News

Catch the Cab

Preview, Yale Cabaret: shows 7-10

No, it wasn’t a good week, last week. But this week will be better in at least one way: the Yale Cabaret returns, with the three shows before the winter break and the first show of the new year already named.

The Yale Cabaret lets us see theater students early in their career, working on shows they are passionate about, working to give expression to the many complex themes of our current world, and letting us—the audience—participate in vibrant talent and creativity. This year’s Artistic Directors are Ashley Chang, Davina Moss, Kevin Hourigan, the Managing Director is Steven Koernig, and the Associate Managing Directors are Kathy Li and Sam Linden. Here’s a brief preview of the shows chosen for the next four slots.

First up: Cab 7: Collisions. Proposed by sound design student and free jazz percussionist Fred Kennedy, the show will include some elements seen in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s show, “Envy: the Concert,” namely jazz—featuring Kennedy and a group of musicians—as well as performance pieces, co-directed by  Kennedy and Cab co-artistic director Kevin Hourigan, who also worked with Kennedy in last year’s multidisciplinary performance piece “I’m With You in Rockland.” The notion of “collision” comes from trying to “collide” free jazz—which “abandons composition in favor of collective improvisation”—with narrative and theater performance. Playwright Jeremy O. Harris contributes as well, to provide a performance piece where theater, as developed by the entire company, structures the music. The musicians joining Kennedy are Kevin Patton, guitar and interactive systems design; Evan Smith, sax and woodwinds; Matt Wigton, bass; and they’ll be aided and abetted by a trio of actors: Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon. The show purports to be a collision of music and performance, with a definite narrative aspect. November 17-19

The following week the Cab is dark as we all drift about trying to find something to be thankful for on our national holiday.

Returning, Cab 8 offers Matthew Ward’s translation of Peter Handke’s play Kaspar, which takes its inspiration from the young adult foundling Kaspar Hauser, subject of a well-received film by Werner Herzog in the 1980s. In this production, the Cab’s graphic designer, Ayham Ghraowi directs dramaturg Josh Goulding—who recently directed Current Location and acted in Styx Songs at the Cab—as Kaspar, a man who grew up without human company and suffers estrangement while being integrated into society. The show features elements of vaudeville, slapstick, physical humor, and—according to Ashley Chang, who has a “heavy hand” in the show—“linguistic torture.” The play will be divorced somewhat from its original context. Think “clown figure assaulted by language.” The doctor who studied the actual Kaspar Hauser remarked that he “seemed to hear without understanding, to see without perceiving . . .“ Sound like anyone you know? December 1-3

Cab 9, the last show of 2016, will be Mrs. Galveston, a new play by third-year playwright Sarah B. Mantell, whose play Tiny was produced in last year’s Langston Hughes Studio Series. In this play, Mantell re-works her earliest play, deliberately re-scripting for her actor-collaborators at the Cab, which include George Hampe and Sydney Lemmon. Mrs. Galveston is an aged woman who one day finds herself visited by Jim, a young man who has been assigned to evaluate her health care needs. At the interview, she determines that he should be her caregiver. The play, directed by dramaturg Rachel Carpman, sounds like a bit of a Harold and Maude tale, as a comedy about an unlikely cross-generational relationship. The play entails themes of adult care and the autonomy of our aging Baby Boomer population, and involves a mysterious big white book. December 8-10

When we all return from seasonal holidays and welcoming in the new year in a January that looks to be joyous indeed, Cab 10 proffers a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, 2007 YSD graduate, 2013 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize winner. In the Red and Brown Water is the second-written play but first in chronology of the Brother/Sister trilogy that includes The Brothers Size (staged at the Cab at the close of the 2013-14 season). Oya is a young woman and a skilled track star under pressure to develop and cash in on her talent, an expectation at odds with her ties to her family and her own romantic interests. As with the others in the series, the play is based on Yoruba myths in which Oya is a goddess of wind and change. The play is directed by third-year playwright Tori Sampson, who co-authored Some Bodies Travel in last year’s Carlotta Festival and wrote This Land was Made for the Langston Hughes Studio Series last year. The production was proposed by Folks, the African-American theater artists collective at the Yale School of Drama. January 12-14

That takes us through Cab 10; the next eight shows will be posted early next year, along with the date of the annual Yale School of Drag show. For a few weeks more, see you at the Cab!

For tickets, passes, donations, menus and show info: www.yalecabaret.org

Yale Cabaret 49
2016-17
217 Park Street

Business Ethics, an Oxymoron?

Preview of Other People’s Money, Long Wharf Theatre

When I spoke to Steve Routman, who plays Coles in the Long Wharf’s upcoming production of Jerry Sterner’s Other People’s Money, the election hadn’t happened yet, but was impending. That fact colored somewhat our chat about the play, which features the efforts of a corporate raider, Larry “The Liquidator” Garfinkle, played by Jordan Lage (last at Long Wharf in Ride the Tiger), to buy up New England Wire and Cable. Garfinkel’s scheme conflicts with two other interested parties: the factory owner Jorgenson (Edward James Hyland) and Coles, the owner of the company. As Routman puts it, the three characters, “each selfish in their own way,” are “trying to navigate different possibilities of capitalism,” and that gives the show its main theme.

As Routman sees it, Jorgenson represents the past and a focus on a business model that was passing away when the play first appeared in the late 1980s; Coles, somewhat “judicious” in Routman’s view, is “considering the long term” and what kinds of economic opportunities will be available for future generations. Between the two, Garfinkle is a fast-and-loose conniver who lives in “the now,” trying to make a score to plump up his portfolio. In taking us back to the days when the ostensible president-elect was a hot young wheeler-dealer in real estate investment, the play “still feels current,” though some of its references “are ripped from the headlines” of the time. Garfinkle is “not Trump”—either then or now—Routman stresses, but we may see some similarities: the charisma, the misogyny, the emphasis on making money that all seems to go with the territory.

Steve Routman is a familiar face at Long Wharf. In my years covering plays there, he has added richly realized supporting roles to three shows, all directed by Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein. Probably Routman's most memorable role was as Cohen in Steve Martin’s The Underpants where he got to display his comic, slapstick abilities. In the Long Wharf’s updating of Our Town, he played Professor Willard, and, in The Second Mrs. Wilson, Routman brought a bristling irony to the role of Thomas Marshall, Wilson’s Vice President who found himself out of the loop when the president became ill.

Steve Routman as Thomas Marshall in The Second Mrs. Wilson (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Steve Routman as Thomas Marshall in The Second Mrs. Wilson (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Routman, a Connecticut resident, is “extremely grateful” to Edelstein for regularly finding roles for him to play. With a 4-year old child, Routman is glad not to have to spend long months away. He feels like “a member of the [Long Wharf] family. For the bulk of my career I played in regional theater all around the country,” but his first equity job, back in 1985, happened to be at Hartford Stage. So Connecticut, which “has more regional theater than most states,” has been good for him with many “likeable” roles and venues.

Since I tend to think of Routman in comic turns, as in The Underpants and to some extent The Second Mrs. Wilson, I asked about his preference in roles. He loves comedy and “the challenge of the technical aspect of comedy,” but is glad to have played a variety of roles to show his range, including Chekhov, and film and TV roles. He referred to the great opportunity for The Underpants, in moving from Long Wharf to a later run at Hartford Stage, to perfect its timing and staging. “It grew tremendously,” he said, as finding what's funny can require trial and error in front of audiences.

Steve Routman as Cohen in The Underpants (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Steve Routman as Cohen in The Underpants (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

While there is humor in Other People’s Money, Routman said, the actors and director Marc Bruni “are still finding it.” The play is “not pure drama, nor comedy.” It’s “darker than the movie” version, starring Danny DeVito, that came out in the 1980s. Though Routman hasn’t seen a production of the play, he was aware of it having “a regional life” in the early ‘90s, with its single set and strong five character cast—another key role is that of a female lawyer, Kate (Liv Rooth), who must decide how to meet the challenge of Garfinkle.

