Review of Taking Warsan Shire Out Context on the Eve of the Great Storm, Yale Cabaret
A woman named Aparna (Arya Sundaram) trudges across the tundra in arctic temperatures. Is she on a quest for a fabled talisman or rare necessity? No, she is on a trek to what may be the most epic of destination weddings: her sister, Tanvi (Disha Patel) is going to marry Belcalis (Karina Nuñez) at a scientific observation post in the arctic circle, where Tanvi is stationed with her extremely bright and talkative fellow observers, Javier (Edwin Joseph), Shamika (Kaylah Gore), Zhao (Riw Rakkulchon) and Jamar (Kezie Nwachukwu). That’s the situation in Christopher Gabriel Núñez’s Taking Warsan Shire Out of Context on the Eve of the Great Storm, or what a romantic comedy might look like in a world of natural disasters.
We meet the cast of warm and witty, frostbound bon vivants slightly before Aparna arrives, and their chat apprises us of who’s with whom. Javier and Shamika are a couple who like to joke about sex in the arctic; Zhao and Jamar are more likely to be talking about how to outfit their prospective dreamhouse. It all sounds smart and privileged, fueled by a certain globe-trotters’ ethos that tends to feel precious if not romantic. Then we realize this is 2050, the seas have swallowed up most coastland, and many geographical and biological aspects of the earth as we know it simply don’t exist anymore. This is brought home for us when Tanvi—who tends to be the strident one in the midst of the bubbly bonhomie—talks wistfully about a last chance visit to a doomed city that she made but Belcalis missed out on.
Later, Tanvi talks about keeping some all-but-extinct tulips alive in a terrarium—speaking with that kind of preemptive strike against blame for enjoying something selfishly that might well earmark her generation. But what generation is this? Living far ahead in our future, this crew seems all-too of our moment. They can more easily live without coastal cities than without service—watch Aparna have a bit of a snit when she realizes that the frightful cold in her long journey into ice has destroyed her phone. How can she send selfies to the folks back home?
For, whatever may have happened to some areas of the globe, there are parents and grandparents elsewhere waiting to receive cellular transmissions of the nuptials. Núñez gives us characters who seem at home with whatever dire events have unfolded, living—as the most adaptable species must—with whatever comprises the status quo. Where this goes is toward two crises a bit long in coming.
When Zhao injures his ankle on a mission to secure some equipment, he must be replaced and Tanvi volunteers (since five are needed) as her sister has already joined in. That leaves Belcalis to chat with Zhao and we soon learn that she might not be “OK” with a wedding and a marriage in a frozen waste. She wanted, she says, “the island.”
Then there’s the Great Storm of the title. It’s on its way, the team knows, but there should still be time for that outdoors ceremony the pair—or at least one of them—dreamed of. The ending—featuring some eye-entrancing aurora borealis-like projections by Brittany Bland—comes on strong with a kind of “you had to be there” spike. After all the grad student banter, Tanvi and Belcalis enact a rite that might almost generate enough heat to save them.
The play’s wordy title is never quite explained, but its air of a meaning for the cognoscenti is matched by much of the dialogue, which includes a crude joke based on Plato’s allegory of the cave, and no doubt many other references I missed. One of the more striking aspects of the show is its oddly desultory feel. At one point, while the other four are on that mission that injures Zhao, Tanvi and Aparna dress Belcalis in the lovely sari (costumes, Mika H. Eubanks) she will wear in the ceremony. For a full ten minutes they engage in this task, letting us look on at what seems a private activity, with the two sisters very much on the same page. There’s a feel as if we—the audience—just happen to be there while this is happening, guests who can be depended upon to entertain themselves.
Director Olivia Plath and the cast of seven—none of whom study acting and only one—Rakkulchon—a YSD student—should be commended for keeping the dialogue, with its mix of inside jokes, different languages, scientific explanations, terms of endearment, and occasional poetic flights and trenchant put-downs, bouncing. Special mention to Disha Patel, who plays Tanvi as a kind of insufferable older sister, the know-it-all who must remind herself that other people—even in this band of brainiacs—are apt to be ordinary. And to Arya Sudaram as Aparna, arriving in this forbidding situation and bringing into it the impatience of a younger sibling’s total lack of awe at an elder. Compliments too to composer Aaron Levin’s evocative score, played live by a welcome band during every sojourn into the outdoors. The whiteout design for the windows and other effects—in a set somewhere between a capsule and a dorm commons—are by Stephanie Bahniuk (scenic design) and Noel Nichols (lighting design, in a Cab debut), with Technical Directors Hao-En Hu and Mike VanAartsen.
Taken in context, Taking Warsan Shire Out of Context on the Eve of the Great Storm is a look ahead—sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating—at how today’s fears and obsessions and joie de vivre might play out while time is running out. Seemingly, it’s never too late to talk shit.
Taking Warsan Shire Out of Context on the Eve of the Great Storm
By Christopher Gabriel Núñez
Directed by Olivia Plath
Co-Producers: Leandro A. Zaneti & Yuhan Zhang; Dramaturg: Sunny Jisun Kim; Composer: Aaron Levin; Scenic Designer: Stephanie Bahniuk; Lighting Designer: Noel Nichols; Sound Designer: Kathryn Ruvuna: Projection Designer: Brittany Bland; Costume Designer: Mika H. Eubanks; Choreographer: Julia Crockett; Technical Directors: Hao-En Hu & Mike VanAartsen; Stage Manager: Oakton Reynolds; Assistant Stage Manager: Paige Hann
Cast: Kaylah Gore, Edwin Joseph, Karina Nuñez, Kezie Nwachukwu, Disha Patel, Riw Rakkulchon, Arya Sundaram
Band: Nate Huvard, guitar; Aaron Levin, piano; Ross Wightman, bass; Matt Woodward, violin; Sam Zagnit, bass
November 29-December 1, 2018
Coming up at the Yale Cabaret this week: The Whale in the Hudson, by Brad McKnight Wilson, proposed by Maeli Green: a kids’ friendly production about a fourth-grader trying to figure out why a whale is in the Hudson River. Showtimes for Saturday the 8th have been changed for the sake of younger audiences: 4 p.m. & 7 p.m. For more info go here.
The Whale in the Hudson
December 6-8, 2018