grace refers to an old tradition: what it means “to have a song. Like a party piece, the thing you sing” that becomes your trademark, so to speak. Prudencia, she says, “has to find her song.”

And what better place to find a song—that’s also a tall tale, a quest for personal fulfillment, a journey of discovery, a research expedition, a romance, an enchantment, and a deal with the devil—than in the Scottish Borders, in the snow? Or in New Haven, in a pub.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart plays tonight, April 1, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 2, at 3 & 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 3, at 3 p.m.

 

International Festival of Arts & Ideas presents:
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
From the National Theatre of Scotland

Created by David Greig and Wils Wilson

Festival 2016

March 30-April 3, 2016
The Gryphon's Pub
204 York Street
New Haven

Stories that Demand to be Told

Preview of Lewiston at Long Wharf Theatre

Martin Moran is back at the Long Wharf where he has acted before some years ago and also work-shopped one of his own plays. An actor who has appeared in a wide variety of parts in over thirty years in theater, Moran has achieved renown as a memoirist able to recreate personal experience as enthralling monologues on the stage. His first effort, The Tricky Part, based on his prose memoir of the same name, won an Obie Award and two Drama Desk nominations in 2004. It’s a play about a seduction that occurred while he was a youth at a camp and then, years later, his path to confrontation with his abuser, who had been jailed for his sex crimes. Tricky stuff, indeed, but Moran has shown himself capable of finding the human dimension in uncomfortable material. His subsequent play, All the Rage, opened Off-Broadway in 2013 and investigates the problem of anger in a quest to understand his own lack of anger toward his abuser.

Moran first began writing for the stage in his thirties, finding “an imperative to tell certain stories.” His stories tend to draw on themes of forgiveness and redemption that derive their spirit from his Catholic upbringing, while his interest in writing comes from his father, a journalist in Denver where Moran grew up. He was, he says, “always in love with storytelling” and was very conscious of performing as an aspect of storytelling, realizing that “if you can talk it and walk it, you can write it.” Having the confidence that comes with building a successful acting career, Moran found himself able to write parts based on his own experience that he could bring to life on stage. He’s at work now on a commissioned play that, far from being a monologue, has 11 characters, none of which he’s the right age to play.

Martin Moran

Martin Moran

At Long Wharf he’s in rehearsals for the world premiere of a new play by MacArthur prize-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter, perhaps best known for his play The Whale which won a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play in 2013. Lewiston, Hunter’s new play, is set in Idaho, and Moran says the mid-west setting is one he feels very familiar with. Alice, an older woman, and Connor, her younger male roommate, played by Moran, live on a farm where they run a fireworks stand and are visited by the woman’s grand-daughter. With Alice and Connor willing to sell off their land for a condo in a new development, one of the issues in the play becomes a generational clash over land and the question of how to develop a plot that dates back to Lewis and Clark’s famed expedition.

Moran attended a reading of Hunter’s script in New York and loved it immediately. “Sam is a wonderful writer for the theater,” Moran said, with characters that “are very complex human beings” drawn with “compassion and empathy.” Long Wharf Artistic Director Gorden Edelstein likened Hunter’s work to staples of American theater such as William Inge and Tennessee Williams “in his delicate empathy with all the characters in his stories.”

The cast had been in rehearsals for a week when I spoke to Moran. When I asked if things were going as he expected, he replied that he expected the cast to dig deep into the characters and that’s exactly what they were doing, led by director Eric Ting who “understands the play and its characters so very well.” When I asked about surprises, Moran cited the presence and input of the fire marshal since there is considerable use of fireworks in the show. He also expressed surprise about which lines get laughs. “It’s a very funny play, very human,” but the laughs aren’t easily predictable.

Moran finds the fate of his character Connor “exciting and frightening.” “A day arrives—and everything changes,” he says. And that’s one of the lasting points of plays like Hunter’s that Moran finds so admirable: they let us see how people change.

Drawing upon the changes he has experienced in his changing career as both actor and writer, Moran, now in his mid-fifties, is well poised to portray the kind of change that gives a new lease on life in middle-age. Lewiston is about the kinds of challenges that come from family and from those around us, and about the kinds of challenges the future presents to the legacy of America.

Lewiston
By Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Eric Ting

Cast: Randy Danson (Alice), Arielle Goldman (Marnie), Martin Moran (Connor), and Lucy Owen (Female Voice). The creative team includes Wilson Chin (sets), Paloma Young (costumes), Matthew Richards (lighting), Brandon Wolcott (sound), and Charles M. Turner III (stage manager). Casting is by Calleri Casting. The production is sponsored by Whitney Center and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The production runs from April 6 to May 1, 2016 on Stage II. Tickets are $26 to $85. Press opening takes place April 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Stopping by the Diner on a Snowy Evening

Review of Bus Stop at New Haven Theater Company

William Inge’s Bus Stop, first staged in 1955, portrays a selection of American types with a “classic” glow—like cars with fins, girls in bobby-sox, and the films of James Dean, or Duke Wayne for that matter. You might say the tone of the play manages to navigate both worlds. Like Dean’s films, there’s a sense that something’s not quite right beneath the surface of an apparently everyday world, something that could become dangerous or at least darkly menacing, while, like most of Wayne’s films, it all comes out alright in the end—because people are people and basically decent.

In the New Haven Theater Company production, directed with appealing energy by George Kulp, the feel of the diner as a space and a presence is key. Thanks to materials NHTC borrowed from the Long Wharf Theatre and from the English Markets, the set has an authenticity that goes a long way to make us believe in Grace’s Diner, the familiar haunt of a few of the characters and, for a gaggle of bus passengers, the new surroundings in which they’re temporarily stranded while a blizzard closes the roads just west of Kansas City.

The diner’s owner, Grace Hoylard, played flinty but sympathetically by Susan Kulp, has a soft spot for two of the other regulars: her young, naïve but intelligent teen employee Elma Duckworth (Sara Courtemanche, in a confident debut), and Carl the bus driver (Erich Greene), a nonchalant man on the make. There’s also Sheriff Will Masters (Peter Chenot) who presides over the others with a level tone that Wayne himself would recognize, I reckon.

Then there are the passengers, most of whom are a bit flighty for the staid tones at Grace’s: Dr. Gerald Lyman (J. Kevin Smith), a seedy professor with a past and the blustering manner of someone used to soliloquizing; Cherie (Megan Chenot), a likable “chanteuse,” none too bright but having to learn to assert herself to withstand the self-involved importuning of Bo Decker (Trevor Williams), a prize-winning cowpoke who seems to think he’s a gift to womankind just by being alive. His sidekick, Virgil Blessing, is played by John Watson with a ruminative air that would do Walter Brennan proud.