Coles’ appeal as a character, Routman said, is in his “complexity. He seems to have a good heart and wants the best, even while looking out for himself.” Routman sees him as “the voice of reason to some extent.” For Routman, much of what is at stake in the play is a question of values: The difference between business as a way of life that makes products of value, or as simply a way to “make a killing” in some market, then move on. With such a clash, Routman said, “there’s no way to not see today in this play,” and he “looks forward to seeing what the audience finds in it.”

With the country experiencing the change that comes from moving to a Republican administration after eight years of a Democratic president, it’s timely enough to revisit an earlier Republican era. Sterner, who died in 2001, wrote the play after seeing what happened to a company, whose stock he sold to a corporate raider, and to the surrounding community after the company was sold off and closed down.

Other People’s Money runs from November 23 to December 18, with a press opening on November 30. Tickets start at $29. www.longwharf.org

Long Wharf Theatre
Other People’s Money
By Jerry Sterner
Directed by Marc Bruni

A Chance for Late Romance

Preview of The Last Romance, New Haven Theater Company

The New Haven Theater Company returns this week with their fall offering. The play chosen by the democratic company, Joe DiPietro’s The Last Romance, was proposed by NHTC member Margaret Mann, last seen in the NHTC production of Doubt. Like Doubt, The Last Romance is a play for a small ensemble, in this case three actors: Mann, as Carol Reynolds; NHTC member John Watson—last seen in the staged reading of Incident at Vichy a few weeks ago, and in last season’s celebrated run of Bus Stop before that—as Ralph Bellini; and Equity actor Janie Tamarkin as Rose Tagliatelle.

As Mann well knows, it’s not easy finding good parts for actors over 60. And to find a play in which all the characters are well above middle-age is even more unique. Most theater-goers in the New Haven area seem to fit that demographic, so why not a play that, as Mann says, treats the possibility of romance between elders as “the same as between much younger people.” She describes the play as “a small play about the one thing that can change everything.” Finding someone is never easy, and DiPietro’s play shows both the luck and chance involved, as well as the obstacles.

Ralph is an opera-lover who once even got a call-back to sing at the Met—the kind of thing one is liable to look back on in later life as a big, lost chance. Now a widower who takes a walk every day, Ralph happens to take his walk at a different time, in a different direction, and that small change causes him to meet Carol, a widow who likes to take her beloved chihuahua to a particular dog park. Mann sees the play as taking a serious—though at times funny—look at “the intersection of lives, later in life,” with “a little bit” of class considerations as well. The play’s setting is not really specified, Mann says, but the NHTC team are thinking of it “as happening in Wooster Square.”

Directing the show is NHTC member Trevor Williams, also seen in Vichy and Bus Stop, who hasn’t directed for NHTC before, but who, still in his thirties, is bringing a more youthful view to the play, according to Mann. Mann directed Almost, Maine for the company in November 2013 and, like that play, Last Romance takes place in “an imagined space” that represents different settings—in this case three, though mostly the dog park.

Margaret Mann, John Watson, Janie Tamarkin, The Last Romance

Margaret Mann, John Watson, Janie Tamarkin, The Last Romance

For Mann, acting is “a chance to step out of my own skin” while enjoying the pleasure of working with other actors. She admits she had “to sell” the play a bit to her colleagues in NHTC, but Watson was also intrigued with the play, and the chance to “play our age” as characters with distinct, “well-written speech patterns.” There’s “a lot of talking over” in the dialogue, and much of the play’s effect should be in its naturalness.

“The characters feel like people you’ve met,” Mann says, and, while the play touches on “aging, illness and loss,” it’s decidedly “not morbid but realistic and touching.” The humor, she says, is “not silly or nasty, but sweet.”

“It’s about trying something new, when you’re stuck,” Mann says of the interactions between the characters, and the risks and rewards of getting to know new people after a lifetime amidst familiar ways.

Any show with “last” in the title is apt to make us think about how much time we have left, but that question is even more relevant to those who have already lived most of their lives. Don’t miss out on last chances, and don’t miss out on New Haven Theater Company’s The Last Romance, showing for the next two weekends at the English Building Markets, November 10-12 and 17-19, at 8 p.m.

 

The Last Romance
by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Trevor Williams
New Haven Theater Company

Lorca's Poetic Drama, Next Week

Preview of Blood Wedding, Yale School of Drama

The first Yale School of Drama thesis show of the 2016-17 season goes up next week, October 18-22, with third-year director Kevin Hourigan’s production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetic tragedy Blood Wedding, in a new translation by Nahuel Telleria. First performed in 1933, Blood Wedding is a central work in the Spanish author’s canon, mixing folk themes with a surrealist and symbolist sensibility for which Lorca’s drama and poetry are internationally celebrated.

Concerned with a young bride, the groom she jilts for her former lover, and a smoldering family feud, Blood Wedding, the YSD press release reads, “plunges us into a moonlit and mysterious dimension where passion—demonic and sublime—has the power to imprison or liberate.”

Hourigan characterizes the play as “exquisite” and one of the “richest works of poetry” in theater. It’s also, he admits, “a very difficult work” not often performed by professional U.S. companies. In part this may be because, as Hourigan has found in rehearsals, the play demands “total abandon” of its actors and “requires a sense of sacrifice” to render Lorca’s tragic vision. Hourigan sees the play as “transformative” and concerned with “the radical power of desire.” Halfway measures just won’t work.

The task for Hourigan and his cast of 12 is trying “to wrap their heads around” a language that is both poetic and dramatic, and the use of songs that, unlike more traditional musical theater, act as what Hourigan calls “exploded character moments.” Understanding what a song does to the narrative is key to understanding how to present it. There is a basic level of reality in the work, Hourigan points out, so the actors have “plenty of concrete things to do” in order to enact dramatic personae, but, he adds, “an amazing thing we’ve learned is that the poetry extends far beyond the words,” into the very logic of the play. And that means atmosphere dominates action to a degree that it doesn’t in most plays.

Kevin Hourigan (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Kevin Hourigan (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

For Hourigan, the urge to do Lorca’s play comes from its effort “to investigate the nature of passion,” a theme he finds relevant to those who pursue an art like theater and wonder why they do. Passion, he feels, “offers the most transcendent and awful motivation” for Lorca’s characters, and its true nature is, he says, “the central question of the play.” Clearly, there can be good and bad consequences of following one’s passion.

In mounting Blood Wedding, Hourigan “wanted control over the visual field, and wanted it to be flexible while also restricted to one perspective,” rather than use a thrust or staging in the round. The production will be housed in the Yale Repertory Theater and his technical team have considerable leeway in developing spaces and effects in response to Lorca’s somewhat fanciful stage directions—a room “white like a cathedral,” for instance. The “visual concept must denote the emotional tone,” so that set changes become part of the poetic vocabulary. Because YSD thesis shows have generous budgets and prep times, technical achievement is generally high. Intriguing and exciting, the play also clocks in under two hours, which is unusual for YSD thesis shows.

Hourigan adds that Blood Wedding, while focusing on a female protagonist played by always stellar third-year actress Sydney Lemmon, has been interpreted by some Lorca commentators as the first story the playwright chose to tell about his own sexual nature. A gay man well before that could be expressed openly in public or even in art, Lorca, Hourigan says, “finally gave up” trying to embody himself as a male protagonist and chose “the bride” as his alter-ego.

The play gains poignancy from the fact that Lorca was killed—assassinated for political or sexual reasons, the actual purpose is still contested—four years after writing the play. As someone much beloved and greatly talented who met an unfortunate and premature end, Lorca’s own ghost haunts the text to some extent. “In a world more and more scary” with escalating acts of violence, Blood Wedding, Hourigan feels, shows how human passion can be “inspired and holy.” He agrees that there is a cathartic aspect to the play but “won’t try to ease its mystery” by saying what that might entail. That’s for the audience to find out.

 

Blood Wedding
By Federico Garcia Lorca
Translated by Nahuel Telleria
Directed by Kevin Hourigan
The Yale School of Drama

Yale Repertory Theatre
October 18-22, 2016

A Timely Incident

Preview of Incident at Vichy, New Haven Theater Company

This week the New Haven Theater Company tries something a little different. This is the first time they’ve held a staged reading as part of their season. According to NHTC member J. Kevin Smith, who directs the reading of Arthur Miller’s unduly neglected play Incident at Vichy this weekend, the “idea [of staged readings] has been kicked around” by NHTC for some time, but until now it hasn’t happened.

