Events

Poems of Wry Reflection

Review of Houses, New and Selected Poems by Don Barkin

 

Are there consolations of aging in place? For New Haven poet Don Barkin, poetry lends a kind of formal ascendancy over the quotidian feelings and everyday events that make up a life. In his earlier volume, That Dark Lake, Barkin earned respect as a patient observer able to make music of the unspectacular, as he does here with the “flaking stucco wall of Magruder’s Service Station.” There are poems that find their apt subject in a ruined swimming pool or getting stuck in the snow; others that let a gentle symbolism creep into a deft image, as in “The Persistent”’s description of a swimmer who disappears “for a frightening while” only to reappear on a rock “so far away / he seems almost to be standing on air.”

In Houses, his new and selected poems published by Antrim House with a handsome cover painting by Peter Van Dyck, Barkin’s eye for the detail that inspires a poetic reflection remains, but his concerns have expanded somewhat. There are several poems that make gestures to that old poetic procedure of justifying the ways of God to man; poems such as “He Plays No Favorites” and “Erratum to an Elegy for a Doomed Youth” take a certain satisfaction in deeming the almighty to be rather indifferent and only looking for amusement: “slowly you start to realize / that God must surprise himself, or no dice.”  I like the way that often a key line in Barkin’s poems, always close to the matter at hand, can expand to complete a thought we didn’t know he was thinking. As, for instance, how the question of God’s surprise at how things turn out mirrors our own, and, perhaps, suggests why one bothers to write poems.

Then, there are the poems, in Part II, where Barkin the rhymester gains ascendancy, a tendency that lets Barkin’s often wry humor turn toward the act of poetry itself, letting us take some of his grimmer insights with a smile: “Still if you find such pining thick, / you’re right. And love’s a dirty trick.” With rhyme, Barkin is willing to jingle if that helps us acknowledge how cloying the commonplace can be, where a moon may appear “round as a baby’s naked bottom / yet yellow as a leaf in autumn” (in a poem about the girls that got away), or where a poetic teen, getting dropped by a girl, can long to “see the late light glaze / the rock-face of her gaze.”

I tend to like the unrhymed poems better, though there is sometimes an air of Housman in some of the rhymes, with occasionally a deliberate cadence of Yeats. Then there are times when rhyme sets up a pattern that pays off with off-rhyme in apposition:

Now it’s a ski-loud lake,
words crumble like stale cake.
To a mind that’s walked the plank
itself is what it’s like.
And the sky above it blank,
and beneath that sky, your bank.

While “the plank” may primarily be there for the rhyme — though there may be a plank over the lake — the key line “itself is what it’s like” lands with more force for sticking out — like a plank — from the fluid supports of the rhyme. The natural scene suggests the rhymes, but the mind detached even from its own versifying effort to, as in the previous verse, say what something is “like,” maintains an unrhymed diffidence.

Indeed, Barkin’s verse has a tendency to let diffidence keep the upper hand, sometimes to good effect, as for instance in what seems, with its easy rhymes, a little parody of what might be a Frostian scene that ends: “I’ll sit here till I hear the front door close. / A man must fight the devil that he knows.” We watch a scene play out and let the final line take us beyond the everyday situation — a wife yelling at a husband who is burning up his motor trying to get out of the snow — to Barkin’s greater purpose. Here one finds a suitable proverb in the moment, but sometimes, more tellingly, we might see the poet finding out what lurks in his own heart.

There are such glimpses, but the lyric for Barkin seems less an occasion for self-exploration than for keeping the self at bay. A teacher, Barkin, in “Schooled,” when asked “did you always want to teach?” says “I never did. I’m not sure why I’m here. / When you start out, you do things on a dare— / to test your strength, and then to pay the rent / as you guys go to school because you’re sent.” The poem’s conclusion — which takes us back to the text being studied (Wordsworth) — gestures toward the poetic imagination, in which earth and moon “praise the sun while trading doubtful looks,” but lets the “doubtful look” control the entire enterprise: both the speaker as a teacher and as a poet. Too much paying the rent? Too much going where one is sent?

