Ashley Chang

Catch the Cab

Preview, Yale Cabaret: shows 7-10

No, it wasn’t a good week, last week. But this week will be better in at least one way: the Yale Cabaret returns, with the three shows before the winter break and the first show of the new year already named.

The Yale Cabaret lets us see theater students early in their career, working on shows they are passionate about, working to give expression to the many complex themes of our current world, and letting us—the audience—participate in vibrant talent and creativity. This year’s Artistic Directors are Ashley Chang, Davina Moss, Kevin Hourigan, the Managing Director is Steven Koernig, and the Associate Managing Directors are Kathy Li and Sam Linden. Here’s a brief preview of the shows chosen for the next four slots.

First up: Cab 7: Collisions. Proposed by sound design student and free jazz percussionist Fred Kennedy, the show will include some elements seen in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s show, “Envy: the Concert,” namely jazz—featuring Kennedy and a group of musicians—as well as performance pieces, co-directed by  Kennedy and Cab co-artistic director Kevin Hourigan, who also worked with Kennedy in last year’s multidisciplinary performance piece “I’m With You in Rockland.” The notion of “collision” comes from trying to “collide” free jazz—which “abandons composition in favor of collective improvisation”—with narrative and theater performance. Playwright Jeremy O. Harris contributes as well, to provide a performance piece where theater, as developed by the entire company, structures the music. The musicians joining Kennedy are Kevin Patton, guitar and interactive systems design; Evan Smith, sax and woodwinds; Matt Wigton, bass; and they’ll be aided and abetted by a trio of actors: Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon. The show purports to be a collision of music and performance, with a definite narrative aspect. November 17-19

The following week the Cab is dark as we all drift about trying to find something to be thankful for on our national holiday.

Returning, Cab 8 offers Matthew Ward’s translation of Peter Handke’s play Kaspar, which takes its inspiration from the young adult foundling Kaspar Hauser, subject of a well-received film by Werner Herzog in the 1980s. In this production, the Cab’s graphic designer, Ayham Ghraowi directs dramaturg Josh Goulding—who recently directed Current Location and acted in Styx Songs at the Cab—as Kaspar, a man who grew up without human company and suffers estrangement while being integrated into society. The show features elements of vaudeville, slapstick, physical humor, and—according to Ashley Chang, who has a “heavy hand” in the show—“linguistic torture.” The play will be divorced somewhat from its original context. Think “clown figure assaulted by language.” The doctor who studied the actual Kaspar Hauser remarked that he “seemed to hear without understanding, to see without perceiving . . .“ Sound like anyone you know? December 1-3

Cab 9, the last show of 2016, will be Mrs. Galveston, a new play by third-year playwright Sarah B. Mantell, whose play Tiny was produced in last year’s Langston Hughes Studio Series. In this play, Mantell re-works her earliest play, deliberately re-scripting for her actor-collaborators at the Cab, which include George Hampe and Sydney Lemmon. Mrs. Galveston is an aged woman who one day finds herself visited by Jim, a young man who has been assigned to evaluate her health care needs. At the interview, she determines that he should be her caregiver. The play, directed by dramaturg Rachel Carpman, sounds like a bit of a Harold and Maude tale, as a comedy about an unlikely cross-generational relationship. The play entails themes of adult care and the autonomy of our aging Baby Boomer population, and involves a mysterious big white book. December 8-10

When we all return from seasonal holidays and welcoming in the new year in a January that looks to be joyous indeed, Cab 10 proffers a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, 2007 YSD graduate, 2013 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize winner. In the Red and Brown Water is the second-written play but first in chronology of the Brother/Sister trilogy that includes The Brothers Size (staged at the Cab at the close of the 2013-14 season). Oya is a young woman and a skilled track star under pressure to develop and cash in on her talent, an expectation at odds with her ties to her family and her own romantic interests. As with the others in the series, the play is based on Yoruba myths in which Oya is a goddess of wind and change. The play is directed by third-year playwright Tori Sampson, who co-authored Some Bodies Travel in last year’s Carlotta Festival and wrote This Land was Made for the Langston Hughes Studio Series last year. The production was proposed by Folks, the African-American theater artists collective at the Yale School of Drama. January 12-14

That takes us through Cab 10; the next eight shows will be posted early next year, along with the date of the annual Yale School of Drag show. For a few weeks more, see you at the Cab!