The reason, Smith says, is that the shows NHTC does produce are always “passion projects” proposed by one of the members who then gets the others on board. Though the idea of staged readings of plays that might be new or overlooked may be a good one, no one had come up with a particular play that was a clear choice.

It so happened that Smith saw a PBS broadcast of Signature Theater’s production of Vichy, and that got him thinking about how he would want to do this particular play, “how it should look and be played.” Smith, who hasn’t directed a play since a Yeats one act in college, said his fellow NHTCers were very supportive of his idea, especially as they could all see the relevance of doing the play now, in this fall’s run-up to a very key national election. So much so that The League of Women Voters of New Haven—a non-partisan group, Smith points out—will be on-hand to register voters before and after the show.

The play will be given “an enhanced staged reading,” Smith says, which means there will be some limited use of lights and sound, as well as entrances and exits of characters. The cast, which numbers 16, will comprise all the male actors in the company, supplemented by other local actors. As part of his pitch, Smith “wanted everyone [in NHTC] to be involved.” The difficulty of coordinating the entire company for the usual 8 weeks of rehearsal for a full show would have been enormous. Which is one benefit of the staged reading approach. Mainly, though, for Smith, the main benefit is about timeliness.

Watching the PBS broadcast, he said, “sent shivers up my spine: the references to the power of the 1%; the wonder at the raw power of cults of personality; the demonization of ‘The Other’—the language is amazingly current.” Indeed, the play “is the ultimate collaborator story,” showing how fear and despair can undermine political courage. For Smith, the play’s main message is one of “vigilance.” “It reminds us we have to be firm in knowing what we’re willing to do to confront oppression.”

While not one of what Smith calls “the trifecta” of staggeringly great plays Miller wrote—The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, Death of a SalesmanIncident at Vichy is a commanding work. Smith also notes that NHTC has held off from doing the great playwrights of the American canon—Miller, O’Neill, Williams—so that this short three-day run is kind of “testing the waters.” The company has done very well by such classics as Inge’s Bus Stop, Wilder’s Our Town, and Odets’ Waiting for Lefty, so maybe a full production of one of the major American dramatists will happen in the future.

For now, this Thursday through Saturday—days after the first of the three presidential debates—NHTC offers a chance to consider the implications of a chilling work about the effects of evil in power and about the moral test of resisting corruption and oppression.

Like Zappa’s old Mothers of Invention tune sez, with knowing irony, “it can’t happen here.”

Monceau (George Kulp), Old Jew (Erich Greene)

Monceau (George Kulp), Old Jew (Erich Greene)

The New Haven Theater Company presents a special staged reading of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, directed by J. Kevin Smith, running for one weekend only; Thursday, September 29 – Saturday, October 1. Performances are at 8pm at the NHTC Stage at the English Building Markets, located at 839 Chapel Street, New Haven. Tickets are $15, at www.NewHavenTheaterCompany.com

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, and Trevor Williams.

Hailing the Cab

Preview: Yale Cabaret 49 (the first three shows of the season)

“I’ve grown accustomed to her face,” the song goes. But sometimes, just when you’ve grown accustomed, things change. The change in itself becomes a custom.

Each year, the face of the Yale Cabaret changes as new leadership, drawn from current students at the Yale School of Drama, takes over the helm. This year, the Co-Artistic Directors for the 49th season of the venerable New Haven theater-in-a-basement are Ashley Chang, a 2016 MFA in dramaturgy now working on her doctorate, Kevin Hourigan, a third-year director, and Davina Moss, a third-year dramaturg. They are joined by Steven Koernig, a fourth-year working on a joint degree, MFA/MBA in theater management at the School of Drama and the School of Management, as the Managing Director.

Steven Koernig, Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, the leadership team of Cab 49

Steven Koernig, Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, the leadership team of Cab 49

In its 48 years (I’ve been a fan since its 42nd year), the Cab has made a virtue of its intimate, “nowhere to hide” size, its extremely limited runs (3 nights only), its convivial ambiance of food-and-drink followed by a show (Anna Belcher’s ever-changing menu is always intriguing), and its ability to showcase “passion projects”—the work that students do because they believe in it, and not just because it goes with earning the degree. In fact, many times at the Cab, the students are doing things that are not directly related to what they study at Yale.

That, the Cabsters say, is something they very much want to encourage. So much so that this year there are “ambassadors” or Cross-Disciplinary Consultants from the other Yale schools taking part as liaisons, as a means to find collaborators for YSDers in proposing and designing shows—the Schools of Architecture, Art, Arts and Sciences, Forestry and Environmental Science, Law, Medicine, Music, Public Health, all have input.

There are three key concepts, Moss says, that the team agreed on in eliciting proposals from the YSD community: “the line of inquiry”—it should be bold, it should be about something that needs to be explored or expressed; “the rigor of production”—though the Cab is open to all kinds of experimental approaches, the best shows give a lot of thought to how they will be staged; with such short rehearsal times and other limitations, this is not a place for making it up as you go; “formal diversity”—the Cab season never repeats itself, which means that the kinds of theater offered will be surprisingly different week after week.

The point, Moss says, is “not to emphasize the Cab’s limitations, but its opportunities.” What can be done there that wouldn’t work anywhere else?

Another key element, as suggested by the cross-disciplinary emphasis, is on collaboration. One of the team’s questions to proposers was “who do you want to collaborate with,” and there has been a lot of positive outcome from that question.

Styx Songs, September 15-17

Styx Songs, September 15-17

The first show of the season should give us all a good idea of what the team means by collaboration, as well as inquiry, rigor and formal diversity: Styx Songs, September 15-17, is, according to the team, a “bold experiment” with “high risk,” in the sense of great ambition that may or may not come off completely. The show, described as “drama that transgresses the assumed borders between centuries, civilizations, and disciplines,” presents a collaboration among members of the Schools of Art, Architecture, Drama, and Music. Directed by second-year director Lucie Dawkins with a cast of 15, Styx Songs—which references the mythical river Styx (not the rock band of the same name)—explores the relation between life and death, using texts “spanning two thousand years and four continents.” It also entails stop-motion animation and is conceived as an interactive piece that different audiences will experience differently. “It’s an exploratory, episodic, multimedia piece,” Hourigan says, with dislocations—and continuities—between cultures and temporal spaces, and—since the Styx is the river the dead cross into Hades—between one world and another.

Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. plays September 22-24. Responding to the proposition “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” Birch wrote a play that, Chang says, is “funny and brutal,” looking at “the thorny question, how to define feminism” for our times, and “how contradictory” is the concept today. Using a cast of 15, none of whom are in the acting program, director Jessica Rizzo, a dramaturg who wrote and directed the memorable show Sister Sandman Please in Season 47, chose the cast members “for their honesty as people” and their professed struggles with the concept of feminism. The play—“a playful chaos”—seeks to “galvanize” its audience.

Caught, by Christopher Chen, October 6-8, incorporates the Cab’s interdisciplinary interests into the play itself. Journalism, visual art, theater, all are involved in this questioning of how medium/genre alters our perceptions and relays differing truths. A cast of five, including an art gallery curator, enact a play that makes a stage of an art gallery and an art gallery of a stage. There will be an actual art gallery, with captions, in this telling of the story of Lin Bo (Eston Fung), a “radical artist-activist,” whose subversive approach to art led to his incarceration. The play is directed by Lynda Paul, who directed last season’s very successful pop-opera Trouble in Tahiti.

I asked the four members of the new Cab team what attracts them to the Cab most, and what previous work they either viewed or participated in that cemented their sense of the Cab’s potential.

Davina called the Cab “the artistic heart of YSD” and spoke of its role in helping make their colleagues’ creative dreams come true, even if that means, as she remembered, scrubbing a white floor spotless after each ink-ridden show of Knives in Hens, her intro to what working on theater at the Cab can be like. As an audience member she praised The Untitled Project, a multi-media, mulitform work that threw down a challenge this year’s team would like to meet.