The consolations of age are that one is no longer doing things on a dare or to test one’s strength; one can look back on the ones that got away and take stock: “You knew / way back when you held love at bay / you’d flourish in your own way / like wildflowers in their dark array.” It’s a nice thought — that “dark array” for a poet fond of keeping in mind “that dark lake” to which we tend — but the poem’s rhyme scheme, with its terza rima, skims across the important central verse of five, with verbs as rhymes: “show, know, go.” The “love at bay” looked back on, in other words, scarce causes a pause for thought, in the poem; all effort is to make the lesson of wildflowers the departed lover left become manifest — “the darkest gold, the deepest blue.” Do we trust the terms, the image, the lesson? Form and rhyme, after all, can be a manner, a way to dodge all those notions of life that don’t opt to be apt.

Don Barkin

Don Barkin

 

Don Barkin reads today from his verse at Mitchell Library in Westville, New Haven, 3 p.m.

Houses, New and Selected Poems
By Don Barkin
Antrim House, 2017; 88 pages

Let's Talk About Race

Preview of Smart People, Long Wharf Theatre

So far this season, the Long Wharf Theatre has presented a somewhat surreal couples comedy (Meteors by Steve Martin); a re-vamp of an Eighties comedy-drama that was surprisingly relevant around election time (Other People’s Money by Jerry Sterner); a strong revival of a great achievement in twentieth-century drama (Samuel Beckett’s Endgame); a brand-new play with a fresh voice about Italian immigrants (Napoli, Brooklyn by Meghan Kennedy), and now, next up, a newish play that takes us back to a moment in the recent past that’s seeming more “historic” every day: Smart People by Lydia R. Diamond is set uring the campaign and election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States in 2008. The play purports to follow up recent Long Wharf successes in presenting abrasive plays that feature people in polite situations having to handle ugly truths.

Ka-Ling Cheung, who plays Ginny Yang in the play, saw the production at Second Stage a year ago in New York, and found it “a sexy play about race” that caused her and the friend she saw it with to talk about it afterwards. It’s a play that “asks important questions” about the puzzle of race relations and the problem of status, and she found she had some questions herself after seeing it. In working on the play with her fellow cast members and director Desdemona Chiang, some of those questions are being answered, and some “will be left to the audience.”

Cheung, who has been working mostly in “classical stuff” since her MFA days at the American Conservatory Theater, welcomes a change to “the fun of contemporary language” with a small cast of four who are all playing characters around the same age. All four characters work in Boston with some connection to Harvard, a setting that one imagines will transfer easily to New Haven and that other big Ivy in our midst. The play focuses on highly educated professionals who, we might imagine, are less tainted with racist ideas than people more regionally based and less educated. But that comfortable assumption is precisely what Diamond’s play wants to question, with humor and with added romance elements.

left to right: back row: Peter O'Connor (Brian); director Desdemona Chiang; front row: Tiffany Nichole Greene (Valerie), Ka-Ling Cheung (Ginny), Sullivan Jones (Jackson)

left to right: back row: Peter O'Connor (Brian); director Desdemona Chiang; front row: Tiffany Nichole Greene (Valerie), Ka-Ling Cheung (Ginny), Sullivan Jones (Jackson)

Ginny is “an Asian-American professor who has worked hard to be tenured.” She is a psychologist who mainly does research and a little teaching. Cheung sees her as somewhat “hard and brittle” because, as a woman of color, she’s had to prove herself where a white man would get the benefit of the doubt. Though this is academia, Ginny’s situation extends to almost any profession where women are denied the same status and compensation that men receive. Ginny adds comedy to the plot—deliberately acting-out a stereotype at one point—and Cheung likes the challenge of comedy, which is “harder” than serious roles. She’s also intrigued by the way the ensemble cast will also “play crew” during the set changes, which, she says, creates a level of participation by all that adds to the closeness of the characters’ interactions.

“All the characters are provocative and have strong opinions about racism,” and the play handles the “hot topic” as an aspect of both the personal and professional aspect of the characters. When she first saw Smart People, Cheung was excited, as a young Asian-American woman, that the play “had a part for me”; now, she’s excited by how timely the play seems and by the fact that it should give audiences, as it did for Cheung and her friend, “a lot to talk about.”

Smart People opens this Wednesday, March 15, in previews, at Long Wharf Theatre; the official opening is next week, Wednesday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m.

