Eros the Erratic

Review of We Are All Here at Yale Cabaret

Charles L. Mee’s Wintertime is a play about relationships, mixing the bedroom farce with existentialism—or maybe it’s more like an existential comedy based on who’s sleeping with whom. As adapted by David Bruin and Jiréh Breon Holder at the Yale Cabaret, directed by Bruin, the show, called We Are All Here, puts the give-and-take among this large cast of 10 front and center where it belongs. Dispensing, for the most part, with props and scenery, Bruin and Holder make the play as streamlined as possible. And that’s to the good, as Wintertime is a very verbal play, with occasional physical flights—such as a routine of door-slamming and a full cast dance number—and We Are All Here is even more so (minus the throwing things tantrum, but with a great ping pong match to literalize a metaphor Mee uses).

 front: Christopher Ghaffari; back, left to right: Sean Patrick Higgins, Jenelle Chu, Jonathan Higginbotham, Edmund Donovan

front: Christopher Ghaffari; back, left to right: Sean Patrick Higgins, Jenelle Chu, Jonathan Higginbotham, Edmund Donovan

Leon (Jonathan Higginbotham) and his girlfriend Ariel (Brontë England-Nelson) come to his family’s getaway spot for a hot weekend during which Leon intends to propose. Soon after arrival they find that Leon’s mother Maria (Jenelle Chu) is already in residence with her lover François (Christopher Ghaffari). This causes some embarrassment to all, which is further aggravated by the arrival of Maria’s husband—Leon’s father—Frank (Sean Patrick Higgins) and his current lover Edmund (Edmund Donovan). To complete the sexual smorgasbord there’s also a lesbian couple, Hilda (Victoria Whooper) and Bertha (Maria Ines Marques) enjoying the great outdoors nearby. And then there’s the philosophical deliveryman Bob (Ian Williams), and Jacqueline (Claire DeLiso), an ob-gyn on the make, to round things out.

 Jenelle Chu (Maria), Ian Williams (Bob), Sean Patrick Higgins (Frank), Christopher Ghaffari (Francois)

Jenelle Chu (Maria), Ian Williams (Bob), Sean Patrick Higgins (Frank), Christopher Ghaffari (Francois)

For a set, there’s a backdrop with occasional projections, while the costumes—such as slinky dress, jogging suit, short terry-cloth robe, and, eventually, very colorful underwear—seem aimed to make everyone look as appealing as possible. And that may, to some extent, hurt the overall effect since it is sort of important that we believe, for instance, that Maria and Frank are the parents of Leon, and that Hilda and her partner Bertha are significantly older than the others. We have to work a little to believe these encounters are inter-generational, otherwise we might feel that we’re watching a group of twentysomethings deciding how to pair off.

The inter-generational aspect works best in certain interludes, such as François condescending to Ariel while also flattering and flirting with her, and in a father-son moment between Frank and Leon late in the play. The couples drama gets its sharpest treatment between Maria and her men, respectively, and between Frank and the painfully disappointed “fourth wheel,” Edmund. The main burden of being in a couple, for Mee and perhaps for the world in general, is the question of being “faithful”; when that quality is tested, the very meaning of life hangs in the balance. We see how jealousy on that score is the main canker in the bud of each relationship here, and our Greek-lit-referencing delivery guy has some ideas about why: no one can love someone in perpetually the same way. I choose the word “perpetual”—unchanging, eternal—deliberately because much of what Mee’s play, apropos of Greek drama, thrives on is the perpeteia: the change or reversal that exposes character, or reveals fate, or simply shows—existentially—that our emotions tend to veer with the winds of change.

The play is all about eros—the word even gets projected as a block of text at one point—as an experience that is mutable and changeable, no matter whether we “put a ring on it” or not. Leon hopes to, and gets verbally abused by Ariel—with England-Nelson in fine fettle—for his suspicions of her and François. François, who is pretty much willing to sleep with anyone he finds attractive (he’s French), can still get mighty riled when he feels like he’s playing second-fiddle to Frank. And Frank . . . in Higgins’ grounded performance, Frank seems the one with the most depth, if only because, as a father with a wife and a male lover, he’s at a nexus of eros. He’s also the one bereft, in the end, by his handling of things—or maybe it’s just that, older white guy fashion, he gets to be our romantic hero.

 Sean Patrick Higgins (Frank), Christopher Ghaffari (Francois), Edmund Donovan (Edmund)

Sean Patrick Higgins (Frank), Christopher Ghaffari (Francois), Edmund Donovan (Edmund)

There’s a lot of fast verbal “action” in We Are All Here, and music—which includes operatic arias and pop tunes—keeps us apprised of how much our emotions, in love, are a question of mood. Bruin and company let Mee’s plot constructions—drownings that aren’t drownings—float in the mix. More important than what is allegedly happening is who is saying what to whom and why. What makes We Are All Here work as theater is that characters hear each other and reconsider themselves based on what others say to them. At times it’s a bit like a wild echo chamber, but everyone adds something to the mix. If not quite “the more the merrier,” than at least the more the more interesting. We need others as onlookers sometimes, it seems,  to give weight to what has been called “the unbearable lightness of being.”

 

We Are All Here
A Remix of Charles L. Mee’s Wintertime
Adapted by David Bruin and Jiréh Breon Holder
Directed by David Bruin

Dramaturg: Jiréh Breon Holder; Choreographer: Chalia La Tour; Producer: Libby Peterson; Set and Projection Designer: Yana Biryukova; Costume Designer: Alexander Woodward; Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Mak; Sound Designer: Kate Marvin; Stage Manager: Avery Trunko; Technical Director: Rae Powell

Cast: Jenelle Chu; Claire DeLiso; Edmund Donovan; Brontë England-Nelson; Christopher Ghaffari; Jonathan Higginbotham; Sean Patrick Higgins; Maria Ines Marques; Victoria Whooper; Ian Williams

Yale Cabaret
September 17-19, 2015