Stephen spoke of the “creative collision of artists and staff and audiences,” all “the most engaged you can find,” and spoke proudly of directing the take-off on the Batman TV show—Catfight—and, as audience member, his love of Mystery Boy, a rapid-fire play strong in the joy of storytelling. 

Kevin stressed the team’s job: “to empower our peers” and to tell the stories that aren’t being told; he draws upon his own experience last year with I’m With You in Rockland, a mix of art, poetry, music, film, history, narrative, with some of its tech elements right onstage, as formative to his grasp of the Cab’s possibilities—he wrote, directed, acted and provided elements of set design—and reacted positively to last season’s Dutch Masters “for the quality of the work and the conversation it provoked.”

Ashley said she’s interested in how the Cab can “frame questions and provide a platform” for theatrical inquiries that take risks and “resist the kind of structures” theater often assumes. She pointed to the performance piece Run, Bambi, Run, in Cab 48’s Satellite Festival, because it “made the air different” in bringing into play a “different set of assumptions” about performance.

Ashley Chang, Steven Koernig, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss

Ashley Chang, Steven Koernig, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss

All four are committed to work that pushes beyond the usual bounds of play-based theater, a view suggested on the Cab’s new website: “The Cab—A Basement Performance Venue.”

In days, it will be time to take in the start of Cab 49. See you there!

 

Yale Cabaret
217 Park Street
New Haven

For more information and tickets, menus, season passes, donations, go here.

New Plays Showcased Next Weekend

Preview of Contemporary American Voices Festival, Long Wharf Theatre

This week the Long Wharf Theatre opens its 2016-17 season with the Contemporary American Voices Festival, a two-day presentation of new plays. In its second year, the Festival seeks to introduce “adventurous and innovative” new work by emerging playwrights whose plays have not been seen in the area. This year the plays featured are Boo Killebrew’s Miller, Mississippi, on Friday, September 9th at 7 p.m., Jeff Augustin’s Last Tiger in Haiti, on Saturday, September 10th, at 5 p.m., and Clare Barron’s Dance Nation, on Saturday, September 10th, at 8:30 p.m. The Friday and Saturday evening presentations will be preceded by a Happy Hour reception, featuring a cash bar with beer from Thimble Islands Brewery, and food for sale from Katalina’s Bakery and Stellato’s.

CAV_hdr_1200.jpg

In preparation for the Festival, Long Wharf’s Literary Director Christine Scarfuto read over 100 scripts, looking for the kind of plays that would add significantly to the Long Wharf season, then she and Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein chose the finalists. The staged readings have directors and involve actors, who will be at music stands giving dramatic readings of the script. The amount of staging, Scarfuto says, varies but “all three plays are narrative-driven and beautifully told.” All share an emphasis on stories worth telling and the power of the stories is what drew Scarfuto to them.

The featured plays are very different, but all involve young characters. Boo Killebrew’s Miller, Mississippi is a play of multiple generations within a family, set in the Deep South and spanning the 1960s to the 1990s so that we see characters at different ages, from teens to adults. Looking back on issues of Civil Rights through one family’s experiences and “descent into ruin,” the play explores, Scarfuto says, a subject very relevant to our contemporary times. Scarfuto describes the play as “heartfelt, with lots of emotion and life.” The play won the 2015 Leah Ryan Prize. Among Killebrew’s awards are two New York Innovative Theater Awards and two Fringe Excellence Awards. Miller, Mississippi is directed by Lee Sunday Evans.

Last Tiger in Haiti, by Jeff Augustin, is set on the final night of Kanaval in Haiti, when a group of restaveks—abandoned children living in servitude—share imaginative stories; the play then takes us to 15 years later and the way reality and fantasy interacts. Scarfuto describes the play as “wildy imaginative” and “a very important story to tell” that looks at the cultural value of storytelling. The play will be given several productions in the coming year and Augustin is the Skank Playwright-in-Residence at Playwrights Horizon; his work has been produced at Roundabout Underground and Humana and elsewhere. Last Tiger in Haiti is directed by Yale School of Drama alum and former Yale Cabaret Co-Artistic Director Lileana Blain-Cruz.

Dance Nation, by Clare Barron, centers on a pre-teen dance competition and looks at “ambition, competition, and growing up.” It’s a play, Scarfuto says, that looks at competition as an element of female empowerment but also at “unpopular truths” about teens in our day. While “not necessarily realism,” the play is contemporary and casts actors of all ages and races to play the young girls. Barron is a playwright and an actor, and Long Wharf theater-goers may remember Barron from her performance in Heidi Schreck’s The Consultant. Dance Nation co-won the inaugural Relentless Award, established in honor of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is directed by Lee Sunday Evans, an OBIE Award-winning director.

The Contemporary American Voices festival reflects Long Wharf’s commitment to new play development, a mission that, Scarfuto says, was difficult to pursue during the recession and its drop in arts funding. “New plays can be risky, commercially,” Scarfuto says, but, as the Long Wharf’s literary manager since March, with an MFA in Dramaturgy from the University of Iowa, she sees the Festival as the “first step in introducing new playwrights and plays and helping to build audience interest.” As Edelstein says, “receptivity to new writing represents the very best of remedies for spiritual, emotional, and intellectual stagnation.”

Staged readings are excellent opportunities to become familiar with new playwrights and to experience a play in the early stages of its path to production. Each reading will be followed by a Talk Back that will include the playwright, giving audiences a rare chance to ask questions about a play’s themes and background and gestation. Suggested donation, $5.

For more information: Long Wharf Theatre

Contemporary American Voices Festival
September 9 and 10, 2016
Long Wharf Theatre

Raising Kane

Preview of Phaedra’s Love, Yale Summer Cabaret

The Yale Summer Cabaret prepares to open its final show of the 2016 season, this Thursday. Co-artistic Jesse Rasmussen, who opened the season with a highly physical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland in June, will close out the season directing renowned playwright Sarah Kane’s “brutal comedy,” Phaedra's Love.

Kane’s plays are known for their uncompromising approach to a world in which humanity is prone to violence and, in her more reflective works, suffers from the anxieties of its condition. The “darker facets” of theater attract Rasmussen, who feels Phaedra's Love is a suitable follow-up to Alice, where “the gently dark elements invited” the “playfulness”—with an edge of psychosis—that marked the Summer Cab’s opener. Rasmussen, who will direct the Jacobean tragedy, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore as her thesis project next spring, says “an interest in violence”  links modern writers like Kane and Edward Bond, whose work she also considered as a summer project, with the Jacobean sense of the dramatic use of extreme violence on stage.

Jesse Rasmussen

Jesse Rasmussen

 

Asked why violence should be a necessary element of the plays she directs, Rasmussen said “turn on the news,” and spoke eloquently about how it’s “irresponsible to not connect” theater to the stories of random violence and assault that have made 2016 so stressful. Rasmussen, whose background includes extensive avant-garde work with Four Larks, a theater group that “creates contemporary performance at the intersection of theatre, music, visual art, and dance,” is drawn to work that takes chances and creates a unique theatrical experience.

That said, Kane—whose most divisive work was Blasted—called Phaedra's Love “my comedy,” and, indeed, Rasmussen says, it is the playwright’s most accessible and classical work, having been commissioned as a reworking of Seneca’s Phaedra. So there are familiar elements right off—first, “an intimate family drama that eventually explodes,” and the Greek "myth Kane is riffing on.”  The myth concerns the story of how a curse on Phaedra, wife of King Theseus and step-mother to Hippolytus, causes her to lust after her step-son, bringing about his death and, in some versions, her own suicide. What Kane brings to this situation, in a play originally staged in the 1990s, is her “deep repulsion” at her countrymen’s obsession which the British royal family which, at the time, included Princess Diana.

