Adam Rigg

A World of Its Own

Beautiful, mysterious, eerie, surprising, frustrating, poetic, comic, fascinating—Adam Rigg’s Of Ogres Retold, the second play in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories, is all these things and more.  Conceived by Rigg and devised by the Ensemble—Josiah Bania, Ethan Heard, Hannah Sorenson, Mickey Theis, Alex Trow—the show offers a succession of vignettes, each a highly stylized use of mime, movement, music, puppets and props, to tell brief stories derived from Japanese folktales involving demons, spirits, and ogres. Without use of dialogue or narration, each story must emerge from repetitive, precisely choreographed actions and interactions.  The aura of the show is like a funhouse where transformational enactments are the order of the day.  The task for the audience is to derive the narrative thrust of these pieces, each a kind of ritual puzzle.  The tonalities of the action at times are hard to infer because Matt Otto’s music—often oddly robotic or processed, at other times ethereal and atmospheric—makes no effort to infuse the action with the kinds of tell-tale emotionalism one finds in film scores.

A perfect example of the fusion of music, movement, and tale is in the story of a woman trying to reach, apparently, a spouse who died.  The woman (Alex Trow) crawls nimbly across the floor toward four figures under shrouds, cloaked as well in shadow.  The foremost figure (Ethan Heard) is kneeling or crouching, and when the woman gets close enough to grasp the veil, she wrenches it off to reveal, in a sudden spike of bright light and jolting electric static sounds, a ghostly death-mask.  This happens three times, and on the fourth try—all to the exact same musical loop—there is a different result that is lovely and melancholic, before swiftly becoming something else.

Many of the stories thrive on repetition, with or without a difference.  In another repetitive scene, the entire cast kneels around a low table—two of the men (Josiah Bania and Mickey Theis) pass a bottle.  All are engaged in slapping the table at rhythmic intervals, while segments hewn earlier from the tail of a humanoid fish, or merman (Ethan Heard), are passed around; each participant, it seems, is either unwilling to consume or is prevented from consuming a morsel.  Eventually, one girl (Trow) takes a bite and enters at once into a kind of twilight world where she engages in repeated clutches involving each member of the company in turn.

Another fascinating ritualistic pas de deux occurs at the start with Mickey Theis and Hannah Sorenson as a couple engaged in some kind of love/hate courtship—after a somewhat erotic if theatrical embrace, Theis inevitably flings Sorenson to the floor and drags her the length of the playing space, then steps over her and continues on his way.  She pines; he returns and the same occurs, until . . . things end badly.

Elsewhere there are evocative presentations of a boat at sea, with undulating blue tapestry, of a merman swimming (a puppet moving gracefully behind a blue drape), of twin ogres (Bania and Sorenson) threatening a boat, and an amusing segment in which Heard, in a delightful fantasy of a cook’s outfit, attempts to prepare rice balls, only to be thwarted by one ball that becomes animated.  This segment has a kooky charm and is a welcome change from the intensity of the rest of the show.  Heard plays the cook with a feel for the exaggerated comedy of silent films (and a very funny slow motion lope), and Trow, as the animator of the rice ball, is superb at mute facial expressions.

Throughout the play, lights (Solomon Weisbard) tend to be muted, bathing the cast in blues and reds, and avoiding strong spots, keeping much of the action shadowy and dreamlike.  The costumes (Maria Howard) are wonderful, giving the actors freedom of movement while also creating some impressive effects—the merman costume, for instance, and the many masks.  The cast is fluent in their movements and are all lovely to watch.

Expect to be engaged by this unique production, but also to have your sense of what constitutes a story challenged.  Without a narrator to set the tone, or dialogue to create characters, the stories must rely on their visual elements in depictions that are dramatic, but also somewhat static, spectacles.  Thanks to Adam Rigg's fine flair for design,  Of Ogres Retold takes us into a world of dreamlike arabesques, filled with the ambivalent magic of legends, of cautionary tales, and of eerie occurrences.  It’s a world of its own making.

Yale Summer Cabaret presents

50 Nights: A Festival of Stories

June 20-August 19

Of Ogres Retold

Conceived and directed by Adam Rigg; devised by the Ensemble: Josiah Bania, Ethan Heard, Hannah Sorenson, Mickey Theis, Alex Trow

July: 11th, 8 pm; 14th, 4:30 pm; 19th, 8 pm; 21st, 2 pm; 27th, 8 pm August: 2nd, 8 pm; 5th, 8 pm; 8th, 8 pm; 11th, 4 pm; 18th, 2 & 8 pm

Photographs courtesy of Yale Summer Cabaret

 

What's The Story?

photo

All the world tells stories.  Some for entertainment, some as explanation, some for identification, some for cautionary purposes.  Some are called escapist, some are called educational.  Some are called fables, fairy tales, myths, tall tales, urban or rural legend.  Some are based on what happened, some are about things that could never happen, some imagine things that might happen.  Some are about things happening right now. When Reynaldi Lolong, a third-year Theater Managing student at Yale School of Drama, asked Tanya Dean, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Drama and a 2011 MFA in Dramaturgy, to meet with him at Chocopologie for a casual chat about his ideas for a 2012 Yale Summer Cabaret proposal, they immediately clicked in their love of a variety of fictional fare: comix, sci fi stories, Dr. Who episodes, tales of the supernatural, as well, of course, as Shakespeare and classic theater.  What they quickly established is that what they love best in all these genres is the story itself, the tale to be told.  They also agreed that the Cabaret “is the perfect venue for celebrating storytelling.”

Finding themselves “increasingly obsessed” with a search for stories that became “enjoyably all-consuming,” Reynaldi and Tanya consulted colleagues at the YSD and came up with a letter of intent for three theatrical experiences that will run in repertory throughout the summer.  It didn’t hurt that Reynaldi, the Producer this year, was the Director of Marketing for last year’s Summer Cab, nor that Tanya has been involved in some capacity in a total of thirteen regular season Cab shows.