The plot essentially serves two purposes: to help Bo and Dr. Lyman grow some awareness, and to make the women, Cherie and Elma, gain stature. The diner, as the arena where this happens, never stops being also a diner, which is to say a slice-of-life setting and a public space, and that means that we’re put in the place, almost, of eavesdroppers watching folks interact in public. Such is Inge’s very capable grasp of how theatrical real life can be, and how a public domain is useful to help a grandstanding cowboy see how he looks to others and snap out of his fantasy of himself, and to make a smooth-talking seducer of young girls consider his prey as a person in a community. Meanwhile, the women—who are not exactly what you’d call passive and easily led—have to see the limits of sympathy and excitement where male egos are concerned.

Finally, Inge also gives us a refreshingly non-anxious look at a grown-up man and woman (Carl and Grace) who agree to convenient liaisons without guilt-tripping about it. The pair are not likely to be anyone’s model couple, but Inge has the wherewithal to let them be themselves, without apology.

Kulp keeps his cast rattling along, playing things forthright without worrying too much about lurking nuances. Lyman never seems too creepy, and Bo never too vicious. Cherie and Elma both get grandstanding moments atop the diner’s counter, with Chenot rocking her chanteuse gown and Courtmanche’s high-school-style Juliet providing some welcome comedy, as does Watson’s many scowling reactions to his pardner’s incessant braggadocio.

New Haven Theater Company renders Bus Stop with a becoming purity, strengthened by Megan Chenot’s grasp of Cherie’s earnest manner, a mix of down-home charm and easy-going allure, and by Courtmanche’s dreamy young girl’s wonder about all the types it takes to make a world. With so much real feeling invested in this tale, this Bus Stop is an entertaining place to get stranded.

 

Bus Stop
By William Inge
Directed by George Kulp

Cast: Megan Keith Chenot, Peter Chenot, Sara Courtmanche, Erich Greene, Susan Kulp, J. Kevin Smith John Watson, Trevor Williams

Stage Manager: Margaret Mann; Set Design & Construction: George Kulp; Lighting: Peter Chenot; Board Ops: Deena Nicol-Blifford, Margaret Mann

New Haven Theater Company
March 3-5 & 9-12, 2016

God Save the Queens

Review of And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens at Yale Cabaret

First-year Yale School of Drama director Rory Pelsue and first-year actor Patrick Madden offer stunning Yale Cabaret debuts with Tennessee Williams’ one act And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, a title that riffs off Shakespeare’s Richard II and, by the time it shows up as a line in the play, attempts to add levity. Which is worth noting because, though this is a sad story, it isn’t, finally, a tragedy.

Candy (Patrick Madden) is a drag queen when at home, but when we first meet her, in the midst of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, she is a he, playing host, in a rather “out” manner, to an ostensibly straight sailor, Karl (Jamie Bogyo), who seems ill-at-ease with the implications of fraternizing with Candy, even as he seems transfixed by his host’s charm and charisma.

Jamie Bogyo (Karl), Patrick Madden (Candy)

Jamie Bogyo (Karl), Patrick Madden (Candy)

Madden’s assured performance luxuriates in Candy’s fascination; something of a figment of her own fantasy, she is also very much a familiar figure from Williams’ subsequent plays. It’s long been my contention that Streetcar should be staged with a drag queen or transgendered actress as Blanche, and Candy in many ways anticipates such casting, making us see the drag queen at the heart of many of Williams’ female characters. Which is not to say that Williams or Madden or Pelsue are content with “female impersonation.” The subtlety of Candy’s demeanor is the point; it’s a performance of a character whose reality is an achieved performance.

Even when she gets ruthless with an apparently well-meaning gay couple who rent from her, Candy’s bitchiness indicates Williams knowing sense of how someone like Candy survives. Successful as an interior decorator, Candy—in a play written in 1957—is fully cognizant of the influence and fascination of queer culture for straight America, which, she says, would be “barbarian” without queens.

Patrick Madden (Candy)

Patrick Madden (Candy)

An indication of her taste is her apartment, which co-scenic designers Lucie Dawkins and Sarah Nietfeld drench in a florid Japonisme that lets us know at once that Candy identifies with aesthetes of the previous century, such as James McNeill Whistler. But the ersatz Japanese theme, c. 1950, would also be perfect for a boudoir intended to lure service-men, like Karl, whose sense of what “decadence” means would come from “the East.” Perhaps it should suffice to say that Japonisme in New Orleans’ French Quarter immediately characterizes Candy as decadence redux.

The question hovering over Candy’s passive-aggressive seduction of Karl is how much of a barbarian is he. And Williams—per usual—gets dramatic mileage out of the punishment that straight society seems all-too-glad to dole out to its “deviants.” Karl, in Bogyo’s nicely laconic performance, is a user and a bully who, occasionally—and Candy wants to believe in it as a saving grace—seems willing to play his role in Candy’s protracted fantasy. The audience looks on aghast, knowing this has to end badly. And Alvin (Steven Lee Johnson) and Jerry (Josh Wilder) from downstairs know so too. As a one-act, the foregone conclusion doesn’t hurt—we’re uncertain how bad it is going to get and can be relieved that things don’t get worse.

The anxiety we feel for Candy is very much the main take-away here, as her previous life with her “husband,” a sheltering “sponsor,” has made her too secure, financially, and too insecure, emotionally, to register fully the threat that lurks in manipulating someone like Karl. In our day, with a public more aware of the transgendered and of the fatalities, from violence and suicide, that indict straight culture, we might wonder what Williams’ play, had it been produced during the playwright’s very successful run of plays in the 1950s, might have done to create more awareness and understanding. Not much, probably, since the queer themes in Williams’ best-known plays tended to be minimized for mass consumption, such as in Hollywood movies. And that’s why seeing Candy on stage now is both timely and telling. Bravo!

 

And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Rory Pelsue

Dramaturg: Catherine María Rodriguez; Co-Scenic Designers: Lucie Dawkins, Sarah Nietfeld; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy; Scenic Charge: Dan Cogan; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson; Co-Producers: Al Heartley, Rachel Shuey

Yale Cabaret
March 3-5, 2016

The Ghost of a Chance

Review of I Hate Hamlet at Playhouse on Park

Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet, directed by Vince Tycer at Playhouse on Park, reads like an amiable sit-com where the hero, an actor, could easily be a Bob Denver or Michael J. Fox type who finds himself having to undergo “growth”—for the sake of laughs and, ultimately, some theatrical values.

