Preview of Antarctica!, Which is to Say Nowhere, Yale Summer Cabaret
With the close of the Arts & Ideas festival in New Haven last weekend, locals may be pining for new theatrical experiences. Fear not, here comes Antarctica!, opening this Thursday at the Yale Summer Cabaret. An adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s still-prescient Ubu Roi by rising third-year playwright Miranda Rose Hall, and directed by her recurring collaborator, Summer Cab Co-Artistic Director Elizabeth Dinkova, Antarctica! follows the adventures of Roy and his wife, altered to become the quintessential ugly Americans as they cut a colonizing swath through the ultimate land down under.
Ubu Roi, it turns out, is required reading in the Yale School of Drama, even if it might not be that well-known to general theater-goers. Hall found herself “captivated by it” as it jells so well with her penchant for surrealist, absurdist comedy. Her writing had already been compared to Jarry, so when she got around to reading him, it was love at first exposure. She found a “creative ancestor.” (Hall’s work? Did you see The Best Lesbian Erotica, 1995, or How We Died of Disease-Related Illness? No? Too bad. Yes? OK, expect more of the same. Which is to say, pointed absurdity, incredible energy, unsettling themes.) Hall insists that she does have plays in quite different modes and genres, it’s just that, in working with co-conspirator Dinkova, the work they do tends to the satirical, abetted by disruptive gear-switching.
For this adaptation, Hall, who describes herself as obsessively nerdy at times, spent a lot of time with Jarry’s play, “charting scenes, tracking characters,” while at the same time letting her in-depth knowledge of the show’s structure and style unleash her own freewheeling imagination. Dinkova, for her part, was attracted to the play by the fact that “there are no good guys, and everyone is bad in an entertaining way.”
More to the point, they’re bad in a way all-too familiar in our day. The characters are “bawdy, absurd, presumptuous and stupid.” Sounds like contemporary times, alright. Indeed, Hall and Dinkova wanted a play that would reflect on “the current American situation,” taking inspiration from Naomi Klein’s urgent message in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, to portray our era’s “grappling with denial in implementing adequate change” for our global condition. Which might be a way of saying, if Antarctica goes, we’re done.
The key to adapting a work that was aimed to upset audiences in fin de siècle Paris (it caused a riot and was closed), Hall says, is “to put it in your own medium.” In process, that means “making it make sense together in your own terms.” Ubu Roi, which is certainly intended to challenge the “making sense” of exposition, becomes then a perfect pretext for the wild world this production creates, with seven actors playing 23 roles, and including a variety of songs, with a sketch-comedy swiftness of transformation. In times of Brexit and of “the Donald” trumping the Republican party, controlled chaos, in the theater, may actually be a bit soothing.
And the cast? Three appeared in this Summer Cab’s first production, Alice in Wonderland: Marié Botha played the quizzical Caterpillar; Ricardo Dàvila was the testy Hatter; Patrick Foley was the unsteady Humpty Dumpty; two are not studying acting at the School of Drama: Yagil Eliraz recently received his MFA in Directing (his thesis show was a very creative take on the Oresteia), and Emily Reeder studies theater management, is Producing Director at the Summer Cab, and has acted in Cab shows, most recently Slouch; Rebecca Hampe is not in the School of Drama but is married to George Hampe, who is, and Rebecca appeared in Lake Kelsey at the close of Cab 48; Steven Johnson is a rising second-year actor, and appeared in Salt Pepper Ketchup in Cab 48.
Working with Dinkova for the third time, Hall says she “can’t imagine any other director”—which is good since they will also be working together for Dinkova’s thesis project next spring, a first-time production of a new play by Hall. The duo are particularly happy to be working together in the Summer Cabaret because this has been “the freest of the three” so far, and the least supervised and the best supported by resources. The longer rehearsal process of 2 1/2 to 3 weeks means a lot for a show that has so much going on. And both feel stimulated by being able to “limit the number of inputs” into the show. One such input is dramaturg Gavin Whitehead, also a previous collaborator—he translated and adapted Büchner’s Leonce and Lena at the Cab two years ago—and co-directed with Dinkova in their Cab debut.
Dinkova and Hall have developed “a shorthand in how we talk,” that lets them be both “honest and supportive.” Can they get Summer Cab audiences on their mutual wavelength? Neither wants to be prescriptive about how the show should be received. It’s unlikely it will cause a riot, but it may well be a riot. In any case, determining “the weirdness of the humor” and its associations falls on the audience. Summer Cab audiences tend to be receptive to the flights of imagination necessary to creating theater in a basement, and, for some, the more unhinged, the better.
The theme of the Summer Cab this year is “seven deadly sins.” We’ve been through sloth, gluttony, and pride. Now it’s time for greed, possibly the most besetting sin of our day, and possibly of the human condition generally. So expect a bit of no-holds-barred comedy aimed at our acquisitiveness, our need to feel powerful by taking things away from others, and our almost infinite capacity to exploit whatever we come in contact with. And just be happy if, at the end of the evening, you don’t have to say, “Ubu roi, c’est moi!”
Antarctica!, Which is to Say Nowhere
Adapted from Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry
By Miranda Rose Hall
Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova
Yale Summer Cabaret
June 30-July 10, 2016