 

Smart People
By Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Desdemona Chiang

More Than Monkey Business

Preview of Trevor, New Haven Theater Company

With their next offering, New Haven Theater Company switches gears yet again. Trevor, their winter play, is a “dark farce” by Nick Jones, best-known at the moment as a writer for Orange is the New Black. Drew Gray, who directs the play, which opens for three shows this weekend and plays for three more the following weekend, knew of Jones’ work when the playwright was an upperclassman at Bard. Gray saw the play in its New York debut and “adored it.” The script has been one that the NHTC has been considering for a few years. The main selling-point, Gray said, is that the play offers the kind of situation that is “key to what works” for NHTC: “a resonant center” and a play “with a lot of heart.” In this case, it’s also an opportunity for Gray to work again with NHTC member Peter Chenot, who plays the main character, Trevor, and is on stage the entire time. The last time the two worked together this closely was for Gray’s own play The Magician, at NHTC in 2014.

Trevor (Peter Chenot)

Trevor (Peter Chenot)

Trevor, it should be said at the outset, is a pet chimpanzee. He’s the main focus of a play that takes us into his psyche and relies upon the steady miscommunications between humans and their pets for its “broad comedic stuff,” but also for themes a bit more profound. For Gray the always relevant question of “empathy for the other” suffuses the play. We see how Trevor is both a surrogate child to his owner, Sandra, and, in many ways, a teen who is trying to assert his impending adulthood. The inciting incident, Gray said, is that Trevor has driven Sandra’s car to a local Dunkin Donuts and then crashes it, drawing neighborhood complaints. If that doesn’t sound like a situation a parent might have with a boisterous teen, I don’t know what does.

But Jones has more on his mind than creating an offbeat analog for the dysfunction between parents and growing children. Trevor, you see, once had a life in the limelight. He was featured, in what Gray described as “his glory days,” in commercials with none less than Morgan Fairchild, a TV glamor star of the Eighties. Trevor, in what Gray called “the hopes and dreams of a chimp,” waits for show-biz to “come knocking” again, to relief him of his drab suburban existence.

Set in the domestic space Trevor and Sandra share, the play makes us privy to the internal monologue of a pet animal—an animal that is closest to human of any species. In fact, as Gray stressed, the “closer Trevor gets to being human, the bigger the void or chasm” between man and animal becomes. Like a baby everyone loves in its innocence, Trevor’s role as an indulged local tourist attraction is “starting to become untenable” as the play opens and, Gray believes, the audience will find itself “rooting for the chimp,” hoping he can reconcile with reality.

And that, Gray pointed out, is another theme of Trevor that he finds relevant: Trevor lives in his own world, in a situation that will seem absurd to many of us, but the play’s ability to normalize that situation shows us how “objective reality must be accepted.” And that aspect touches on the incident—known to most Connecticut residents—in which a woman’s pet chimpanzee, Trevis, attacked her best friend. That horrific incident, Gray said, was “the seed idea” for the situation of Jones’ play, but the attack itself plays no part in Trevor’s story. If one would like to place the play in that context, one would likely see Trevor as an effort to understand the simian protagonist of the situation.

That said, it’s easy to see that Trevor looks at how animals in some way reflect our feelings back at us—man’s best friend, and all that—and how they also are unknowable in ways we often don’t reflect upon in our zeal to dress them in human clothes and give them human names, and so on. But it’s also the case that, as with human children, people often misuse—and outright abuse—pets, constructing them as providers of companionship and amusement and protection and thrills of competition and filling a variety of roles, including in show business, that no animal ever chose or agreed to in writing. That special “unspoken” relationship we have with our animal alter-egos is explored by Jones in giving Trevor his own inner voice.

Gray, who previously has directed only his own plays with NHTC, has found working on Jones play to be an appealing experience. He is always “so versed” in his own plays and so certain of his characters’ motivations, whereas, with Trevor, it’s “been fun to find where an idea will pull through,” discovering with his actors how to make sense of Trevor’s world. “Is this world normal? What is under its broad ‘top’?” Gray likened the play’s initial tone as “a little like a sitcom” but one that’s willing to walk a bit in Ionesco’s shoes, making us see surprising connections and relevance in what seems a farcical situation.