Andrew (Dan Whelton) is a successful TV actor who has recently—all the furniture still has sheets on it—moved into a Tudor-looking apartment in New York, formerly owned by John Barrymore, one of the preeminent Shakespearean actors of his era. This isn’t a selling point for Andrew, but is for his girlfriend Deirdre, a budding actress who adores the Bard. So there you have the two strains of Rudnick’s universe: the Bardolators vs. those who are sick of having Shakespeare rammed down their throats. In fact, if the play were called “I’m Sick of Shakespeare” it might have more to offer: at least there would be the hope that the script would do take-offs on the robustious over-acting and posturing that oftentimes goes by the name of “Shakespearean acting.” But that’s not the target here. Rather, an impromptu séance led by Andrew’s real estate agent, Felicia (Julia Hochner) and including his theatrical agent Lillian (Ruth Neaveill) leads to an appearance—at first for Andrew’s eyes only—of the ghost of Barrymore himself (played with great ease of manner and an air of grand noblesse oblige by Ezra Barnes, in a becoming “suit of solemn black,” with tights, cape and codpiece, by Soule Golden).

Ezra Barnes (John Barrymore)

Ezra Barnes (John Barrymore)

Barrymore has returned from the dead, you see, tasked with the duty of making Andrew accept and, if possible, shine in the role of Hamlet in the park. But that doesn’t mean this is a primer in how to act Hamlet—Barrymore’s only real advice on that score is Hamlet’s advice to the players, pretty much stolen verbatim—or even on how to use Hamlet as a foil for the actor’s own agenda. Andrew doesn’t really have one of those, except to vacillate like a whiny Hamlet and wish his virginal fiancée would consent to making the beast with two backs. One of the more humorous moments on that score is when he finds out, to his surprise, that the surest way to fan her flame is to fume with “get thee to a nunnery.”

Dan Whelton (Andrew), Susan Slotoroff (Deirdre), David Lanson (Gary)

Dan Whelton (Andrew), Susan Slotoroff (Deirdre), David Lanson (Gary)

There’s also tame fun at the expense of an L.A. agent who can’t wait to get Andrew away from the footlights and back before the television cameras—David Lanson plays Gary as an earnest guy for whom the point of show biz is making the most money from the biggest show. There’s not much to be gained, except maybe some grudging respect from drama critics, by humbling oneself live each night as Hamlet outdoors. Maybe when Rudnick’s play opened, back in 1991, L.A. types were fresher as a concept, but as it stands now, the show-biz part of the show is a bit like watching a re-run to catch someone’s early work.

Ezra Barnes (John Barrymore), Ruth Neaveill (Lillian)

Ezra Barnes (John Barrymore), Ruth Neaveill (Lillian)

So, in lieu of big laughs at the expense of Shakespearean rhetoric or of show-biz neurotics, the high point of the show is a touching moment of middle-aged amour. Lillian, you see, once had a fling with the oft-flinging, iamb-slinging Barrymore and the scene in which their old times hover around them again as a possible present—Barrymore is a substantial ghost and can control who sees him and who doesn’t—is tinged with sweet sincerity. Much more so, on that score, than the amorous jousting of Andrew and Deirdre, even if she does melt once he does his duty—and takes his lumps—trying to talk the talk of the melancholy Dane. And the sword-fight between Barrymore and Andrew is pretty good too.

Ezra Barnes (John Barrymore), Dan Whelton (Andrew)

Ezra Barnes (John Barrymore), Dan Whelton (Andrew)

Then there’s the play’s other high point: Whelton’s growth moment. It’s not that Andrew becomes a Hamlet worthy of Barrymore, nor probably even a Hamlet worthy of Central Park, but that he comes to realize the value of live performance. His speech about seeing the Bard’s words connect with a kid, bored and uneasy a moment before, who suddenly cares whether or not the Prince will decide to be or not, ropes in all us easy marks, ready to be reassured about the meaning and prestige of live theater over the more commercial variety commandeered by clips and edits. Whatever Andrew’s merits as actor (or lover), we see that at least he’s learning what it means to have presence.

And if you should be present for I Hate Hamlet, you’ll find a game cast that earns its applause in this easy-going play.

 

I Hate Hamlet
By Paul Rudnick
Directed by Vince Tycer

Sound Designer: Joel Abbott; Scenic Designer: Emily Nichols; Lighting Designer: Marcus Abbott; Costume Designer: Soule Golden; Properties Master: Pamela Lang; Photos: Rich Wagner

Cast: Ezra Barnes, Julia Hochner, David Lanson, Ruth Neaveill, Susan Slotoroff, Dan Whelton

Playhouse on Park
February 24-March 13, 2016

 

 

Only to Go to Norwalk

Review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Music Theatre of Connecticut

An academic couple, obsessed with theater in Bucks County, PA, raise a brood they name after Chekhov characters. When we meet them, the progeny are middle-aged and mom and dad are just a memory. Vanya (Jim Schilling) lives with adopted sister Sonia (Cynthia Hannah) in a house supported by sister Masha (Jodi Stevens)—the way Vanya and niece Sonya live on an estate that supports his academic former brother-in-law, her father, in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Masha, divorced five times, is an aging film star, best-known for the many sequels of Sexy Killer, a slasher movie and cash-cow that sustains her career, though she’d rather be playing classic theatrical roles like her parents did—particularly her namesake Masha, the dissatisfied married sister in Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Vanya (Jim Schilling), Masha (Jodi Stevens), Sonia (Cynthia Hannah)

Vanya (Jim Schilling), Masha (Jodi Stevens), Sonia (Cynthia Hannah)

Every inch a grand diva in her own mind—like Irina, the grande dame in Chekhov’s The Seagull—Masha returns for a visit to the area with her new boy-toy Spike (Christopher DeRosa), who enjoys disrobing in company. She plans to attend a fancy dress party nearby with a theme she expects everyone to sign onto: Snow White and her attendant dwarfs; Sonia’s insistence on playing Maggie Smith playing the Wicked Queen makes for a delightful battle of sisterly wills.

Cynthia Hannah (Sonia)

Cynthia Hannah (Sonia)

For additional comedy and complications, we have: Nina (Carissa Massaro), an utterly guileless local teen fan of Masha whom Spike may be taking a shine to and who may become Vanya’s muse, as Nina does for Konstantin in The Seagull, and a cleaning woman named Cassandra (Katie Sparer), who, like her namesake in ancient Greek myth, tends to mouth unheeded warnings. The cast enters into the comic spirit with full sails, with Stevens particularly well cast in a role originated on Broadway by Sigourney Weaver.