For tickets, passes, donations, menus and show info: www.yalecabaret.org

Yale Cabaret 49
2016-17
217 Park Street

Represent!

Review of Caught, Yale Cabaret

Playwright Christopher Chen’s Caught plays like a behind-the-scenes look at conceptual art, while at the same time positioning itself as an effort to “catch” the current political climate concerning race and art. In formulating that sentence I found myself cutting-off certain possible phrases, in the spirit of Wang Min, the artist played by Ashley Chang, who at one point launches into the rhetoric of calculated intellectual subterfuge: it’s not about “role” or “staging,” it’s not about “story,” and, yes, all stories are lies, or, if you like, possible versions of the truth. Why do we need a conceptual language of pre-digested terms? This isn’t Fox News.

What Caught does best is create what is often called “mise en abyme,” that tricky territory where an image mirrors itself, or a literary work reflects on its own composition, or, as here, scenes which seem to be “happening”—in some fictive version of our world—are actually happening in an actual version of the play we’re watching. Or, more properly, the play and the actors playing its characters are often playing with the level of reality we should engage with. The deliberate disorientation begins with turning—wonderfully successfully—the Cab space into an art gallery, complete with images that capture the alliance of art and commodity, commenting on art’s commercial, “productlike” existence, while also gesturing to one of the big topics of our time: China’s effect on the global economy and on the U.S. dominance of the latter. As such, the show is remarkably timely the very month that the yuan has joined the International Monetary Fund as a reserve currency.

Lin Bo (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Lin Bo (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

What’s that have to do with art and theater? Deep in the “process” of this play, we might say, is concern about the artist’s relation to capitalist and media “appropriation,” as well as to the semiotic system that treats racial distinctions as the basis for identity tagging. Lin Bo, the artist/brand enacted by Eston Fung, begins what is billed as a “gallery talk” by talking about his incarceration at the hands of the Chinese authorities. He speaks to us—Americans—as an example of a dissident artist finding, in the land of social and artistic freedom, a kind of new age vindication. He’s instantly a hero, his art a provocation that lets us feel good about ourselves.

No sooner do we accept the horrors of his imprisonment and his gratifying release into an art world eager to receive his conceptual performance pieces that involve the internet in virtual protest gatherings that never take place, then an editor (Steven Lee Johnson) and a writer (Anna Crivelli) at The New Yorker, once disposed to coddle Lin Bo, begin to question his facts, à la, on This American Life, Mike Daisey’s apology for distorted facts in his theater monologue about working conditions at Apple. Armed with the kind of fact check so prevalent in our digital age—for evidence of verbal imagery or details lifted from other sources—the interrogation becomes even more brutal than the questioning Lin Bo told us he received in China. In other words, be a dissident artist all you want and question political reality, racial identity, and conceptual cliché, but don’t fuck with the facts. The scene between Fung, Johnson, and Crivelli is very well-played and structured, and, with the gallery talk, creates an amusing and wry commentary on “the discourse” surrounding the liberal championing of art.

Editor (Steven Lee Johnson), Author (Anna Crivelli), Artist (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Editor (Steven Lee Johnson), Author (Anna Crivelli), Artist (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

But Chen’s play—directed with skilled pacing by Lynda Paul—doesn’t stop there. We next enter into a televised talk between an art critic played by Elizabeth Harnett and Wang Min (Ashley Chang). In their increasingly tense discussion, Wang Min, ostensibly the author of the play we just saw, attempts to disabuse her interlocutor of every dearly held expectation about what her art is trying to say and how it should be received. Lots of terms get tossed around in this very funny scene, but one thing Wang Min (and, behind her, Christopher Chen) never gets into is the reason for the focus on facts in the interrogation of Daisey and Lin Bo and other such artist provocateurs: our legal system is based on case histories, and every case has to maintain a strictly conceived regard for the facts, even if we don’t really believe it’s possible to ever “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” “Artistic license” is just a figure of speech; there is no authority capable of issuing or revoking such a license. Here and there, Min’s naivete becomes its own mise en abyme, a mirroring of the role media—and all art is a medium, theater as well—plays in trying to construct plausible versions of things that happened or might happen or could have happened. Mostly to see what it can get away with, in my view.

