Voted Best Community Theater in the 2013 “Best of” at the New Haven Advocate, the Yale Cabaret offers compelling theater in a very intimate space. During the summer months, the frenetic pace of the Cab’s three-night stands slows a bit, as the Yale Summer Cabaret takes over the space. For the last few years, the Summer Cab has offered three plays over two months. In the last two years, the offerings have been presented in repertory style, with overlapping runs. For 2013, Artistic Director Dustin Wills has changed that, going back to earlier versions of the Summer Cabaret, which was founded in 1974. As a student in Austin, Wills worked with Fran Dorn who, he later discovered, was one of the founders of the Summer Cab. When he spoke to her about it, he learned that the initial Summer Cab offered 17 shows in a single summer. (Incidentally, a few of those plays were written by the likes of Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang, students at the time.)
Wills wants the hallmark of this year’s Summer Cab to be “ambition and variety.” The initial ambition of six shows was trimmed to five but, as Wills says, these are “real plays.” Great authors providing great theater—“big plays in a tiny space.” The shows will be offered successively, which means audiences have two weeks to see each play—at 8 p.m. shows only, no matinees or late shows—before it gives way to the next.
With a troupe of eight core actors, plus two guest actors, chosen from 32 auditions, Wills has the basis for what he sees as a “standing circus”—the communal life of ensemble acting, with actors “eating, breathing theater.” Wills, a directing student entering his third year in the Drama School, will direct three of the shows, and Associate Artistic Director Chris Bannow, a third year acting student recently seen as Osric in the Rep’s Hamlet, with Paul Giamatti, will direct two. The cast consists of Celeste Arias (*15), Mamoudou Athie (*14), Ato Blankson-Wood (*15), Prema Cruz (*14), Ceci Fernandez (*14), Ashton Heyl (*14), Gabe Levey (*14), Michelle McGregor (*14), Mickey Theis (*14), Mitchell Winter (*14).
Wills and company have selected the plays carefully for their “Summer of Giants.” The plays represent a variety of eras, places, and countries of origin. Conceived as a “journey in time,” the roster of plays reads like a syllabus for a mini-survey of theater. The program begins in 17th-century France, moves to 19th-century Sweden, then to Spanish folktales turned into a comedy first published in 1930, then to an American play from 1969, set in Tokyo, Japan, and finally to two British one acts from 1987 and 2006, respectively.
Opening with Tartuffe, one of the greatest plays by the French master Molière, lives up to the “Giants” title. Wills directs a play that he says offers “a collision of comedy and severity.” Spoken in rhyming couplets but with modern touches—such as a vacuum cleaner—the Cab staging explores the excess of the period as setting for its theme of love vs. hypocrisy, and of youth vs. deluded elders—themes as relevant to our day of puffed-up charlatans in high places as to the highly mannered era of Louis XIV. With the full troupe. May 30 through June 15.
The second play of the summer is a pas de deux of power. Chris Bannow directs August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, a psychological study of passions, a clash between the sexes set amidst class distinctions. Sweden, a bit ahead of the curve in developing some of the freedoms we now take for granted, is the setting for this confrontation with the abyss of identity that can open when the old order is questioned by turn-of-the-century youngsters at the height of the summer festival. Featuring Ceci Fernandez, Mitchell Winter, and Celeste Arias. June 20 through June 29.
Spanish poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca is not best-known for comedies, but Wills sees the hilarious farce The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife as an opportunity for the Summer Cab to lighten up a bit after the heaviness of Strindberg. It’s also a chance to engage with puppetry and the “expressivity of theater,” as a traveling puppeteer visits a town where the local shoemaker has abandoned his teen-aged, unsatisfied wife. Using song, poems, and folk tales, Lorca creates a timeless tale of the struggle of marriage and the vibrancy of small-town life. Wills directs Prema Cruz, Gabe Levey, Ato Blankson-Wood, Mickey Theis, Mamoudou Athie, Michelle McGregor, Ceci Fernandez, and Chris Bannow. July 11 through July 20.
Tennessee Williams is best-known for his explorations of Southern manners in his plays of the Forties and Fifties (such as A Streetcar Named Desire, which will kick-off the Yale Rep season in the fall). In his 1969 play In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, Williams takes on the trends of modern art—notably expressionism, in the role of Mark, an expat in Japan who is trying to discover new inspiration for his painting. Meanwhile his bored wife is getting predatory with the Japanese barman. Wills sees the play, with its artist figure destroying himself, as autobiographical for Williams. And with its setting of Americans in Japan, the play works within the post-war relations of the formerly adversarial nations. Bannow directs Celeste Arias, Mickey Theis, Mamoudou Athie, and Mitchell Winter. July 25 through August 3.
Caryl Churchill is one of the undisputed masters of the last thirty years of theater and her two short plays, Heart’s Desire and Drunk Enough to Say I Love You combine to showcase what Wills calls “the absolute breakdown of language.” That includes the polite language of everyday speech, as a mother and father, in Heart’s Desire, await the return of their daughter, only to find, as the play repeats and restarts, that anxieties can surface in different ways; and in Drunk, the dialogue of two men becomes a reflection on the tensions between England and the U.S. in a play that dates from the era of Tony Blair and "W." Wills directs Chris Bannow, Ceci Fernandez, Michelle McGregor, Mamoudou Athie, Prema Cruz, Mitchell Winter, Ato Blankson-Wood and Celeste Arias in Heart’s Desire, and Ato Blankson-Wood and Mitchell Winter in Drunk. August 8 through August 18.
Such demanding and challenging plays might require some “down time,” and so the Summer Cab will also host Friday Late Nights. With free admission from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Cab’s bar will remain open and special late night events will be taking place—such as dance parties, karaoke, Tom Waits imitators, and a Boy Band sing-along. Which means the Cab, in addition to bringing us great plays by great authors with a young and adventuresome cast and artistic staff, will also be poised to be one of the best late-night hang-outs Fridays during the dog days.
See you at the Cab!
The Yale Summer Cab presents Summer of Giants Dustin Wills, Artistic Director Chris Bannow, Associate Artistic Director Molly Henninghausen, Managing Director Anh Le, Associate Managing Director
May 30 through August 18, 2013
for more information, schedules, and tickets/season passes: