Sandy notwithstanding, theatrical offerings are plentiful as this week of hurricane hysteria draws to its close. Local theater group A Broken Umbrella Theater offers the third of its three-weekend run of The Library Project, Nov. 3-4, with four more performances. Developed to coincide with the celebration of the New Haven Free Public Library’s 125 years of existence, the play requires its audience to move about through the historic building facing the Green, led by charming escorts with glowing umbrellas. After introductory pieces in the entranceway and main hall that give a bit of the historical circumstances that gave rise, back in the 1880s, to the Public Library, featuring dialogue between its architect, Cass Gilbert (Matthew Gafney) and its patron, Mary Ives (Mary Jane Smith), the audience divides into groups determined by a star on each program that denotes which of the five pieces will be encountered first.
Moving through the library in a group brings back memories of ye olde class trip—which may or may not be fond memories, depending—and, indeed, the tour has the air of a compelled itinerary as no one breaks ranks or moves about freely. It’s all rather impressively organized so that there is never much waiting, once everyone has seated themselves in a new area, before the site-specific performance begins. Because of differences in where each group begins, the experience differs from group to group, but the sequence is the same. My group began with “RIP” and concluded with “Balance a Dime”—an instructive bracketing, as these two pieces manage to look a bit askance at the history of the Ives Branch Library.
In “RIP,” directed by Ian Alderman and developed by the Ensemble, Salvatore DeMaio (Ruben Ortiz) is a muralist of the WPA era, who painted the Library’s murals depicting the story of Rip Van Winkle—in the play he’s going about his business, only to find himself a ghost haunting, unbeknownst to them, the conservators (Charlie Alexander and Halle Martenson) trying to restore his murals. The tension between their effort—with lack of funds and, apparently, a lack of will by the powers that be—and his shock at what has become of his work creates a somewhat critical air regarding the stewardship of the building we had seen so nobly celebrated in the hall upstairs. And, at the close, “Balance a Dime,” also directed by Alderman, and written by Jason Patrick Wells, features a kind of dueling libraries account of the events by which the NHFPL wound up with funds originally earmarked for The Institute Library. With the latter represented by its Executive Director, Will Baker, or its Outreach Coordinator Megan Black, and the NHFPL represented by its Executive Director, Christopher Korenowsky, and the City of New Haven enacted by Lou Mangini, the playlet airs the bad blood between the two libraries which “turns on the dime,” as it were, of the wording in the will of Mr. Merritt, who left the $60,000 start-up fund for a library in New Haven.
Between these two pieces filled with the tensions of funding, managing, and conserving a civic landmark are lighter pieces that conjure up the romance of the library. Whether it’s dancing patrons “In Circulation” (Robin Levine, choreography), or the songs in the mouths of friends Noah Webster (Kenneth Murray) and Samuel Morse (Peter Chenot) as they, in “Noah & Sam” (directed by Rachel Alderman, with Book, Music & Lyrics by Rob Shapiro) discuss the challenges and opportunities of technology in “the Information Age,” or, in my favorite segment, the very charming children (Kaatje Welsh and Remsen Welsh) and their musical mentor (Josie Kulp) who, in “Branching Out” (written and directed by Rachel Alderman), inhabit the children’s wing as though it were truly a fabled place promised in fairy tales, these interludes aim to enchant with the sense of the library’s magic, and mostly succeed.
With over 70 people providing their talents and expertise, and with the Library allowing free run of its impressive building, The Library Project marks the most ambitious ABUT offering yet, and is effective in rallying pride and surprise as it deepens its viewers’ sense of the library’s place and purpose in the community.
Tonight (postponed from last night) sees the opening of Iphigenia Among the Stars, the thesis show for Jack Tamburri, third year directing MFA at the Yale School of Drama, which takes two tragedies by Euripides, centered on Agamemnon’s daughter, the ill-fated Iphigenia, and, as adapted by Ben Fainstein, mashes them with the Mighty Marvel Comics-style of Jack “King” Kirby to create something that should entertain and instruct, we assume. Oct. 31-Nov. 1, Iseman Theater, 1156 Chapel Street.
On Friday, the Argentinian theater group Las chicas de blanco (The Girls in White) presents La edad de la ciruela (The Age of the Plum), an interpretive piece that renders conflicting feelings about home and place in light of the central metaphor of a rooted plum tree. The play, which premiered in 2010, represented Buenos Aires in the 2011 National Drama Festival. Las chicas de blanco explore theater through expressive dramaturgy and the humor of an ironic female perspective. The performing duo involve work from “The Subway Lives,” a program that uses unusual spaces, such as subways, for artistic performances, and are the originators of “Women Take Up Art,” an all-female group that promotes the possibilities for cultural transformation through theater.
Free and open to the public, the performance is in Spanish and is aimed to provide access to Spanish language productions for Yale and New Haven communities. At Yale’s Off-Broadway Theater, 41 Broadway, New Haven, Nov. 2, 2 p.m.