Part of the challenge Rasmussen sees is in rendering the play’s corrosive sense of monarchy “in a way that will be legible here” in the U.S. Certainly, celebrity worship and what Rasmussen calls “the sort of useless leaders paid to be photographed” are not unfamiliar to us, nor is the gap between rich and poor that, if bad enough in the ‘90s, is likely worse now. What’s more, the recent fulminations for Brexit by those who demand a more insular Britain should give Kane’s attack on privileged crassness plenty of bite.

Rasmussen sees the play as “formally exciting,” in part because the violence, which happens offstage in the Greek play, is “in our faces” in Kane’s version, since the playwright’s aesthetic intent is to make the audience “witnesses to violence.” Thus, another challenge of the play is the logistics of staging violence. Rasmussen and her team have had many conversations about violence and witnessing as aspects of the play, which, Rasmussen says “pulls no punches.” Beginning with “the internal domestic space” of this particular family, Kane includes the populace, so that there is an enlarged sense of representation in the play’s conclusion. As Rasmussen says, “there are lots of ways blood can come out on stage,” and part of the task she has undertaken is “do violence well and real” within the limited, and extremely intimate, Yale Cabaret space. To that end, Rasmussen is again working with choreographer Emily Lutin, who she worked with on her studio project, Macbeth, to incorporate with precision and sensitivity the physical process of violence her cast will enact.

The play’s formal challenges are supported by Kane’s poetic use of language. For Rasmussen, the playwright is “a master of economy” who uses truncated syntax to “cut the fat” from dialogue, which makes her play rich and exciting for actors. Kane’s style, Rasmussen has found, promotes attention to detail so that the difference in pause between a comma and a period can be highly expressive. The play’s protagonist, Hippolytus “is a horrible person,” but ends up being “the most honest.” Played by Niall Powderly—who played the title role in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus last summer—Hippolytus, in the director’s view, emerges as the “moral compass of the play, unexpectedly.”

In fact, one reason Rasmussen picked this play over others was because she likes “plays with some type of love story” in them. She found herself fascinated by Phaedra: “how could this woman be in the horrifying position” of such inappropriate desire? Phaedra, played by Elizabeth Stahlmann, who played the title role in Sarah Ruhl’s Orlando last summer, harbors a love for her stepson that makes her “lead with her loins.” “Stepmothers aren’t generally liked” in literature, Rasmussen points out, and so the notion of Phaedra as a sympathetic character may well have been what drew Kane to the myth. Our culture is “still terrified at the idea of a transgressive woman,” so that Phaedra’s sexuality, for Rasmussen, can be seen as heroic in its honesty, and “a transforming element” that “lights a fire that burns down the palace, so to speak.” Theseus, played by Paul Cooper, who played the White Knight and White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, is the proverbial absentee husband, setting up a situation where Phaedra decides she “won’t deny herself and live quietly.”

phaedra poster.jpg

The play, considered Kane’s wittiest, benefits from the detachment that mythic characters possess for contemporary audiences, even if tellingly modernized. And it’s no accident that Rasmussen’s three principles—Powderly, Stahlmann and Cooper—are the three actors who worked with her in David Harrower’s poetic and unsettling play of triangular passion, Knives in Hens, in the Cabaret last fall. “I would only work on this play with actors who I’ve worked with and who I know trust me,” Rasmussen says, “before essentially pushing them off a cliff.”

It’s been a season of sin at the Yale Summer Cabaret, and—after sloth, gluttony, greed, wrath and envy, it’s time for lust—able, here, to “mutine in a matron’s bones,” to borrow Hamlet’s line—to inspire what may be the most challenging play of the four presented this summer. While not a large ensemble of many parts, Phaedra's Love will challenge in a different way: most of the scenes are “two-handers” so that we will be spending time with characters who develop over the course of the evening through specific dramatic pairings.

Sex, violence . . . lust, murder . . . a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional society. And, yes, laughs.

 

Phaedra’s Love
By Sarah Kane
Directed by Jesse Rasmussen

Yale Summer Cabaret
August 4-14, 2016

Welcome a Special Geist

Preview of Adam Geist, Yale Summer Cabaret

Last Friday, continuing its theme of the Seven Deadly Sins, the Yale Summer Cabaret hosted Envy: the Concert Experience, curated by sound designers/musicians Frederick Kennedy and Christopher Ross-Ewart. This Thursday, the next play of the season, Dea Loher’s Adam Geist, translated from the German by David Tushingham, directed by Co-Artistic Director Elizabeth Dinkova, opens for its two week run till July 30th, a U.S. premiere.

A one-night only event, Envy: the Concert Experience offered, in its first half, readings, recitals and performance pieces accompanied by music, and in its second half a wonderfully bracing jazz concert featuring Zach Brock on violin, Frederick Kennedy on drums and percussion, and Matt Wigton on electric bass. The event was the best non-theater production at the Cab I’ve seen, and leads one to hope that future proprietors of the Summer Cab, or even the term-time Cab, will find a means to provide similar events that are more like traditional cabaret.

Adam Geist, for director Dinkova, is “the second installment” of her “outsider trilogy,” which began last spring with a studio production of Othello at the Yale School of Drama. Dinkova, who has been in the U.S. for seven years but was born and educated in Bulgaria, is drawn to works that explore those who are “not anchored, who don’t belong” in one particular culture. Adam, the hero of the play, is “uprooted” early in his life and “latches onto whoever can anchor him in some way.” He has, Dinkova says, “behavioral and mental problems” and has limited options, as is often the case with the mentally ill in our society. The play “may be a tragedy” but also takes a tone of comical absurdity, deriving its “humor from the paradoxes of the human condition.”

Elizabeth Dinkova

Elizabeth Dinkova

Dinkova feels that Loher’s play, which she first read while considering plays for her thesis production next year, “combines all the sins” that have been showcased this summer. The chosen sin—or theme—is “wrath,” but Adam, while in some ways an angry young man, is also “naïve, confused, and growing toward clarity and maturation” with perhaps “more hope at the end.” In fact, Dinkova recognizes that she may be trying to emphasize a more redemptive reading than her lead actor, Julian Elijah Martinez, who plays Adam, concurs with.

Martinez, who worked with Dinkova on Othello—he played Michael Cassio—and on Boris Yeltsin, as Orestes, in last year’s Cab season, sees the play’s redemptive elements tempered by realist and exisentialist qualities. Martinez understands Dinkova’s reasons for “pushing for empathy” in the fact that Adam, about 16 when the play begins, is “a product of his society that culture has failed.” And Martinez sees the play as “the best and safest choice for this project” of showing “how society fails the disenfranchised,” but, for him, the play is primarily “a poetic, expressionist look at an individual doing horrific things.” He likens Adam Geist to a Greek tragedy, where “the experience of the negative” qualities of humanity “leads us to catharsis.”

Julian Elijah Martinez

Julian Elijah Martinez

For Martinez, the challenge of the role is in “pursuing an objective” in each scene, without getting stuck in a “trap of general emotion.” Adam is a rigorous role, moving between very reactive scenes with a changing and colorful cast of interlocutors—skinheads, American Indian “hobbyists,” mercenaries, and other subcultures—to monologues that reveal Adam’s “disjointed thoughts.” Martinez, who was a Co-Artistic Director for Cab 48, has shown himself to be a charismatic, mercurial actor in his time at the School of Drama and seems perfectly cast for such a varied role.

Coming after a two-week run of Miranda Ross Hall’s Antarctica! Which is to Say Nowhere, which Dinkova also directed, Adam Geist, offers “the treat of moving into a different genre.” Loher’s play, Dinkova feels, is “more open” and ambiguous than the absurdist social satire of Antarctica. Dinkova is grateful to her collaborators at the Summer Cab for their willingness to “take chances” with a production that is “too big” for the Cabaret. As with Antarctica!, there are many role changes and the tone is both “serious and absurd.”

The key emotional difference seems to be maintaining both an attachment to Adam, as a deeply conflicted character who commits acts both terrible and heroic, and a detachment from the criminality of a setting Dinkova calls “a brutal landscape.” Set in Austria, Adam Geist touches on themes of ethnic cleansing and ultra-right politics, and odd facts like Germans who try to promote themselves as “American Indians” in a kind of retrograde “noble savage” manner. In its director’s view, Adam Geist presents a sense of sin as not evil so much as the result of exploitation and oppression. The play, she says, should make its audience “interrogate its beliefs” and find “hard-won hope” in human possibility.