Jodi Stevens (Masha), Christopher DeRosa (Spike)

Jodi Stevens (Masha), Christopher DeRosa (Spike)

The plot’s thinness makes dialogue drive the play. Durang masters a low-key comedy that winks at the ennui and gloom of the usual Chekhovian drama, while aping ironically the bright zest of sit-com-like patter. Any character is apt at any time to deliver a bathetic bon mot or give a terse existential tweak to someone else’s pleasantry. Directed with perhaps a bit too much respect for the material by Pamela Hill (which means the show runs longer and more slowly than it should), Durang’s play is best when it feels like a modern drama class adopting a modern classic for TV viewers. The laughs come from the incongruity and from the fact that each character is a self-involved cartoon. And in that, it is an apt mirror for our era where “the selfie” replaced the Self.

Carissa Massaro (Nina), Christopher DeRosa (Spike)

Carissa Massaro (Nina), Christopher DeRosa (Spike)

Cartoonish and gently satirical, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won the Tony for Best Play in 2013, recent enough to feel startlingly contemporary, with its sense of the social landscape as influenced by online life, while playing with knowing familiarity on the kind of family dramas that have long been mainstays of theater, from Chekhov to O’Neill and on. Sonia, who Hannah plays as a basically agreeable and sympathetic matron who may be reaching the end of her tether, has a tendency to call the family’s stand of 10 or so cherry trees “a cherry orchard.”

Cynthia Hannah (Sonia), Jodi Stevens (Masha), Jim Schilling (Vanya)

Cynthia Hannah (Sonia), Jodi Stevens (Masha), Jim Schilling (Vanya)

She also tends to watch for a heron by the pond and to claim her kinship with wild turkeys. As the adopted, unnecessary sister, she’s an amusing collection of misgivings, hurt feelings, and resentment, a perfect foil for Vanya, a nebbishy n’er-do-well, who, like his namesake, believes that life has passed him by, even while hoping to achieve something worthwhile before it’s all over. Schilling’s second act harangue has the jocular and despairing delivery of a man giving up on a world that already gave up on him, and feels decidedly apropos for the Norwalk-Westport area as comfortably removed from the action in the City.

Jim Schilling (Vanya)

Jim Schilling (Vanya)

Durang has written more biting and loopier plays, but this one has the likable oddity of neighbors we try to get on with even while finding them resistant to our sympathies. It’s as if the Chekhovian veneer that sustains much naturalistic drama has been allowed to molder until our irreverent American under-paint shows through. MTC’s production, with its comfortable set and intimate thrust space keeps actors and audience on the same level and makes this living-room comedy feel appreciably lived-in and immediate.

 

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Pamela Hill

Costume Design: Diane Vanderkroef; Scenic Design: Carl Tallent; Lighting Design: Joshua Scherr; Sound Design: Sarah Pero; Stage Manager: Cameron Nadler

Cast: Christopher DeRosa; Cynthia Hannah; Carissa Massaro; Jim Schilling; Katie Sparer; Jodi Stevens

Music Theatre of Connecticut Mainstage
February 26-March 13, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rocky Path for Lovers

Review of Romeo & Juliet at Hartford Stage

Scenic design is an integral part of the theater-viewing experience. It can be transformative; it can be unobtrusive; it can be a distinctively theatrical environment; it can seem like an actual place you could inhabit. The choices made to convey a play to us take on concrete shape with the set’s design and orientation.

Director Darko Tresnjak’s scenic design for the Hartford Stage’s production of Romeo & Juliet chooses to place “Shakespeare’s most popular play” (as the press packet reads) in a post-war Italy influenced by Neorealist filmmakers, such as Pasolini and de Sica, a decision that gives us a very austere setting, with a backdrop of vertical graves as in a mausoleum, with small vases tended now and then by attendants (one great virtue of this R&J is that it has a cast large enough to have extras). Gone is any sense of Italy's sensuality; in its place is a sterile, barren presence that never lets up.

Kaliswa Brewster (Juliet)

Kaliswa Brewster (Juliet)

Worse, center stage is a pit of gravel. The first time boots tread across the space, accompanied by speech, we become aware of why this wasn’t such a good idea. Do we want our Shakespeare accompanied by noisy rocks and stones and worse than senseless things? After all, these characters aren’t speaking Italian with subtitles, nor are they speaking Fifties-ish lingo. They are speaking Elizabethan poetry, which, generally speaking, we like to hear as clearly as possible, unmarred by unnecessary sound effects. At one point, the pit seems intended as a swimming pool, with Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) in flippers and bathing suit, and that does add a touch more color, incongruous as it might seem, to the drabness.

Wyatt Fenner (Mercutio), Alex Hanna (Benvolio), Chris Ghaffari (Romeo) and Ensemble

Wyatt Fenner (Mercutio), Alex Hanna (Benvolio), Chris Ghaffari (Romeo) and Ensemble

I could say more about the moving slab that becomes a balcony and the rising and lowering slab that becomes a marital bed for the lovers, but let’s just leave it at: unprepossessing. For some viewers these matters might mean less than nothing as they are transported to another world by their wonder at Shakespeare’s language and control of this very deft plot; I’m not of their number.

Kandis Chappell (Nurse), Chris Ghaffari (Romeo), Charles Janasz (Friar Laurence)

Kandis Chappell (Nurse), Chris Ghaffari (Romeo), Charles Janasz (Friar Laurence)

And that’s not due to the fact that this is an overly familiar play. Watching it, as with most Shakespeare plays, one is surprised that there’s always more to learn. Here, we learn how very important Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz) and Juliet’s Nurse (Kandis Chappell) are, because they are the two best performances in the show. Indeed, Janasz’s tongue-lashing to Romeo is only bettered by his woeful, at-wit’s-end explanation of what went wrong, addressed to a stern Escalus (Bill Christ) at the play’s close. And Chappell’s reactions, even when silent, speak volumes. Her face when she finally realizes Juliet is mourning more for Romeo than for Tybalt registers an almost frightened acknowledgement of youthful passion. The scene when she counsels giving up on Romeo and marrying Paris (Julien Seredowych) as Capulet (Timothy D. Stickney) commands is also fraught with a dissembling that speaks volumes about her underling status.

