The Yale Cabaret’s This. is a fast-paced pastiche of personal events from multiple sources. Staged by a cast of six—three males, three females—and directed by Margot Bordelon, the script, developed by Mary Laws, derives from interviews and anonymous emails solicited from people from the communities of Yale, the Drama School, and New Haven. To what end? To weave the anecdotes of childhood trauma, teenage experiences, and other moments of “loss or fracture” into an entertaining and touching night of theater. The sense of a collective voice is supported by the fact that the gender of a given interviewee is not necessarily retained in the actor chosen to act out that segment. Thus the six—Jaspari Brisport, Merlin Huff, Ella Monte-Brown, Mariko Nakasone, Hannah Leigh Sorenson, Mickey Theis—metamorphose in a very fluid fashion, not bound by consistency of voice or character. And yet each actor is given opportunities to hold center stage with a story a bit more fleshed out than some of the other quick changes. Particularly strong is Jaspari Brisport with the material that falls to his lot: he tells us of the vicissitudes of belonging to a band of guys who call themselves the Poochys—his social death arrives via a play-acted same-sex kiss he puts his tongue into, and a stressed-out recital of a speech from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion; elsewhere Brisport, with a thick voice and a collection of nervous tics, tells of paternal molestation in a hot tub—the story is told in response to a prompt asking about events that caused a major change and the story isn’t over-dramatized, though “the change” is clearly traumatic. Similar is Nakasone’s tale of a teen-ager who, against her better judgment, lets herself get drunk with a group of boys who proceed to rape her—“the change” is that her father blames her. While these stories may seem too sad or unpleasant for a friendly interview session, Bordelon and Laws wisely maintain the straight-forward declamation of such confessions. We hear the stories told by persons who are clearly able to live with these pasts and go on with their lives.
Surprisingly, against such lurid material, the stories of lesser or more comic instances of past misfortune don’t seem trivial, as for instance Merlin Huff in the character of a somewhat garrulous elder—turning 65—who reminisces about the loss of a prized toy. It’s to the entire cast’s credit that they are able to inhabit the state of mind of children and teens so as to make stories like finding someone to blame the destruction of a statue of the Blessed Mother on seem vivid. In addition to well-choreographed movement to keep the action fluid and not too talky, the team also employs very effective mixes of lighting (Oliver Wason) and stop-action moments to create tableaux that work to highlight key moments and produce images of emotions easy to identify with.
The action all takes place against set designer Reid Thompson’s impressive backdrop walls where the shelves of a middle-class den meet the large scale box sculptures of Louise Nevelson, a nice mashing of the mundane and the modernist. The overall effect of This. is a sense of wonder at the stories harbored by anonymous people; we might suppose that the verbatim language of interviews would be a bit too artless for drama, but as presented here, the deliberate eschewing of overly dramatic, poetic or sensational language keeps the situations described within the realm of everyday reality. And that's the point. We’re all a part of This.
This. Conceived and created by Margot Bordelon, Mary Laws, and Alexandra Ripp Script by Mary Laws Directed by Margot Bordelon Based on interviews conducted in New Haven
Yale Cabaret 45th Anniversary Season