Es ist Zeit für Geist!

 

Adam Geist
By Dea Loher
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova

Yale Summer Cabaret
July 21-30, 2016

Antarctica Starts Here

Preview of Antarctica!, Which is to Say Nowhere, Yale Summer Cabaret

With the close of the Arts & Ideas festival in New Haven last weekend, locals may be pining for new theatrical experiences. Fear not, here comes Antarctica!, opening this Thursday at the Yale Summer Cabaret. An adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s still-prescient Ubu Roi by rising third-year playwright Miranda Rose Hall, and directed by her recurring collaborator, Summer Cab Co-Artistic Director Elizabeth Dinkova, Antarctica! follows the adventures of Roy and his wife, altered to become the quintessential ugly Americans as they cut a colonizing swath through the ultimate land down under.

Ubu Roi, it turns out, is required reading in the Yale School of Drama, even if it might not be that well-known to general theater-goers. Hall found herself “captivated by it” as it jells so well with her penchant for surrealist, absurdist comedy. Her writing had already been compared to Jarry, so when she got around to reading him, it was love at first exposure. She found a “creative ancestor.” (Hall’s work? Did you see The Best Lesbian Erotica, 1995, or How We Died of Disease-Related Illness? No? Too bad. Yes? OK, expect more of the same. Which is to say, pointed absurdity, incredible energy, unsettling themes.) Hall insists that she does have plays in quite different modes and genres, it’s just that, in working with co-conspirator Dinkova, the work they do tends to the satirical, abetted by disruptive gear-switching.

For this adaptation, Hall, who describes herself as obsessively nerdy at times, spent a lot of time with Jarry’s play, “charting scenes, tracking characters,” while at the same time letting her in-depth knowledge of the show’s structure and style unleash her own freewheeling imagination. Dinkova, for her part, was attracted to the play by the fact that “there are no good guys, and everyone is bad in an entertaining way.”

More to the point, they’re bad in a way all-too familiar in our day. The characters are “bawdy, absurd, presumptuous and stupid.” Sounds like contemporary times, alright. Indeed, Hall and Dinkova wanted a play that would reflect on “the current American situation,” taking inspiration from Naomi Klein’s urgent message in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, to portray our era’s “grappling with denial in implementing adequate change” for our global condition. Which might be a way of saying, if Antarctica goes, we’re done.

The key to adapting a work that was aimed to upset audiences in fin de siècle Paris (it caused a riot and was closed), Hall says, is “to put it in your own medium.” In process, that means “making it make sense together in your own terms.” Ubu Roi, which is certainly intended to challenge the “making sense” of exposition, becomes then a perfect pretext for the wild world this production creates, with seven actors playing 23 roles, and including a variety of songs, with a sketch-comedy swiftness of transformation. In times of Brexit and of “the Donald” trumping the Republican party, controlled chaos, in the theater, may actually be a bit soothing.

And the cast? Three appeared in this Summer Cab’s first production, Alice in Wonderland: Marié Botha played the quizzical Caterpillar; Ricardo Dàvila was the testy Hatter; Patrick Foley was the unsteady Humpty Dumpty; two are not studying acting at the School of Drama: Yagil Eliraz recently received his MFA in Directing (his thesis show was a very creative take on the Oresteia), and Emily Reeder studies theater management, is Producing Director at the Summer Cab, and has acted in Cab shows, most recently Slouch; Rebecca Hampe is not in the School of Drama but is married to George Hampe, who is, and Rebecca appeared in Lake Kelsey at the close of Cab 48; Steven Johnson is a rising second-year actor, and appeared in Salt Pepper Ketchup in Cab 48.

Working with Dinkova for the third time, Hall says she “can’t imagine any other director”—which is good since they will also be working together for Dinkova’s thesis project next spring, a first-time production of a new play by Hall. The duo are particularly happy to be working together in the Summer Cabaret because this has been “the freest of the three” so far, and the least supervised and the best supported by resources. The longer rehearsal process of 2 1/2 to 3 weeks means a lot for a show that has so much going on. And both feel stimulated by being able to “limit the number of inputs” into the show. One such input is dramaturg Gavin Whitehead, also a previous collaborator—he translated and adapted Büchner’s Leonce and Lena at the Cab two years ago—and co-directed with Dinkova in their Cab debut.

Dinkova and Hall have developed “a shorthand in how we talk,” that lets them be both “honest and supportive.” Can they get Summer Cab audiences on their mutual wavelength? Neither wants to be prescriptive about how the show should be received. It’s unlikely it will cause a riot, but it may well be a riot. In any case, determining “the weirdness of the humor” and its associations falls on the audience. Summer Cab audiences tend to be receptive to the flights of imagination necessary to creating theater in a basement, and, for some, the more unhinged, the better.

The theme of the Summer Cab this year is “seven deadly sins.” We’ve been through sloth, gluttony, and pride. Now it’s time for greed, possibly the most besetting sin of our day, and possibly of the human condition generally. So expect a bit of no-holds-barred comedy aimed at our acquisitiveness, our need to feel powerful by taking things away from others, and our almost infinite capacity to exploit whatever we come in contact with. And just be happy if, at the end of the evening, you don’t have to say, “Ubu roi, c’est moi!”

 

Antarctica!, Which is to Say Nowhere
Adapted from Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry
By Miranda Rose Hall
Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova

 Yale Summer Cabaret
June 30-July 10, 2016

The Sweets of Sin

Preview, Yale Summer Cabaret

Sin. The fascination with sin goes way back, so much so that seven particular sins have traditional status as the “deadly sins” or cardinal sins. Which is to say “fundamental,” because these are sins that originate as thoughts or desires. In other words, you may be guilty of them even if you don’t commit them. And they lead to all kinds of naughtiness and a level of indulgence that . . . well, let’s just say you’ve been warned.

The Seven Deadly Sins, based on the list that Pope Gregory determined in the period often called “the Dark Ages,” are comprised of Sloth, Gluttony, Pride, Greed, Wrath, Envy, and Lust. The Seven Deadly Sins are also the thematic link for the Yale Summer Cabaret’s 2016 season.

To celebrate Sloth—which is a tendency to do nothing or to want to do nothing to a sinful extent—the Yale Summer Cabaret, led by “the Sin Sisters,” Co-Artistic Directors Elizabeth Dinkova and Jesse Rasmussen and Producing Director Emily Reeder, is kicking off this Friday, the 27th, with a party at the Cab space, 217 Park Street, 8 p.m. There will be actors and costumes and activities almost certainly but we might say that the main idea is it’s summer and time to relax and take it easy. Which includes taking in the rest of the season.

 

The season proper starts off on Thursday, June 2nd, with the opening of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Rasmussen and featuring Sydney Lemmon as Alice, abetted by a cast of actors—Marie Botha, Paul Cooper, Ricardo Davila, Brontë England-Nelson, Patrick Foley—who get to populate the mind-bending world Lewis Carroll created to delight little Alice Liddell ages ago. He wrote the two-part tale as a fabric of brain-teasers, drawing on puns and parodies as well as chess strategies and mathematical formulas. Some of the figures—the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter—and sayings—“Off with their heads!” “Jabberwocky”—have become overly familiar, the stuff of kiddie classics. The basics of the story have served Disney well, both as cartoon and live-action animation, and some version of Carroll’s whimsical, verbal, and at times surreal work has been given who knows how many live and filmed treatments over the decades.

The version Rasmussen and company are mounting comes via Andre Gregory—a maverick theater personage, of My Dinner with Andre fame—and dates from a time when “counter-culture” was all the rage (much like the rage for Bernie now). That’s not to say that Gregory politicized the story (which some believe was fairly politicized already), but rather that a story set in a “Wonderland” sets off allegorical possibilities.