Interviewer (Elizabeth Harnett), Wang Min (Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Interviewer (Elizabeth Harnett), Wang Min (Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Eventually we get what might be called a reflection on “process” itself as the practitioners of conceptual art—or theater—might experience it, particularly when the creative partners played here by Fung and Chang were simultaneously—unbeknownst to both—lovers to the same master/mentor. The wryness of this segment opens up the slippery nature of not only emotional relationships, but also the vacillating commitment to one method or another that every artistic career undergoes. The point, for such, is to “capture” what’s happening when it’s happening.

Art partners (Eston Fung, Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Art partners (Eston Fung, Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Chen’s play catches its audience up in what is often called “the problematic” of art itself in its double jeopardy of being “tried” simultaneously in the not dissimilar but not identical courts of fact and fiction, or art and actuality. As a stimulating and entertaining treatment of the conflation, Caught, in this sharp enactment at the Yale Cabaret, catches its moment off-guard.

 

Caught
By Christopher Chen
Directed by Lynda Paul

Assistant Director: Francesca Fernandez McKenzie; Set Designer: Joo Kim; Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth Antunano and Sophia Choi; Lighting Designer: Caroline Ortiz; Sound Designer: Fan Zhang; Projections Designer: Adam O’Brien; Stage Manager: Paula R. Clarkson; Technical Directors: Harry Beauregard and Michael Hsu; Producer: Kathy Li

Cast: Ashley Chang, Anna Crivelli, Eston Fung, Elizabeth Harnett, Steven Lee Johnson

Yale Cabaret
October 6-8, 2016

You Say You Want a Revolution

Review of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Yale Cabaret

Billed as a play not “well behaved,” Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. at Yale Cabaret, as directed by Jessica Rizzo with a cast of 12, behaves like a series of skits upon a theme: to revolutionize use of language and situational expectations. Each skit features a confrontation, in which characters—all, whether male or female, played here by women (with one exception)—address, more or less indirectly, a free-floating concept. The concept, we might say, is the unnamed elephant in the room, hovering like the array of pneumatic animals and toys that makes up the set. The elephant can be variously named—sexism, feminism, gender bias—but none of the terms do the amorphous creature full justice. And therein lies both frustration and courage.

The cast of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

The cast of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

It takes courage to articulate what’s at stake in one’s dissatisfaction, and the problem of trying to compel understanding in others invites frustration. Birch’s dialogues run along lines that could be painfully raw if not for a certain manic undertone that most of the performers share. That’s not to say that all strike the same note, but rather than an overall tone of baring and sharing drives the show forward until it more or less explodes, then subsides in a kind of post-orgasmic clarity and depression.

The tone of a suppressed hilarity rising to the surface begins with the show’s amazing opening dialogue in which Nientara Anderson as, ostensibly, a man, and Mara Valderrama Guerra attempt to articulate the better-left-unspoken language of sex. And therein lies their problem. How do males and females think about sex, what vocabulary is accepted, permitted, arousing, disgusting, and so on? Like good sex, one assumes, it’s all a matter of intuition. Yeah, but. The dialogue plays out with increasing fervor until Anderson is cowering and broken and Guerra blissful in her self-absorption. You can only hope the pair work it out somehow.

Asu Erden, Flo Low (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

Asu Erden, Flo Low (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

In the scenes that follow, two or three speakers try to find some common ground for the sake of communication, and Birch is very keen at showing how people having trouble communicating communicates in a big way. There’s Ariel Sibert who is trying to graciously—and anxiously—articulate her problems with Franci Virgili asking her to be his wife (she’ll become “chattel” or a means to lower his income tax), using a very wry analogy; there’s Asu Erden trying, not so graciously and not at all anxiously, to articulate to her supervisor, Flo Low, why she just doesn’t want to work on Mondays and can’t see a “work bar” as a “real thing”; there’s Ashley Chang and Emily Reeder as vigilant supermarket employees who try to be understanding while nearly going postal at Shadi Ghaheri as a woman who seems to have been masturbating with watermelons in an aisle of the store (Birch likes to keep references to watermelons, potatoes, bluebells, and cheese circulating through the text); and there’s Aneesha Kudtarkar as a mother and grandmother who denies she gave birth or has any descendants while Anderson, as her increasingly distraught offspring, tries to get inside her head while dealing with a daughter (Jiyeon Kim) who can’t seem to function. The open-ended terms in which these scenes can be played and interpreted is much the point. Here, the series begins comical and gets increasingly tense and dysfunctional as we go.