In other words, the world of Trevor is not just monkey business.

Trevor
By Nick Jones
Directed by Drew Gray

February 23-25; March 2-4, 2017

New Haven Theater Company
English Building Markets
839 Chapel Street

What good is sitting all alone in your room?

Preview, Yale Cabaret Season 49, Part II

Generally speaking, February—in New Haven at least—isn’t an easy month to like. The good news is that the Yale Cabaret will be back, as of the 2nd, and there won’t be a “dark week” the entire month. And that means you should schedule accordingly: every weekend from February 2nd through March 2nd there will be a new offering, then, in late March and into April, a final trio of shows, plus the celebrated annual Drag Show at the very end of March.

Only two shows will feature pre-existing plays, which means that the bulk of what’s coming has never been shown or seen before. It’s all new and it’s all happening now, this moment, this season, this town. If the fact that the game has changed hasn’t been visited upon you by circumstantial evidence in and around the country, check out the Cab’s new website and new lobby. Looking forward to the 50th anniversary season of the Yale Cabaret—which began in the 1967-68 school year—the new design incorporates elements of the original poster for the Cabaret coffeehouse back in the day. Meanwhile, Cab 49 is under the same management as in the fall—Artistic Directors, Davina Moss, Kevin Hourigan, Ashley Chang, and Managing Director Steven Koernig—but has got a new lease on life, and a new logo.

First up, Cab 11: The Meal: Dramatic Essays on Cannibalism, is a contemporary Brazilian play by Newton Moreno that recently appeared in Theater magazine in a translation by Elizabeth Jackson. Directed by Stephanie Machado and Maria Inês Marques, the play, say the Cab crew, is “weird and gorgeous and grotesque.” It features three tales of cannibalism, in a sense both “metaphorically and real,” with each of the three scenes—“all love stories, in a way”—giving a different spin to the question of appropriation. The fact of cannibalism as an aspect of certain cultures is involved, as well as the ways in which we feed upon one another emotionally and, perhaps, actually. Each segment twists the possible meanings of ingesting your own species, from the erotic to the exploitative, the transactional to the colonial. February 2-4

Cab 12 features the return of The Satellite Festival, a three-night bundling of various shows in a trio of locations that made its debut in Cabaret season 48. Making use of the Cabaret space, the studio space upstairs in the same building at 217 Park, and the African-American cultural center across the walk-space from the Cab, the Festival is an opportunity for short works and works that highlight unusual technical or musical components, such as virtual reality and live music, or dance and video, to have an audience. There will be two “main events” each night at 7:45 and 10:45, interspersed with other show times to make for 15 events in all, but all able to be viewed on a single pass. There will be participants from other graduate schools at Yale, such as Music and Art, and events like a story slam, a concert for bass drum, a one-act family drama, a take-off on reality TV, a cross between Bluebeard and The Bachelorette with audience participation, and a collage of one-woman shows, among many other events. February 9-11

With a certain timeliness, Cab 13 brings us tales of the French Resistance. Marion Aubert’s Débâcles, translated by Erik Butler and Kimberly Jannarone, is, in keeping with most of the productions directed by former Summer Cabaret Co-Artistic Director, Elizabeth Dinkova, a “dark farce.” The translation was given a staging at the Lark in New York, but this will be the play’s first full American premiere. “Fast-paced,” “absurd,” “intense,” the play takes on the French effort to resist fascism when the country had officially capitulated to Nazi Germany. Sometimes real patriotism is a form of treason, and hidden agendas rule the day. Which is worse, double-think or a double-cross? February 16-18

The Quonsets brings together two new plays by Yale School of Drama playwrights, Alex Lubischer and Majkin Holmquist, for Cab 14. Quonset huts are familiar in farming communities as low-cost, portable, temporary housing used during harvest time. Lubischer, a first-year at YSD, and Holmquist, a second-year, realizing they both hail from “flyover States” of the Midwest, decided that each would write a play that would go together with the other, beginning in Kansas and moving to Nebraska, following the harvest. The two plays share a character, a certain “hyper naturalism,” and, of course, the huts. First-year director Aneesha Kudtarkar brings us this unusual visit to a Red-State America “foreign” to many ensconced in embattled Blue States. February 23-25