The principal roles are spottier. As Romeo, Chris Ghaffari is boyish and energetic, able to climb up to and down from the balcony slab with impressive ease, but any sense of Romeo as morose or lovesick—as he should be when we meet him—never materializes. And he’s much better at banter and challenge than he is at the passionate declarations required in the denouement. Kaliswa Brewster fares better as Juliet, swaying her Nurse with the passion of her love for Romeo and finding depth and tears in the “banished” speech, but she also has a tendency to proclaim earnestly more often than find a register that can carry her from pertness to pathos and back. Together they don’t really ignite, and their best scene has them lying on their sides, their body language expressing the yearning that’s stirring them.

Chris Ghaffari (Romeo), Kaliswa Brewster (Juliet)

Chris Ghaffari (Romeo), Kaliswa Brewster (Juliet)

And Mercutio? This time he’s more a nerd—with his pedal-pusher braces and bicycle—than a fop (the typical rendition), and Fenner knows how to deliver the poetry of his speech about Queen Mab, and that makes him a welcome addition here. The Montagues don’t have all that much to do, and, as Juliet’s parents, Thomas D. Stickney enacts fed-up anger well and Celeste Ciulla seems the most at home in the Neorealist trappings, looking like a Rosselini heroine, cigarette and all. Robert Hannon Davis, who plays Romeo’s stiff of a dad, makes more of an impression as a truly scary Apothecary, and Alex Hanna’s Benvolio is apt.

The best things about the look of the show are Ilona Somogyi’s costumes—Juliet’s go-to-be-shrived outfit is quite fetching—and Matthew Richards’ lighting design, which makes for some interesting effects against that somber, tomblike backdrop. The notion that Italy’s war dead serve as those fallen to Capulet vs. Montague intrigues is more suggestive than satisfactory, but the set’s sense of gloom does serve to underline all the misgivings and the willingness to die expressed often enough. This is a Romeo & Juliet where the couple’s brief flame of love seems a stray moment in an enduring culture of mourning. Doom’s the word.

 

William Shakespeare’s
Romeo & Juliet
Directed by Darko Tresnjak

Scenic Design: Darko Tresnjak; Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi; Lighting Design: Matthew Richards; Sound Design: Jane Shaw; Wig Design: Mark Adam Rampmeyer; Associate Scenic Deisgner: Colin McGurk; Dramaturg: Elizabeth Williamson; Fight Choreographer: Steve Rankin; Vocal & Text Coach: Claudia Hill-Sparks; Casting: Binder Casting; Productioin Stage Manager: Robyn M. Zalewski; Assistant Stage Manager: Brae Singleton; Production Manager: Bryan T. Holcombe; Associate Artistic Director: Elizabeth Williamson

Cast: Callie Beaulieu; Kaliswa Brewster; Michael Buckhout; Kandis Chappell; Bill Christ; Celeste Ciulla; Robert Hannon Davis; Jonathan Louis Dent; Wyatt Fenner; Chris Ghaffari; Alex Hanna; Olivia Hoffman; Charles Janasz; Raphael Massie; Stephen Mir; Ella Mora; Stephen James Potter; Jenna Rapisdara; Alex Schneps; Mac Schonher; Julien Seredowych; Timothy D. Stickney

Hartford Stage
February 11-March 20, 2016

 

 

 

 

The Bounds of Brotherhood

Review of Dutch Masters at Yale Cabaret

Two teens on a New York subway riding up through Harlem in the 1990s. One an aggressively outgoing black kid, Eric (Leland Fowler), the other a timid and anxious white kid, Steve (Edmund Donovan). In the course of the play both will expose a lot about themselves, and they also expose a lot about the nexus of class, race, privilege that defines social boundaries in our times. How close to friendship can these two really be, even though (we learn) that Steve is an enthusiast of black popular culture, such as rap and Richard Pryor and famous black athletes? The divide between them, which is obvious enough from the start, as Steve tries to stay on Eric’s good side, allowing himself to be intimidated into leaving the train to smoke a blunt with his new pal, becomes more marked when we learn of a connection between them in the past.

At that point, with Steve now Eric’s guest, of sorts, new anxieties surface because of the many ways in which Steve might offend his host, who is exposing anxieties of his own. It’s then that this gripping play, full of wonderful back and forth dialogue and resounding portrayals of the young protagonists by Fowler and Donovan, begins to push things a bit for the sake of dramatic effect. It gets manipulative, but retains—in Luke Harlan’s clear directorial grasp—a focus on the possibilities these characters suggest. Though I’d prefer a denouement in which they who could get down to cases without waving weapons around, Keller’s sense of how “the street” makes its presence felt in any meeting between characters like these keeps the shocks plausible. There are inconsistencies, but nothing too damning. Unlike LeRoi Jones’ Dutchman, which it echoes initially, Keller’s play stays within the bounds of naturalism in a situation where one stranger can play a head-trip on another, particularly when one of the two knows a lot more than he tells at first.

Leland Fowler (Eric), Edmund Donovan (Steve); photo by Christopher Thompson

Leland Fowler (Eric), Edmund Donovan (Steve); photo by Christopher Thompson

The actors in the show are nothing short of amazing. As the mercurial Eric, Fowler has to run through a vast range of attitudes, putting the audience and Steve on guard and then disarming both. He’s amusing and looking to be amused, but he’s also shrewd, knowing, forthright, and occasionally menacing, if only in fun. He could be a con man or he could be someone trying to establish his credibility. He’s sort of the worst nightmare of any insecure white kid trying to maintain some sense of street cred on black turf, and Donovan has Eric down all the way: slack-mouthed, eager to be (and used to being) liked, curious, seemingly open but really closed-off in ways that his evening with Eric will bring to the fore. His stoned call to his mother’s voice-mail is both comic and sad, and that’s the way much of the interaction plays out here. Until it gets very emotional.

A good case in point about the tone of Keller’s dialogue—that I can cite without giving too much away—is the conversation about Dutch Masters that the boys get into while smoking the powerful blunt Eric rolls using the familiar cigar brand as his rolling papers. He points out, rightly, that the Dutch were “masters” through the slave trade. Steve thinks the name is a reference to Dutch masters of painting, such as Rembrandt, whose painting of the masters of the drapers’ guild graces the packaging. Both concede they might be wrong, but Eric sees the irony in rappers referencing “dutches” as part of their lingo, sort of turning the tables on “the masters.” Inspired by their shared laughter, Steve tells a story of how some black kids struck him when his high school basketball team came to their school. It’s an effort to ingratiate himself—a black kid on his team helps him keep his cool—but falls flat because who is “master” of a situation, such as the conversation itself, is at stake.