How will the Summer Cab transform this most transformational of tales? You have till June 19th to find out. The sin to be explored: Gluttony—or, Look what happens when you listen to voices saying “eat me, drink me.” The notion that appetite can stand for a capacity to experience much at once, as we say “a glutton for punishment,” helps fill out this particular sin’s applicability to our Alice, the girl who finds things “curiouser and curiouser,” and whose curiosity seems insatiable.

A brief spot of Pride occurs on June 24th when the Summer Cabaret will hold a staged reading of a new play by rising third-year YSD playwright Tori Sampson. The play Cadillac Crew is set in Virginia during the Civil Rights movement, with an all-female cast. Sampson, in plays like This Land Was Made—about the period in which Black Panther Huey Newton was accosted by the cops, with fatalities—and Some Bodies Travel, her collaboration with Jiréh Breon Holder at this year’s Carlotta Festival, has a knack for exploring historical situations with a very contemporary sensitivity to the way the past inflects the issues of our present. One night only, June 24, 8 p.m.

The rest of the summer consists of Antartica! Which Is To Say Nowhere, Miranda Rose Hall's new adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s bizarre Ubu Roi, set in the land way down under now being colonized by greedy Americans, directed by Dinkova, June 30-July 10; Adam Geist, by German playwright Dea Loher, an odyssey of redemption for a young man prone to wrath and yet in some ways an innocent, directed by Dinkova, July 21-30; Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love, directed by Rasmussen, in an update of the classical tale of a stepmother lusting after her women-spurning stepson, August 4-14. And, for an added event, don’t forget the face-off of sound designers/musicians Frederick Kennedy and Christopher Ross-Ewart on July 15 for “Envy: The Concert.”

More on the individual shows as we get closer to their production. In the meantime, take it easy, eat, drink, and be proud of yourself. The team at the Summer Cab is aiming to “shock our audience out of complacency” (which sounds like it might be the biggest sin of all in this fraught US election year). Just remember, pride goeth before destruction . . .

 

Yale Summer Cabaret
Seven Deadly Sins

Co-Artistic Directors: Elizabeth Dinkova, Jesse Rasmussen
Producing Director: Emily Reeder

Yale Cabaret
217 Park Street
May 27- August 14, 2016

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

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

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.

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


Future Cab Rides

Preview of upcoming shows at Yale Cabaret

It’s a new year and the Yale Cabaret is ready to pick up where it left off, bringing to its beloved but basic basement space at 217 Park Street theatrical experiences that make up in enthusiasm what they lack in slickness. Which is a way of saying that the best thing about the Cabaret—what keeps it real and makes many its devotees—is the fact that it is student-run and the students who run it are driven by passion and dedication to theater, as none of this is for money or even for grades. It’s to bring people together and make something happen, and to try out things for the sake of doing them. And, of course, there’s food and drink too, with a changing menu from chef Anna Belcher.

The first four shows of the 2nd half of the season have been chosen—Cab 10 through 13—which will take us through the second week of February. The shows were described to me by co-artistic directors David Bruin and Elijah Martinez (the third of their number, Leora Morris, is deep in the process of her thesis show, Women Beware Women, which opens on Saturday, January 23rd, at the Iseman Theater, then plays through the Cab’s first dark week of the semester). With two shows in January and two in February, the shows selected strike a balance between new work—written by playwrights at the Yale School of Drama—and pre-existing works not often seen in these parts.

 

First up, this week, Thursday to Saturday, is Salt Pepper Ketchup, written by first-year playwright Josh Wilder and directed by first-year theater manager Al Heartley.  The cast is comprised of first-year actors—but for Eston Fung, who was showcased last semester in The Commencement of William Tan—so this is an excellent opportunity to have a look at some of the new faces in the program. Author Wilder hails from South Philly, an area long-known as Point Breeze that has recently become the site of much gentrification, to the extent of getting a new name: New Bold (which sounds like a coffee roast). In the context of the ramifications of four-story condos being erected where old two-story townhouses once stood and property taxes hiking sky-high overnight, the play looks at Mr. Wu’s humble Chinese take-out “joint” caught between the resentments of the local regulars and the efforts of the upscale newbies to “change things for the better.” Wilder’s script works evenhandedly with all concerned: the anxiety of long-standing businesses when trying to adapt to the tastes of the vegan generation; the good and bad of the co-op mentality that assumes a certain level of economic parity; the vandalism or other acts of violence that can come from people who feel their backs are against the wall, and, through it all, the kind of racial tensions that have become a mark of our distressed times. Described by Martinez as “The Wire meets Clybourne Park.” January 14-16.

Cab 11 is a play called Slouch. Written by B. Walker Sampson, a Brooklyn-based playwright, and co-directed by Matthew Fischer, a first-year sound intern, and Stella Baker. Described as an existential comedy and a “Waiting for Godot for the facebook generation,” the play offers a light, relaxed tone while also dealing with the kind of angst that emerges from people always comparing themselves with other people (as in ubiquitous social networks). Gordon, for whom three roommates—one male and two females—wait, is a high-rolling, good-looking friend who tends to make things happen. Through much physicality and movement and a fluid sense of time—as well as characters’ ability to “narrate” each other’s thoughts—we arrive at a portrait of youth trying to break out of the stasis of the present. The team for the show met at the School of Drama orientation and bonded on their love for this play. January 21-23.

Some of you may have seen Boris Yeltsin, the closing show of the first half of the Cab season, a sharply satirical re-working of the Oresteia by Mickaël de Oliveira, directed by second-year director Elizabeth Dinkova; or you may have seen last season’s postmodern puppet-show version of Georg Büchner’s Leonce and Lena, also directed by Dinkova; or you may have seen Best Lesbian Erotica of 1995, a studio production of a play by second-year playwright Miranda Ross Hall, directed by Dinkova, which was edgy, funny, ribald, and had a heart. Whether or not you saw any of that, you should come see Cab 13, How We Died of Disease-Related Illness, written by Hall and directed by Dinkova, who have formed a creative partnership out of a kind of like-minded comic urgency. When the ebola outbreak occurred, Hall found herself infected with the paranoia that spreads in a health crisis and began concocting this “zany comedy” to treat the various strains of hysteria that we collectively live with these days. In the play, a social scientist contracts a life-threatening disease in a foreign country, then spreads it at an American hospital. Laughs abound. February 4-6.

Cab 13 offers Cloud Tectonics, perhaps the best-known play by Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera, which debuted at the Humana Festival in 1995. The play has long been a common reference point for Yale School of Drama actors Sebastian Arboleda, Bradley Tejeda, and Bobby Guzman, as members of second-generation immigrant families living in L.A. The latter two are in the cast, joined by Stephanie Machado, while Arboleda—memorable from last year as the king in Leonce and Lena—directs. The team’s enthusiasm for this “dream-like love story” has spread to the Cab, convincing the artistic directors that now is the time for this show. It's not only a tale of immigrant assimilation—always a vexed story in our polymorphous nation—but of migrant experience, in terms of the “east coast” vs. “west coast” mentality. It’s also about the way “past, present and future pull at each other,” so that the tensions of one time speak to the tensions of another. February 11-13.

After these four shows hold the floor, make room for the annual extravaganza that is the Yale Cabaret Drag Show, but more about that later. For now, see you at the Cab!

Yale Cabaret
Season 48

For more info, go here.

 

Taking the Measure of Shakespeare

The Fiasco Theater’s Measure for Measure begins previews this week at the Long Wharf Theatre’s Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Theater. First performed by Fiasco in 2013, the Long Wharf production will be the company’s first revival of this play, often considered a bit of a slog in its tale of corruption, strict moral codes, and deus ex machina Duke. On the contrary, Fiasco’s version has been called “charming.”

Fiasco's Noah Brody

Fiasco's Noah Brody

Noah Brody, one of the founding members of Fiasco, which formed in 2009 and launched its inaugural production of Cymbeline in 2010, is “honestly thrilled” to be able to remount Measure for Measure for the Long Wharf’s intimate thrust-style theater. When played previously, the show was done in a standard proscenium setting and that means the new version will have to adapt, a challenge that is part of the governing aesthetic of Fiasco. Brody sees this as an opportunity to “reach out” to the audience, stressing that both players and viewers “are in the same place, breathing the same air.”