The uninterrupted streak of weekly shows ends with Cab 15, Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, a new work by first-year playwright Jeremy O. Harris, directed by third-year director, and former Summer Cabaret Co-Artistic Director, Jesse Rasmussen. Xander is a porn star and “digital celebrity” obsessed with his identity on the internet, and on a first date with Michael, who he met on one of the online date-enabling sites; meanwhile, Xander’s brother Matt, a musician, is trying to find romance with Lena, a girl he just met. This “very contemporary” play, set in Los Angeles, explores the problems of love and intimacy in a world where virtual reality can be more compelling than face-to-face reality. March 2-4

After two dark weeks, the Cabaret returns with Cab 16: The Red Tent, a devised work proposed by first-year actress Sohina Sidhu, as a ritual performance investigating the cultural status of menstruation. Involving first-year actors and other women of color, the play’s title refers to the tradition in some cultures of isolating women during their menstrual period, a space the women mean to claim as their own. Using “poetry and music, movement and magic” the play, to use Audre Lorde’s words, shows “how to take our differences and make them strengths.” March 23-25

One night only, for three shows, the Yale School of Drama’s annual “School of Drag” show takes over the Cabaret. An increasingly hot ticket, the show features an unpredictable array of male and female cross-dressing, dance routines, lip-synching, and costumes to die for. Third-year actor Ricardo Dávila and third-year director Kevin Hourigan direct this fun and frolicsome affront to hetero-normativity. March 31

In April, the first show up is Cab 17, The Other World. Directed by third-year actor Baize Buzan, the play is an adaptation by playwright Charlie O’Malley of the memoir and artworks of queer artist/activist David Wojnarowicz who, in the Reagan era of rampant HIV/AIDS infections, deaths, and mourning, created art to raise awareness. Now, 25 years after his death, Wojnarowicz’s struggle to make art and life work together for social ends is again highly relevant. April 6-8

Cab 18, the final show of the season, is the rather balefully entitled Circling the Drain. Third-year costume designer Cole McCarty adapts the short story collection of that name by the late American author Amanda Davis, each focused on “women on the edge: falling out of love, falling into love, falling off a bridge,” and in many senses “dangling on a precipice.” A passion project, the show is, the Cab crew say, a “passionate and compelling” instance of “what we’re going for” in shaping the Cab’s season 49. April 20-22

Eighteen shows plus the Drag Show. Another packed season for stressful times. The welcoming ambiance of the Cab’s basement theater feels more important than ever, and the shows on offer will no doubt provoke, delight, consternate, and inspire. For info on season passes and individual tickets, consult the Cabaret’s website at cab49.org.

As ever, see you at the Cab!

Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, Steven Koernig

Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, Steven Koernig

 

Yale Cabaret 49, February-April, 2017

Excruciating Times

Preview of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Yale School of Drama

Jesse Rasmussen likes to think of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, the 17th century play she will direct as her thesis production, as “the dirty little cousin of Romeo and Juliet.” As Rasmussen says, Ford “knows his Shakespeare” and would expect his audience to note the degree to which he is cribbing from the master: young “star-crossed lovers,” each with an adult confidante—a friar and a nurse, respectively. And a setting in Italy—though here it’s Parma, not Florence. And what might cause a bit more sensation—since baroque plays have a way of being rather provocative—than lovers who come from warring households? How about lovers who come from the same upper-middle-class household, who are, in fact, brother and sister?

The play was controversial in its day because of its sympathetic portrayal of incest—which might be one of the few romantic pairings that could be expected to inspire shock, even in our day. Rasmussen says the play “has a troubled production history” in modern times, with few commentators seeming to be pleased with what they’ve seen. Rasmussen saw one production in Australia, her native land, and read about two others. She found that the play “stuck in my craw” and if something sticks around like that, “you do it to get rid of it,” because that’s the only way.

