Next weekend the Yale Cabaret returns—Cab 47—helmed by Artistic Directors, Hugh Farrell, a dramaturg, Will Rucker, a stage manager, Tyler Kieffer, a sound designer (who have participated in 19 shows at the Cab and/or Summer Cab amongst them), and Managing Director Molly Hennighausen, who ably managed the Summer Cabaret of 2013.
The Cab is the go-to spot for the unusual, the off-the-wall, the below-stairs (it’s literally in a basement, which this year’s logo capitalizes on, creating the look of a movie ad from the Sixties where a trip down the stairs may lead to unimagined things). It’s a place of creative ferment, where students see what they can do—often in areas they aren’t being officially trained in—and what they can get away with. The audience can be a mix—as Molly Hennighausen says—of many first-timers, drawn by the word-of-mouth of a specific show, and many dedicated regulars, who come no matter what’s on offer.
It’s also a convivial place to dine, thanks to Anna Belcher’s kitchen skills, with a changing menu that always offers 3 entrees, a number of small plates, a salad, a soup, and a choice of desserts, not to mention a fairly varied wine-list and a selection of beers. All the dining business is over before the show begins, with tables cleared, generally, so there’s little of the distraction of plates and forks while the play’s playing.
If you like your theater up-close and personal, with, as it were, the strings showing, then the Cab is a dream. And, if you come more than once, you’re likely to see the people who, one week, put on the show doing the service and such another week. It’s a “we all muck in together” entity, even more so now that Work Study support has been withdrawn. Previously, Work Study picked up half the wage of the Cab’s workers, so now the Cab, to stay on budget, will lean upon generous donors and sponsors—and full houses—more than before. The Cab’s site lists the different levels of patronage available, including the popular “show sponsor”—an innovation begun by Managing Director Jonathan Wemette in the 45th anniversary season, 2011-12. Check back here to get a brief preview of the shows when they’re announced, then hand over a check for the show you want to back. And if that’s too big a commitment, smaller donations—as Enthusiast, Friend, and even “Starving Artist” level—are available. The Cab is a unique institution, well worthy of support.
The site claims two mantras for this season: Make Happen the Make Believe—a good imperative for any creative endeavor—and Now or Never, which certainly puts an emphasis on timeliness and limited time. Theater, more than any other creative work, requires presence in the here and now.
The first three shows of the season have been announced, and the new décor—which features a classically appointed entranceway/lobby that will be complete with tech features, such as piped-in music or live audio feeds from inside the theater—is developing. The team—Hugh, Will, Tyler, and Molly—stress an “open door” policy and their accessibility as a team to audience input, and likewise to the students who may have ideas for proposals. They looked at 7 proposals for the first 3 slots and take a supportive, enabling role in all projects they accept, and can help teams get together for resubmitting proposals not successful at first. The teamwork of the projected work is key.
Hugh says the proposal by the Cab 47 team focused on “community and collaboration”—the community of YSD, certainly, but also the community that the theater serves, with “collaboration” a broad term that extends from the various talents of the people involved in the show—from those who build the sets and make the costumes to those who research and write and act and direct and keep the place running—to those who provide attention and feedback as audience. Will stresses “generosity without expectation” which is a way of saying “just show-up, ready for whatever.” It’s different each week and what you get should be something other than what you expected. The team wants to make a season “full of that Cab show”—the one everyone talks about and remembers. And that’s not necessarily to say it’s all about love and praise. Making people grapple with what they’ve seen, or offer personal insights, is part of the Cab experience.
First up is Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time—a new play by third-year playwright Emily Zemba, who collaborated on last year’s crowd-pleasing season opener, We Know Edie LaMinx Had a Gun. Look Up will feature a “sort of mash-up” of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Toddlers and Tiaras. Directed by third-year actor Ato Blankson-Wood, who’s been turning in worthwhile Cab performances since the Summer Cab of 2013, and featuring Celeste Arias, ditto, the play follows Liddy, a young girl coping with the pressures of a child beauty pageant while encountering a series of characters right out of Lewis Carroll by way of whatever cultural associations the team tosses in. September 18-20
Cab 2 is a new translation by Kee-Yoon Nahm of Geun-Hyung Park’s Don’t Be Too Surprised. Nahm, trained as a dramaturg at YSD, also directs the cast, which will not include YSD actors, in “a really dark comedy” from 2009. Park is a prolific Korean actor—on screen, TV and stage—who also writes, and his play is about a fraught relationship between father and grown son, that features karaoke and an on-stage suicide. September 25-27
The third of the first three shows is American Gothic—no, not the painting by Grant Wood, nor the novel by William Gaddis, but an ambitious combining of three stories: Jorge Luis Borges’ “The South,” Raymond Carver’s “Popular Mechanics,” and Flannery O’Connor’s oft-anthologized and taught, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”—which puts the “Southern” in Southern Gothic. Proposed by two dramaturgy students, Eli Epstein-Deutsch and Nahuel Telleria, and directed by Telleria, the play represents a collaboration by students in YSD, the Yale School of Music, and the Yale School of Art, and features an “installation-like set” by Sam Vernon. October 9-11
When speaking about the Cab 47 team’s leadership and guidance in soliciting, aiding, and choosing proposals, Molly stresses how “safe” the Cab is: in the sense that almost anything can get a try-out there. Its small size means the house is frequently sold out, and that creates an exciting environment for both audience and performers. As a “safe house” for theatrical experiment, the Cab is truly a New Haven treasure.
It’s now or never: help make happen the make believe. Your eyes and ears are required.
Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street New Haven, CT