It's a Family Affair

Review of Boris Yeltsin at Yale Cabaret

The first semester of the Yale Cabaret’s 2015-16 season closes this weekend with the world premiere English translation of Mickaël de Oliveira’s Boris Yeltsin, translated from the Portuguese by Maria Inês Marques, and directed by Elizabeth Dinkova. Funny and unsettling, the play is a take-off on the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and their son Orestes—the main figures in Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon—though this Orestes boasts a pronounced Oedipus complex.

 Jesse Rasmussen (Clytemnestra), George Hampe (Agamemnon)

Jesse Rasmussen (Clytemnestra), George Hampe (Agamemnon)

Dad/Agamemnon (George Hampe) looks like a Hefner-inspired playboy, sporting a turtleneck, sport coat, and goatee, and acts like a preening narcissist, exuding presumptuous entitlement, creepy parenting, crude seductions, and a welter of brash pronouncements. Hampe is inspired in this obnoxious role. As his wife Clytemnestra, Jesse Rasmussen is self-possessed and elegant, maintaining a fixed stare at her mate’s more rakish advances and calling him Boris from time to time. Eventually, they get around to a truth-and-drink game that amusingly bares their marital tensions. Meanwhile, Cassandra (Shadi Ghaheri), Agamemnon’s recent acquisition from the fall of Troy, stalks about in a diaphanous wrap, writing the titles of the parts of the play on the wall (my favorite, “Catherine Zeta-Jones”), and often pounding on the door.

 Julian Elijah Martinez (Orestes)

Julian Elijah Martinez (Orestes)

Then there’s Orestes. Julian Elijah Martinez manifests the classic mix of softness and toughness that marks the rebellious man-child. He broods and mopes and from time to time flicks a little wry half-smile that makes his parents uneasy. He’s a bit of a mama’s boy—and Mom’s not above inspecting his genitals up close to see how near manhood he is—and his relationship with his father is, in Dad’s words, “a chip off the old cock.” We may be surprised that Dad and Son climb naked into a bath together, but even so, their dialog continues to respect the relationship of father and child, with Agamemnon worried what kind of heir apparent he’s stuck with. In its joking way, Boris Yeltsin flirts with the possibility of hysterical sexuality, but, as with “the revolution,” much of the threat is just a manner of talking.

Until, of course, things get deadly. Is it all about wanting what Fathers’ have—whether that be Mother or a hot concubine—or is it all about becoming what Father is? Or doing it all for oneself? De Oliveira’s Orestes doesn’t have it all figured out, and he’s not the heroic type, but he’s also not the kind to play “mother may I?” forever. But is he any better than his war-mongering tyrant father?

The staging—with three main playing spaces and an area for two musicians (Lynda Paul, bassoon; André Redwood, percussion)—puts everyone in the audience close to at least part of the action, and Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting and Haydee Zelideth’s costumes and Claire DeLiso’s sets create plenty of aura to set the actors apart in a kind of mythic realm. At one point Orestes writes “FUCK THE MYTH YEAH” in chalk on the wall above the tub, but which myth he means—and there are plenty circling about the House of Atreus—is left for us to ponder, as is the meaning of the birthday cake the musicians offer Clytemnestra at the close. Cassandra, gifted with the ability to “futurize,” never says a word in the play, but one has the sense that the play, set in the 1990s but dating from 2010, is “predicting” that the days of the economic oligarchy are numbered.

As the gutsiest and most baleful comedy the Cab has assayed this term, Boris Yeltsin ends the rather distraught 2015 memorably and makes us eager for the season’s resumption in 2016.

Boris Yeltsin
By Mickaël de Oliveira
Translated by Maria Inês Marques
Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova

Composer: Christopher Ross-Ewart; Scenic Designer: Claire DeLiso; Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth; Lighting Designer: Andrew F. Griffin; Technical Director: Mitch Massaro; Stage Manager: Emely Zepeda; Producer: Charles O’Malley

Cast: Shadi Ghaheri; George Hampe; Julian Elijah Martinez; Jesse Rasmussen

Band: Lynda Paul, bassoon; André Redwood, percussion

Yale Cabaret
December 3-5, 2015