A cast of six actors plays all the parts in Measure for Measure, with a set that mainly consists of six doors and some benches. It’s a minimalist approach, perhaps, but as Brody says, “when there’s not a lot of money, you concentrate on what you really need,” and that promotes inventiveness, to use everything at one’s disposal and to make the most of it.

As all the members of Fiasco were trained as actors in the MFA program at Brown/Trinity, a key term for their approach is “actor-driven” stagings. What this means, Brody says, is that every production is achieved by the ensemble, and every decision comes from the ensemble. Decision-making is “not hierarchical.” The director—for the Long Wharf production, Brody and Ben Steinfeld are co-directing—“is responsible for leading the conversation,” but does not dictate the approach. And that means the troupe gets to completely rethink their previous decisions about every aspect of Measure for Measure, not only for changes in design determined by the changed space, but also the differences due to the times and the situations that apply to the creative process. “We’ll say, ‘last time we did this: why did we do that? Do we still want to do it that way?’” The “this” could be anything from costumes to blocking to the delivery of a line to cuts and edits in the material.

Since “fun” is not always associated with Measure, often deemed Shakespeare’s darkest, least likable comedy, I had to ask why it was the play they chose. Brody cited the play’s language, its “great scenes” with “wonderful parts to play” for a “uni-generational cast.” Its content—which he characterized as “how to rule a just state”—is thoughtful, particularly in tensions “between the spiritual and secular life.” In his view, much of the darkness of the play comes from productions not seeing how “playful” the text is, whereas Fiasco highlights the “seriousness in the comic relief and the ironies in the serious parts.” “There’s great comedy and seriousness at all times in the same scene and in the same line,” Brody says. Bringing out those nuances, finding the fun in the whole, is one of the aims of the Fiasco approach.

Brody says the Fiasco team didn’t graduate from the acting program with intentions to form their own company. As actors, they’re used to being hired as “a small cog in a large machine.” “You hope to bring something to the vision of a play,” but are rarely in control of what parts you get or the style of the production. And most actors accept that they have “to sink or swim as an individual,” competing for the best parts available. To form a troupe of actors, able to devise and implement their own productions, is a “dream come true,” and moving the show to Long Wharf a “great opportunity” to revisit the production for a new audience, with possibilities for new, surprising events.

Fiasco is far enough along in their development to have learned that putting on new productions and devising new productions are hard to do simultaneously. After this season—which consists of an acclaimed Two Gentlemen of Verona last spring and now Measure in the fall—they will be at work on planning the brand new productions they will be offering in 2016 through 2018. The team’s “core passion,” Brody says, is in classical theater—so far, Shakespeare—and musicals, such as their production of Into the Woods, which won the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Revival of 2015, so they are certainly looking at “more Shakespeare and more musicals” that fit their requirements, and “we’re also looking at Restoration plays,” and are planning their “first original piece” as well as considering stage adaptations of novels.

Whatever the new productions will be, they will be devised by a troupe of actors with no fixed theatrical abode, but driven by a commitment to making theater together, benefiting from the troupe’s familiarity with one another, and to finding their own unique way into a play, providing audiences with memorable productions full of a love of the challenge of discovery.

Measure for Measure, by the Fiasco Theater, begins in previews at the Long Wharf Theatre Wednesday, November 25, and opens Wednesday December 1.

A Play for All Periods

Preview of The Skin of Our Teeth at Yale School of Drama

The first of this season’s thesis shows at the Yale School of Drama opens tonight. Third-year director Luke Harlan directs Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, an unconventional play that caused some dismay with audiences when it opened, at the Shubert in New Haven, during World War 2. A view of the ages through the centering experience of an American family called the Antrobuses, the play, in good modernist fashion, toys with the conventions of theater while at the same time aiming for a theatrical experience that can be, in Harlan’s view, truly epic. It’s theme is no less than the survival of mankind on this distracted globe.

But, importantly for Harlan, it’s also very funny. Harlan cites some lines from Wilder that he came across in the Beinecke Library, which houses Wilder’s papers.

It is hard to imagine a man who occasionally does not suddenly see himself as both All men and The First Man. The two points of view are expressed for us by myths: at his marriage he may be reminded of Adam; when he goes about his house shutting windows against a rainstorm he is Noah; when he goes hunting, he calls himself Nimrod. The play tries to put this idea in dramatic form; and since it deals with both the individual Man and the Type Man, and deals with them in great trouble, isn’t it right that it should be fulll of anachronisms, indifferent to the smaller credibilities, be in all periods, and that it should be full of interruptions and accidents; and since Man is brave and enduring, isn’t it right that every now and then it should be gay?

From that brief summary, it’s clear that Wilder is thinking of biblical stories as the basis for our understanding of ourselves. In the sense of a palimpsest of personalities occurring throughout time, Wilder, who was a Yalelie, lived in Hamden, and hung out at the old Anchor bar across from the Shubert on College Street, was inspired by James Joyce’s “Work in Progress,” published in 1939 as Finnegans Wake. Wilder, like his master, takes a comic view of life, seeing mankind’s life as a human comedy in which Man plays many parts.

Luke Harlan

Luke Harlan

Harlan shares his playwright’s view of the value of comedy. He cites a contemporary entertainment like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show as an instance of how he sees the confluence of laughter and important issues. “We have to laugh at things to talk about them,” he says. Wilder’s play was written in a time of crisis when the outcome of the war was anything but certain, and before Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the conflict. Then, In the post-war world, after the dropping of the two atomic bombs against Japan, Wilder’s play, with its post-apocalyptic Act III, seemed prescient.

For Harlan, who was looking for a thesis project that would be “epic” and “allow comment on current issues,” and “engage with discourse right now in the world,” one of the “anachronisms” that Wilder mentions could well be the issue of global warning. Even though Wilder is recalling the biblical flood, Harlan says, “it’s impossible for us not to think of” our threatened environment.

Asked what has changed in his conception of the play since he began working on it, Harlan says he’s become more aware of the importance of the family unit as represented in the play. The “70 year gap between Wilder and us” means that much has changed “in the gender dynamic.” The play is obviously focused on the father, as head of the family of 1940, but Harlan has come to realize the degree to which Mrs. Antrobus is the “rock of the family.” He believes that the amorphous quality of the play can allow for the differing family dynamics of 2015 without appearing too dated.  Harlan does allow that “some of the language” and the reliance on “an early 20th-century framework” makes the play a bit quaint but insists that that effect is deliberate in Act I as Wilder seeks to establish “the old days.” By Act III and what Harlan calls “the postmodern world,” the language “doesn’t feel dated at all.”

In fact, he found, as he rehearsed and worked with his actors—a large cast of 13, including himself—that Wilder, as evidenced in his immensely popular play Our Town, is capable of “a simplicity that’s universal” with a use of language that “gets to the essential.”

And the thought of Our Town is apropos. One of Harlan’s best successes while a student at the Drama School was in directing Will Eno’s Middletown for the Yale Summer Cabaret 2014, for which he was co-Artistic Director. That play took a very contemporary tone toward the small-town virtues of our mythic American life, with both humor and poignancy. He also directed, in the Shakespeare studio projects, A Winter’s Tale with a shifting and vivid palette of humor and pathos. The Skin of Our Teeth—the title is from the Book of Job—sounds like a timely project with the right ingredients for something wilder.

 

 

The Yale School of Drama presents
The Skin of Our Teeth
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Luke Harlan

Scenic Designer: Choul Lee; Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth; Lighting Designer: Carolina Ortiz Herrera; Sound Designer: Christopher Ross-Ewart; Projection Designer: Rasean Davonte Johnson; Dramaturg: David Clauson; Stage Manager: Paula R. Clarkson

Cast: Andrew Burnap; Baize Buzan; Juliana Canfield; Paul Stillman Cooper; Anna Crivelli; Ricardo Dávila; Melanie Field; Dylan Frederick; Luke Harlan; Annelise Lawson; Jonathan Majors; Aubie Merrylees; Shaunette Renée Wilson

Yale Repertory Theatre
October 20-24, 2015