Nientara Anderson (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

Nientara Anderson (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

The explosion of the entire cast beating on the inflatables while various mini scenarios get sounded—beginning with Guerra stating both proudly and plaintively that porn never arouses her—plays like a psychiatric session that encourages abusing toys as some kind of compensation or release. It’s a satisfying anarchic free-for-all, well choreographed though not well behaved.

Jiyeon Kim, Ariel Sibert (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

Jiyeon Kim, Ariel Sibert (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

At various times in the show, projections of Mao-like slogans blare across the background to exhort changing the terms of work or sex or procreation. Between some of the scenes, composer Kim adds some vocalizing and, during the supermarket scene, a musical track accompanies the prone woman’s rant about trying to be wet and open so as not to be “invaded,” about reducing the border between her body and the world. The music becomes a striking presence, then subsides, leaving Chang to venture “I don’t know what happens now.”

Chang gets the last word at the end of the play as well, speaking up as at least four of the other women begin to plan a feminine utopia. Her comment sounds a deeply pessimistic note that seems to follow on Sibert’s musing that “the thought”—revolution, one supposes—is not enough. Which may be a way of anticipating the criticism that sounding off in plays may not really change anything, whether in the relations between the sexes or in the relations of production or of reproduction, or of viewer to viewed.

The play’s title seems to suggest as much with those definite full-stops. Revolt, followed by revolt again. Repeat as needed.

 

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
By Alice Birch
Directed by Jessica Rizzo

Composer: Jiyeon Kim; Dramaturg: Ilinca Todorut; Set Designer: An-Lin Dauber; Costume Designer: Mika Eubanks; Lighting Designer: Samuel Chan Kwan Chi; Sound Designer: Christopher Ross-Ewart; Projections Designer: Asad Pervaiz; Stage Manager: Alexandra Cadena; Producers: Rachel Shuey and Caitlin Crombleholme

Cast: Nientara Anderson, Ashley Chang, Asu Erden, Shadi Ghaheri, Mara Valderrama Guerra, Jeremy O. Harris, Jiyeon Kim, Aneesha Kudtarkar, Flo Low, Emily Reeder, Ariel Sibert, Franci Virgili

Yale Cabaret
September 22-24, 2016

Hailing the Cab

Preview: Yale Cabaret 49 (the first three shows of the season)

“I’ve grown accustomed to her face,” the song goes. But sometimes, just when you’ve grown accustomed, things change. The change in itself becomes a custom.

Each year, the face of the Yale Cabaret changes as new leadership, drawn from current students at the Yale School of Drama, takes over the helm. This year, the Co-Artistic Directors for the 49th season of the venerable New Haven theater-in-a-basement are Ashley Chang, a 2016 MFA in dramaturgy now working on her doctorate, Kevin Hourigan, a third-year director, and Davina Moss, a third-year dramaturg. They are joined by Steven Koernig, a fourth-year working on a joint degree, MFA/MBA in theater management at the School of Drama and the School of Management, as the Managing Director.

Steven Koernig, Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, the leadership team of Cab 49

Steven Koernig, Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, the leadership team of Cab 49

In its 48 years (I’ve been a fan since its 42nd year), the Cab has made a virtue of its intimate, “nowhere to hide” size, its extremely limited runs (3 nights only), its convivial ambiance of food-and-drink followed by a show (Anna Belcher’s ever-changing menu is always intriguing), and its ability to showcase “passion projects”—the work that students do because they believe in it, and not just because it goes with earning the degree. In fact, many times at the Cab, the students are doing things that are not directly related to what they study at Yale.