Working through the text with her actors in rehearsal, Rasmussen has been considering two factors that have influenced her presentation of the play. On the one hand, the actors have found—to their surprise—how “juicy the language is to act. It’s cruder than Shakespeare, but it’s made to be played.” In other words, this is no closet drama text. The other factor Rasmussen has noted shares the view of Antonin Artaud who, is his famed manifesto on the Theater of Cruelty, mused that ‘Tis Pity might be staged without dialogue. What this means in practice is that Rasmussen has made many dramatic cuts to the script—which would otherwise play for upwards of three hours “at least”—in what she described as a choice of “bodies and physical action over text.” The show also adds music and the most fully developed use of projection design—including live feed—she has worked with thus far.

Jesse Rasmussen

Jesse Rasmussen

One of the aspects that made the play stay in Rasmussen’s mind, she said, is its “fascinating mystery,” as a provocation to audiences, and to players and directors. As director, her task is to “temper the experience” so that the audience does not feel itself “assaulted” by “the utterly brutal society” portrayed, which is “horrifyingly misogynist” and visits “excruciating trauma upon the women in the play.” In addition to Annabella, sister/lover of Giovanni, and the “whore” of the title, there is a revenge plot involving Hippolita’s hatred of her former lover Soranzo, the most likely candidate for Annabella’s hand.

The Church, which should be the absolute arbiter of vice and virtue, is shown as having no moral authority because it is corrupt, and “buyable.” The “loveliest thing in this culture,” according to Rasmussen, is the “beautiful poetry between Annabella and Giovanni” which is “gorgeous but poisonous.”

The play will be staged in contemporary clothing, though perhaps with baroque elements, and the audience will be seated on the stage of the University Theater. This variant, which I’ve seen done in two other thesis shows, adds a memorable intimacy to the production while also permitting the full use of the many stage-craft elements available at the UT.

In considering what it might mean to put her own stamp on the play, Rasmussen spoke of wanting to “flesh the text out into a fully inhabited, textured world.” She spoke of “chasing terror and violence to find beauty” and, while calling the play “ugly and dark,” Rasmussen, a “film buff,” likened its power to Martin Scorsese’s celebrated Raging Bull, which is both a harsh and violent film but also a beautiful one. Her task is to register the beauty and the violence of Ford’s play, while also creating “more focus” on the role of Annabella, who is “anything but a classical whore” and is in fact “a complex, fascinating heroine,” as a scapegoat (“lock her up!”) of this vicious society. Annabella hopes to find in love with her brother Giovanni a sort of narcissistic withdrawal from the dark and debased world they live in. Incest, in Rasmussen’s view, makes the insular nature of their love—and its flaunting of one of the few mores the play’s appalling world recognizes—all the more doomed.

Rasmussen, who staged very tellingly Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love at last year’s Summer Cabaret, seems drawn to incestuous dysfunction among ruling or upper-class families, and, certainly to violence and cruelty as elements of theater, elements that are perhaps alarmingly suitable to our time of histrionic hyperbole, wild invective, and shamefully debased public discourse. When the codes are broken, go for baroque.

 

'Tis Pity She’s a Whore
By John Ford
Directed by Jesse Rasmussen
Yale School of Drama
January 31-February 4, 2017

Insurrection Songs

Preview of Bulgaria! Revolt!, Yale School of Drama

Bulgarian native and third-year director in the Yale School of Drama, Elizabeth Dinkova has long dreamed of dramatizing poet Geo Milev’s epic poem, September, about the suppression of a peasant uprising in her homeland in 1923, and this week her dream will be fulfilled. This semester, Dinkova and her collaborators Miranda Rose Hall, a third-year playwright, and Michael Constagliola, a second-year sound designer, have developed an original “tragicomic musical,” Bulgaria! Revolt!  that revisits the situation in which Milev wrote his most famous work, and also extends his vision to the U.S.

The play debuts this Friday at the Iseman Theater as the second thesis show of the season at the School of Drama, and runs through December 15.

Elizabeth Dinkova

Elizabeth Dinkova

Bulgaria! Revolt! derives from the story of Milev, a poet who wrote a poem about an armed insurgency against a new government, formed by a military coup, that deposed an Agrarian leader and placed a fascist, Alexander Tsankov, in power. The uprising was brutally suppressed, the Communist Party was outlawed, and, after a terrorist act at a military funeral stirred up further reprisals, Milev was killed along with 400-500 others and buried in a mass grave in 1925.