Much in the dialogue works that way with signals misread or misdirected and even seemingly genuine emotion “staged” to make the other character react. If either actor were less likable, we might be willing to side with the other, but each keeps us hoping that there will be some way they might find an “us against them” ground of shared fellowship. Occasionally such possibilities flit across their faces, but there’s always some other claim to be made against it. Is it a claim made by pride, by social injustice, by racism, by duty towards their moms or their peers, or by distaste with having to make allowances, or with false feeling? Keller’s script contains a wide range of reasons these two could and should be uncomfortable with each other and plays on hopes that they’ll work it out somehow, and even hopes some might have for a more shattering comeuppance for one character or the other.

The set by Choul Lee, consisting of three main playing spaces—subway, park, and “livingroom”—are spread out in the Cab’s small space and help to underline that these are three distinct areas to be explored. The boys are strangers on the subway, together in the park, and either friends or enemies by the end of their time in the room.  Dutch Masters is a lively play, masterfully staged, and is likely to get people talking.

 

Dutch Masters
By Greg Keller
Directed by Luke Harlan

Dramaturg: Taylor Barfield; Scenic Designer: Choul Lee; Costume Designer: Edmund Donovan; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Co-Sound Designer: Matthew Fischer; Co-Sound Designer: Ian Scot; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson; Producer: Libby Peterson

Yale Cabaret
February 25-27, 2016

 

 

 

 

The People's War

Review of Escuela at Yale Repertory Theatre

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to join a cell committed to revolutionary violence, check out Guillermo Calderón’s Escuela, playing for three nights at the Iseman Theater as part of the Yale Repertory Theatre’s No Boundaries series. Calderón both wrote and directs the play, whose title is simply “School” in Spanish, as a means to present a generation of activists in 1980s’ Chile largely ignored now because of their willingness to resort to terrorist violence to overthrow the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet. The five member cast—two men, three women—enact both the roles of instructors or experts and of students as they move through such topics as correct handgun protocol, how to plant a bomb and light its fuse, how to identify and counteract psychological warfare, and how it is that capitalists control everything.

As the cast wears scarves that mask their faces throughout the play and speak in Spanish with English subtitles, audiences can expect a bit of alienation. Happily, though, the stringent, didactic tone of the lessons is easied by odd, off-beat bits of human curiosity, vanity, naïvete. First of all, there’s something inherently hopeless in the methods—as in knocking out electricity in the slums so that the police won’t come in—and something misguidedly heroic, or laughably uncertain, about key instructions: “how far should we run after lighting the fuse?” “As far as you can.” Or when the handgun expert coolly demonstrates how to kill three adversaries armed with guns firing hundreds of rounds as though choreographing a scene in a Lethal Weapon movie with himself as hero.

But the comedy of what almost seems a support group for folks with revolutionary proclivities only appears fitfully. At other times the songs sung—as in “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh”—and the shared ethos evoked might also create a creeping memory of the era when the Weatherman or the Baader-Meinhof group grabbed headlines by trying to bring down the authorities—aka “the Pigs” (and sure enough one instructor draws a police-pig on the chalkboard)—upon their committed, anarchic activities. Somewhere between those days, in which the radical Left struggled against the mainstream forces of oppression, and events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, or the bomb at the Boston Marathon, the opprobrium upon violent tactics as inherently terrorist, in the name of no matter what cause or gripe, has undermined the romance with revolution that, perhaps, Escuela wants to revisit.

Transposed from Chile, where it should remind some of a past they may have forgotten and instruct the young about what went down, Escuela might easily provoke censure from a civic mind-set that repudiates the ethics of violent overthrow, but, if so, it must be allowed that Calderón is clear about the banality of evil. The characters in his play are clearly not villains, if only because they seem so obvious about their misgivings and off-hand attempts at solidarity.

With a blackboard, a slide projector, a handgun, a bomb prop, and a guitar, the five conspirators seem exemplars of both the basis of revolutionary acts as well as the virtues of basic theater. And as theater, Escuela has its virtues, though its pacing, like a late night class, feels at times a bit pro forma, as if the students themselves are being attentive out of politeness rather than zeal. One would welcome some raised voices of disagreement or more tension caused by fear or by stronger versus lesser opposition, if only for the sake of drama. There are subtle differences among the conspirators but one would be hard-pressed to break through the anonymity they see as a means to escape identification.

And maybe it's true that a theater, like a politics, that relies upon heroes and leaders and self-involved characters is unlikely to ever achieve a breakthrough for the good of all. In Escuela, the lesson, as theater, as politics, is more nostalgic than revolutionary, seeming to belong to what was rather than shaping what may be coming.

 

Escuela
Written and directed by Guillermo Calderón

Assistant Director: María Paz González; Design and Technician: Loreto Martínez; Musical Arrangements: Felipe Borquez; Tour Manager: Elvira Wielandt

Performers: Camila González Brito; Luis Cerda; Andrea Laura Giadach Cristensen; Carlos Ugarte Díaz; Francisca Lewin

Yale Repertory Theatre
February 24-26, 2016

Drop by the Bus Stop

Preview of Bus Stop, New Haven Theater Company

In the backroom of the English Building Markets, there’s a new diner. Or rather, an old diner. Dating from 1955, to be exact. It’s the set—still under construction—for New Haven Theater Company’s upcoming production of William Inge’s classic play of Americana, Bus Stop, and, boy, does it look authentic. Complete with the spinning stools you might remember from your favorite drugstore soda counter (if you remember those at all), a Beechnut Coffee tin, glass bottles of milk, a Frigidaire, and a radio that looks like it was around to broadcast on VE Day, Grace’s diner, where Bus Stop takes place during a freak blizzard in Kansas in March, has ambiance aplenty.

Director George Kulp expressed his deep gratitude to the Long Wharf Theatre, which generously opened its scenery and costume warehouses for the NHTC’s use. Which makes the show a dream come true for Kulp, who played headstrong cowboy Bo Decker in an exam play staged when he was still a theater student back in 1982. “The part was good to me and got me some attention,” Kulp said, and recently, when the process of picking plays for the NHTC season was taking longer than usual, “the play crossed my mind again.” The first thing Kulp realized was that he has the perfect assortment of actors for the play. Kulp asked his fellow NHTCers to read the play and casting fell into place immediately.

First of all, the play brings back Megan Chenot to the NHTC stage—last seen as the Stage Manager in their production of Our Town two years ago—who is taking time off from her busy performance schedule with her band Mission O. She plays Cherie, a small-time show-girl from the Ozarks and the female love interest of Bo, a cowboy trying to get her to marry him and move to Montana, played here by Trevor Williams who has the kind of youthful energy to pass for early twenties. The youngest part in the production—impressionable teen waitress Elma—goes to Sara Courtmanche, in her NHTC debut.