All three shows of 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories will be up by the end of the first week of the season, which begins June 20th, with a show per night, and two shows performed each Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., throughout the run of 8 weeks, or 50 nights.  There will also be two marathon Saturdays—July 14 and August 11—on which all three plays will be staged (at 1, 4, and 8).

First up, June 20 to August 17, is Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D (short for “Kiss of Death”), a one-woman play featuring Monique Bernadette Barbee as sixteen different characters in a rural Ohio town.  Directed by Tanya Dean, the play explores the kind of legends that small communities can sustain, with flights that are both funny and frightening, involving both tragedy and youthful high spirits.  Can a kiss from a dying brother give a young girl the power to kill with a kiss?

Next, June 22 to August 18, Of Ogres Retold.  The play is the brain-child of YSD designing genius Adam Rigg (also the scenic designer for the Summer Cab this season) who uses several Japanese folktales as the basis for this original piece of puppet theater, with a cast of five, involving other-wordly creatures and a sense of the mysterious, the macabre, the monstrous and the miraculous.

Finally, June 23 to August 19, Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, directed by Margot Bordelon, uses the full cast of six actors for this intriguing revisiting of fairy tales.  A journey into the world of “once upon a time,” in a play that weaves together strange and strangely familiar elements from childhood, as a young girl experiences an unsettling night with an unusual sitter who regales her with tales of menace and magic.

As Reynaldi says, each Summer Cabaret is in dialogue with previous years, and the 2012 version builds on last year’s repertory offering of three shows with a dedicated team of actors.  This year there will be six actors, with each actor performing in two of the shows.  The main difference is that there will be one set for all three shows, a versatile playing space able to transform the Cab into the environment needed for each unique play.  Tanya describes the basic set as a kind of “cabinet of curiosities” adaptable to the dock on a lake for K of D, the props and costumes discovered in the course of The Secret in the Wings, and the projection surfaces for the “Victorian macabre” of Ogres Retold.  The doorway into the Cab this summer is like the door of the wardrobe into Narnia, a passage into a world of  surprises, secrets and summer wonder.

Additionally, selected performances throughout the summer will be followed by the Fireside Series, a reading of stories under the stars, with an opportunity to chat with others about the show, and to hear firsthand some of the tales that have been incorporated into the plays.  The Series will recreate that familiar locus of storytelling: the camp fire, and, if it rains, there will be ghost stories with flashlights inside the Cab.

And once again the Summer Cab will boast the cuisine of Anna Belcher of Anna’s on Orange.  There will be light fare, snacks and beverages beginning at 12:30 for the 2 p.m. shows and full dinner beginning at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. shows.  For info, tickets, schedule visit: http://summercabaret.org/.  This year there’s also a blog with behind-the-scenes notes, chat with the production team, and ongoing updates about production and performances, at: http://50nights.wordpress.com/

And, if you like what you see on the site, consider helping the Summer Cab to meet it’s goal of $4,500.  At the link below there is a pledge drive, with various rewards even for minimal contributions of $5—every little bit helps, so don’t hesitate, stress Reynaldi and Tanya, to give whatever you can.  And the Summer Cab Board, a highly supportive and enthusiastic group, have agreed to a two for one deal: so whatever you pledge will be matched by them.  If pledgers meet the goal, that means a total of $9,000 for production, money you will see on the stage.  So, if the thought of stories, creatively told in an intimate performance space by gifted theater students, thrills you, get in on this early and help Reynaldi and Tanya meet their goal.

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/7673-50-nights-a-festival-of-stories

Let Down The Puppet Strings

Theater doesn’t need words. That’s the lesson of Dorian Gray last weekend at the Yale Cabaret. Oscar Wilde’s novel of a young fop who runs afoul of Victorian mores, schooled in the delights of debauchery by Lord Henry, the irrepressible originator of bon mots and apothegms galore, was adapted as a puppet show, staged in a cluttered set of Victoriana and stray junk, with moody lighting and a cloying toy piano score. Odd, to say the least. Once we got beyond the main problems—the difficulty of taking in all the action as no vantage point was ideal, the slowness of the action, the requisite concentration to see puppets “act,” and the need to infer much of what we were meant to be seeing—I think the audience was more or less on board. On the one hand, there was a lot of repetition (time and again Dorian sat before the theater box, watching his favorite actress Sibyl Vane enact the great Shakespearean heroines) and not a lot of forward movement; on the other, there were fascinating hypnotic effects and the sort of etherealized beauty that Wilde himself worshipped.

But it was not a Wilde-heavy evening, as we heard none of the author’s brilliant verbiage, and yet it was extremely Wildean, as we were treated to a sense of theatricality—as pantomime and tableau—that would have doubtlessly appealed to dear Oscar. I particularly liked the mustached puppet-wranglers, all females in Lord Henry drag, and the tantalizing overtones of Sir Edward Gorey, particularly in the eerie death scene. There was also a bit of shadow puppet bawdry depicting the sorts of things Victorian prudes would have conniptions over.

Shadow was provided by Hannah Wisileski, Light by Masha Tsimring—and nothing would’ve worked without them. The puppets, and the conception, and the direction came from Adam Rigg (who also played the artist in the show), and Wasileski, along with Maria Hooper (costumes), Meredith Ries and Kristen Robinson (both set designers) were the puppet-wranglers. In other words, the show was performed by its designers and was primarily interesting as a design showcase. Short on story, long on studied moments of visual magic.

Dorian Gray Adapted from Oscar Wilde Conceived and directed by Adam Rigg

Yale Cabaret, April 7-9, 2011