In Bulgaria! Revolt!, the poet is tried and convicted as an enemy of the State and is forced to rescind his poem. His faith in art’s political use shaken, the poet makes a deal with the devil to have his poem “disappeared,” so that no memory of it will exist. The poet’s wife, Mila, protests, and the devil accepts her challenge to prove that poetry can still inspire revolutionary ideals, though this time, Mila insists, it will do so in the meat-packing district of 1920s Chicago, which is where Act II is set.

Chicago, Dinkova points out, has the highest population of Bulgarians in the U.S. due to a popular Bulgarian travel novel, To Chicago and Back, that painted conditions in the country around the time of the 1890 World’s Fair for would-be emigrants back home. As an immigrant, Dinkova wanted to work on a project that could bring together both her home country and her current one, with continuity between the two settings provided by the question of the artist’s responsibility to the public, and to the political forces of a given time and place.

Adapting Milev’s poem required a collaborator and in that Dinkova has been blessed by her close working relationship with Miranda Rose Hall. The two worked together last year on Hall’s second-year play The Best Lesbian Erotica, 1995, and on a wildly satiric Yale Cabaret show about a viral health crisis, and, this past summer, on the lampoon Antarctica! at the Yale Summer Cabaret where Dinkova was Co-Artistic Director. Each of the works featured a decidedly satiric element, at least in part, and the latter was also an adaptation—of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. This time, the duo say, they felt the show had to be a musical, and that brought in the talents of Michael Constagliola to compose the score.

Why a musical? Hall speaks enthusiastically of a class on the musical that impressed upon her how the “genre has a lot of requirements,” and with so much in their play requiring imaginative leaps, she “took refuge in the given structures” of the form. It also helps that their plot fits well the requirements of standard musicals, such as “two opposing worlds,” a main character “with a counterpart,” and songs that provide exposition and also big “I am, I want” solos of motivation. The American musical “feels larger than life,” and that’s a quality the play is decidedly going for. Both Dinkova and Hall look to collaborators in musical theater like Brecht/Weill who “recognized the power of music to ask questions and change minds.” And, of course, most popular movements have their songs to inspire and to “galvanize the masses.”

The poem, September, is “romantic and epic,” Dinkova says, filled “with a naïve, idealistic vision,” trying to imagine “a world where earth will be a paradise with no lord or master.” It may have been a stretch for Milev, a modernist and expressionist, to encompass such themes, but the times demanded it. Even so, she says, “the protagonists are not ideological heroes but tragic figures.” For Hall and Dinkova, the effort has been to capture the tone while letting artistic freedom guide the choice of events and scenes. Hall says their earlier collaboration on Antarctica! was a “fertile proving ground” for learning how to adapt works of another time to our contemporary occasions. As with that play, Hall’s participation in Bulgaria! isn’t part of her own degree requirements at YSD, so there is a similar freedom, though, she says, with the budget and prep time of a thesis show, this production “is like the Cab on steroids.”

Dinkova and Hall say they have taken their inspiration this time out from the working relationship between playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman, the co-creators of the Yale Rep’s Broadway-bound play Indecent. A bit like the latter work, Bulgaria! Revolt! seeks to find a contemporary meaning in an older text and to find poetic and dramatic significance in historical events. There the similarity probably ends, since Hall, when working with Dinkova, seems to be drawn to the absurd and to irreverent satire.

And why not? I spoke to the co-creators days after the election of 2016, and Dinkova spoke of how rehearsals had become a kind of “refuge” and a “fire pit” where one could burn up the energy of dismay and foreboding inspired by the unexpected turn of events. For Hall, though the script was finalized before the election’s outcome, there is a question for artists in “how to find hope” and, for herself, in discovering the meaning of a much-abused term like “revolution.”

A leftist poet suppressed after writing a poem celebrating a brave but failed insurrection against a fascist leader? A deal with the devil that lets the poet and his wife try again in “the land of the free”?  Bulgaria! Revolt! has the potential to needle the way a good political cartoon can, and with tunes to whistle while you work for the future.

 

Bulgaria! Revolt!
Book and lyrics by Miranda Rose Hall
Music by Michael Constagliola
Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova

Yale School of Drama
December 9-15, 2016
Iseman Theater
1156 Chapel Street

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