Other roles are filled by some of the familiar regulars in the NHTC family: Megan’s husband, Peter, a welcome addition to any NHTC show, whether as star or support, plays no-nonsense Sheriff Will Masters; J. Kevin Smith, who has had his share of plum roles with NHTC, as for instance in Glengarry Glen Ross and The Seafarer, plays Dr. Lyman, a pontificating ex-prof, who delights a bit too much in a nip from the bottle, among other vices; Erich Greene, often in the role of comic support, plays Carl, the Bus Driver, who has designs on Grace, the owner of the establishment, played forthright and down-homey by Kulp’s wife Susan (the Kulps played the Webbs in Our Town); John Watson gets the role of Bo’s crusty sidekick and father figure, Virgil.

Trevor Williams, Megan Chenot, John Watson, Sara Courtmanche, J. Kevin Smith, Peter Chenot, Susan Kulp, Erich Greene

Trevor Williams, Megan Chenot, John Watson, Sara Courtmanche, J. Kevin Smith, Peter Chenot, Susan Kulp, Erich Greene

“The play is better than I remembered,” Kulp said, and admitted that when he played Bo, “I was only focused on my role and really didn’t see how well the parts fit together. There are a lot of possibilities for us to explore, and a lot of discoveries to make about these characters. And we’re finding the humor.”

Bus Stop, set in a distinct place—a stretch of Kansas on the bus route to Kansas City—and period, is “a really good choice” for the Company, Kulp said. Indeed, NHTC has shown an affinity with classic American theater in its productions of Our Town and Waiting for Lefty. The pacing of naturalist drama suits the NHTC ensemble approach, with everyone contributing to the overall effect. The challenge here is that most of the cast is on stage at the same time, with different configurations taking up the main action. It requires a bit more orchestration than something like Almost, Maine, which the NHTC staged at English Markets in 2013, where the action was parceled out in discrete scenes. Kulp said he finds the challenge exciting, while fans of NHTC who have enjoyed some of their larger cast productions should be pleased by the overlapping interactions.

While Inge might not be a playwright on the tip of everyone’s tongue, there was a revival of his play Picnic on Broadway in 2013, and Kulp feels Bus Stop is just as good, if not better. “Both hail from a more innocent time we can be nostalgic about, but Inge is good at exposing the different layers of his characters.” And, as Smith says, his role, Dr. Lyman, excised from the Hollywood film version of the play (in which Marilyn Monroe played Cherie), lets us hear more of the kind of jaundiced views closer to Inge himself who didn’t set out to write venerable classics.

And what about a blizzard in March? Kulp said the special effects will be convincing, but let’s hope the play’s not prophetic in that regard.

The New Haven Theater Company’s production of Bus Stop opens Thursday, March 3rd and plays March 4th, 5th, 10th, 11th, 12th at 839 Chapel Street.

On With the Cab

The much anticipated and celebrated annual Yale School of Drama Drag Show has come and gone, and this week the Cabaret resumes its regular season, with one more show in February, two in March and two in April. That’s five more chances to check out Season 48 ere it’s o’er.

Next up is Cabaret 14: Dutch Masters, a play by actor/author Greg Keller (who has played on the Yale Rep stage, notably in Belleville a few years back). Proposed by second-year YSD actors Leland Fowler and Edmund Donovan (who both did great work in last year’s Cab season in 50:13 and Quartet, respectively), the show will be directed by Luke Harlan, whose thesis show The Skin of Our Teeth pulled out all the stops in the fall, and who was co-artistic of the Summer Cabaret in 2014, not to mention director and elegant co-host of the recent Drag Show. The play presents a seemingly random encounter between two youths on a Bronx subway train, one white, one black. Though there is a connection we’ll become privy to as we go on, the play also references LeRoi Jones’ Dutchman, an earlier—and somewhat dated—play about racial difference (enacted in the Cab’s 46th season). Set in the 1990s, Keller’s play touches on the problems of race, class, privilege, and cultural authority that roil our current politics. And is also funny. February 25-27

Re-discovering obscure Tennessee Williams plays is always interesting. The Summer Cabaret’s gutsy delving into the uneven In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel in 2013 comes to mind; this time its And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, a play that was never produced in Williams’ lifetime, possibly because its story of an aging transvestite in New Orleans smitten with a young sailor was too candidly queer for the era. The play’s title knowingly references a famous line from Shakespeare’s Richard II and conjures up consciousness of a role one cannot but choose to play. Proposed by first-year director Rory Pelsue—memorable as one of a pair of duetting sisters in this year’s Drag Show—and featuring first-year actor Patrick Madden as Candy, the project impressed the Cab’s artistic directors when Madden showed up to the interview in drag, performing a scene from the show that made co-artistic director Leora Morris weep. Be prepared to be moved. March 3-5

Third-year director Leora Morris—notable for audacious work such as her thesis show Women Beware Women and love holds a lamp in this little room in last year’s Summer Cab—shares duties on Cab #16, co-directing with Jesse Rasmussen, a second-year director. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a film by maverick German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder that began life as a play. With a cast of 6 women, the play concentrates on a fashion designer—Petra—her master/slave relationship with a servant, Marlene, and her love for Karin, a female model. Perhaps recalling Jean Genet’s The Maids a bit (which has been staged more than once at the Cab), the play is filled with the kind of psycho-sexual drama Fassbinder handled masterfully (as with In A Year with Thirteen Moons, directed by Robert Woodruff at Yale Rep in 2013). March 31-April 2

Cab #17 goes out on a limb more than a little, featuring a new idea that will stretch the Cab beyond its usual bounds—both physically and artistically. The Satellite Series Festival will be an effort to recreate something like a “fringe festival” experience, orchestrating performances in three different spaces: the Cabaret at 217 Park Street, the neighboring African-American Cultural Center a few steps across the courtyard, and the Annex, the space around the corner on Park used as a rehearsal space and the scene of tech-based projects. How it works: the Cab hosts its usual dinner service then presents a show that runs roughly half an hour, after which the audience would visit the other sites—possibly given a choice between the two or split into two groups to visit the two other spaces alternately. The impetus is to throw some attention to under-represented groups by staging several different short works, and to give a platform to more design-driven work that rarely gets a public showing. The Cab artistic directors will be curating the festival, and more information about the different acts will be forthcoming. April 7-9

Finally, Cab #18 presents Lake Kelsey, a new musical being written by second-year actor Dylan Frederick—who played “Robin” in Catfight, last season’s take-off on the Batman TV series—and directed by Kevin Hourigan, director of the Allen Ginsberg-inspired theater-piece I’m With You in Rockland, last fall. Consisting of scenes and songs, rather than “a tidy musical,” the piece features musings on today’s adolescents in an imaginary neighborhood in Minneapolis. Co-artistic directors David Bruin and Leora Morris likened the songs to Magnetic Fields and Belle & Sebastian, which is to say low key and introspective. April 21-23

Six more shows in which the Cab 48 team—co-artistic directors David Bruin, Julian Elijah Martinez, Leora Morris and managing director Annie Middleton—continue their season of provocative theater with a finger on the pulse of our times. Make the most of it . . . and see you at the Cab.

Yale Cabaret
217 Park Street


How Long Does a Miracle Last?

Review of Cloud Tectonics at Yale Cabaret

One of the most appealing aspects of the Yale Cabaret is the fact that the students of the Yale School of Drama who stage theater there are doing so “on their own dime,” as it were. It’s not for courses or credit; it’s for their own engagement with drama. This means that sometimes students get to work “outside discipline,” trying out aspects of theatrics and tech that are not part of their studies at YSD, thus broadening their skills and finding new approaches. Perhaps even more significantly, the Cabaret offers students a chance to work on projects that otherwise they’d never get a chance to do while at Yale. And such is the case with José Rivera’s Cloud Tectonics.

There aren’t a lot of opportunities in American theater for Latino/a actors and directors to stage their visions of U.S. experience. However, José Rivera’s intensely lyrical Cloud Tectonics was staged at both La Jolla, in San Diego, and Playwrights Horizon, in NYC, and it became a favorite play for three actors currently at the School of Drama: Sebastian Arboleda, who directs the Cab show outside discipline, Bradley Tejeda, a third-year, and Barbaro Guzman, a first-year. Their proposal of the show was in association with the recently formed El Colectivo, YSD’s Latino/a affinity group. Which makes the show an excellent opportunity for the Cab to showcase a little-known play from an under-represented American minority.

But more than that, it’s an excellent opportunity to see Bradley Tejeda—whose debut at the Cab three years ago I remember vividly, and who added comic intensity to the Rep’s version of Arcadia, directed by James Bundy last year—play a part that could have been written for him. Tejeda brings understated charm, aware sensitivity, and a soulful thoughtfulness to the role of Anibal de la Luna, a young Latino transplanted from NYC to LA, who picks up Celistina del Sol (Stephanie Machado), a pregnant woman hitching in a hurricane. We might say that, as a result, his life is changed forever, except that “forever” assumes a given temporal frame that Rivera’s play doesn’t respect. Once Celistina arrives, the clocks in Anibal’s apartment stop and so does time—though not outside in the real world.

While it’s a fact that Rivera studied for a time with Gabriel García Márquez, the grand-master of magical realism in fiction, Rivera’s play is as much Twilight Zone story as magical realist drama—in which, typically, the facts of reality, such as temporal and spatial continuity and the distinctness of states of life and death, can be bent or ignored. In other words, it’s only as “occult” as you feel it needs to be. A pregnant woman hitchhiking in a storm, “rescued” by a well-meaning savior to whom she tells a story from her past that indicates either madness or something even spookier. Then there’s Nelson (Guzman), Anibal’s brother, an earnestly manly soldier who immediately falls in love with Anibal’s guest when he meets her. As a character, Nelson lets Rivera keep one foot of his play in the world of U.S. armed conflicts, where the call of duty is a constant, while the brothers’ interplay grounds us in a world we share with them.

Celestina del Sol (Stephanie Machado), Anibal de la Luna (Bradley James Tejeda), Nelson (Barbaro Guzman)

Celestina del Sol (Stephanie Machado), Anibal de la Luna (Bradley James Tejeda), Nelson (Barbaro Guzman)


As written, Celistina del Sol is mostly a walking archetype: not the femme fatale that would typically have two brothers coming to blows over who gets to bed her, but rather a vision of “the Madonna,” an image of suffering and fertile femininity that makes some men open their slobbering hearts. Fortunately, Rivera’s play, and Arboleda’s direction, keep the improbabilities, such as Nelson’s instant affection and Celistina’s belief that she’s been pregnant for two years, within the realm of a kind of poetic naturalism. And it’s as poetry that the play works best. For these are characters who are ultimately reacting to the way love feels, not the way the world works.

As Celistina, Stephanie Machado exudes a kind of knowing sorrow that imbues her erratic statements with believability. Whether or not her experiences make sense to others, Celistina does not aim to deceive, and that may be the aspect that the two men find so haunting. She’s strange, but she means what she says. But there’s also a threat of hysteria under the surface that Machado is able to deliver without making us feel this hapless woman is bonkers.

Key to it all is Tejeda’s Anibal, who deliberates over his own emotions, his brother’s emotions, his guest’s situation with a gravitas that takes its time, and, in a conclusion that is in some ways surprising, in some ways inevitable, he plays an aged Anibal as someone still distantly related to the man he was. It’s a bravura performance.

Another key element is the lyricism of Spanish. Early on, Celistina, before Nelson’s appearance, directs a long speech in Spanish at Anibal who doesn’t understand. Most of the audience won’t either, but Machado’s delivery is so beguiling it seems impossible that Anibal’s heart wouldn’t be stolen away. As it turns out—when we hear the speech again with simultaneous translation—what she says delivers a kind of logic of existential love that gets at the heart of the play and redounds well on a Valentine’s Day weekend. And, along those lines, credit as well the dance sequence and co-choreographers, Nicole Gardner and Jonathan Higginbotham, both outside discipline and the former from outside YSD.

With its very realistic set design by Izmir Ickbal and very realistic special effects of lighting and sound to make a raging L.A. storm feel real on a frigid New Haven night, Cloud Tectonics keeps its feet on the ground while exploring the heavenly provocations del Sol y de la Luna.


Cloud Tectonics
By José Rivera
Directed by Sebastian Arboleda

Co-Choreographers: Nicole Gardner, Jonathan Higginbotham; Co-Dramaturgs: Maria Inês Marques, Nahuel Telleria; Scenic Designer: Izmir Ickbal; Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth; Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Mak; Sound Designer: Tye Hunt Fitzgerald; Technical Director: Matt Davis; Stage Manager: Caitlin O’Rourke; Producer: Rachel Shuey

Cast: Barbaro Guzman, Stephanie Machado, Bradley James Tejeda

Yale Cabaret
February 11-13