That, the Cabsters say, is something they very much want to encourage. So much so that this year there are “ambassadors” or Cross-Disciplinary Consultants from the other Yale schools taking part as liaisons, as a means to find collaborators for YSDers in proposing and designing shows—the Schools of Architecture, Art, Arts and Sciences, Forestry and Environmental Science, Law, Medicine, Music, Public Health, all have input.

There are three key concepts, Moss says, that the team agreed on in eliciting proposals from the YSD community: “the line of inquiry”—it should be bold, it should be about something that needs to be explored or expressed; “the rigor of production”—though the Cab is open to all kinds of experimental approaches, the best shows give a lot of thought to how they will be staged; with such short rehearsal times and other limitations, this is not a place for making it up as you go; “formal diversity”—the Cab season never repeats itself, which means that the kinds of theater offered will be surprisingly different week after week.

The point, Moss says, is “not to emphasize the Cab’s limitations, but its opportunities.” What can be done there that wouldn’t work anywhere else?

Another key element, as suggested by the cross-disciplinary emphasis, is on collaboration. One of the team’s questions to proposers was “who do you want to collaborate with,” and there has been a lot of positive outcome from that question.

Styx Songs, September 15-17

Styx Songs, September 15-17

The first show of the season should give us all a good idea of what the team means by collaboration, as well as inquiry, rigor and formal diversity: Styx Songs, September 15-17, is, according to the team, a “bold experiment” with “high risk,” in the sense of great ambition that may or may not come off completely. The show, described as “drama that transgresses the assumed borders between centuries, civilizations, and disciplines,” presents a collaboration among members of the Schools of Art, Architecture, Drama, and Music. Directed by second-year director Lucie Dawkins with a cast of 15, Styx Songs—which references the mythical river Styx (not the rock band of the same name)—explores the relation between life and death, using texts “spanning two thousand years and four continents.” It also entails stop-motion animation and is conceived as an interactive piece that different audiences will experience differently. “It’s an exploratory, episodic, multimedia piece,” Hourigan says, with dislocations—and continuities—between cultures and temporal spaces, and—since the Styx is the river the dead cross into Hades—between one world and another.

Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. plays September 22-24. Responding to the proposition “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” Birch wrote a play that, Chang says, is “funny and brutal,” looking at “the thorny question, how to define feminism” for our times, and “how contradictory” is the concept today. Using a cast of 15, none of whom are in the acting program, director Jessica Rizzo, a dramaturg who wrote and directed the memorable show Sister Sandman Please in Season 47, chose the cast members “for their honesty as people” and their professed struggles with the concept of feminism. The play—“a playful chaos”—seeks to “galvanize” its audience.

Caught, by Christopher Chen, October 6-8, incorporates the Cab’s interdisciplinary interests into the play itself. Journalism, visual art, theater, all are involved in this questioning of how medium/genre alters our perceptions and relays differing truths. A cast of five, including an art gallery curator, enact a play that makes a stage of an art gallery and an art gallery of a stage. There will be an actual art gallery, with captions, in this telling of the story of Lin Bo (Eston Fung), a “radical artist-activist,” whose subversive approach to art led to his incarceration. The play is directed by Lynda Paul, who directed last season’s very successful pop-opera Trouble in Tahiti.

I asked the four members of the new Cab team what attracts them to the Cab most, and what previous work they either viewed or participated in that cemented their sense of the Cab’s potential.

Davina called the Cab “the artistic heart of YSD” and spoke of its role in helping make their colleagues’ creative dreams come true, even if that means, as she remembered, scrubbing a white floor spotless after each ink-ridden show of Knives in Hens, her intro to what working on theater at the Cab can be like. As an audience member she praised The Untitled Project, a multi-media, mulitform work that threw down a challenge this year’s team would like to meet.

Stephen spoke of the “creative collision of artists and staff and audiences,” all “the most engaged you can find,” and spoke proudly of directing the take-off on the Batman TV show—Catfight—and, as audience member, his love of Mystery Boy, a rapid-fire play strong in the joy of storytelling. 

Kevin stressed the team’s job: “to empower our peers” and to tell the stories that aren’t being told; he draws upon his own experience last year with I’m With You in Rockland, a mix of art, poetry, music, film, history, narrative, with some of its tech elements right onstage, as formative to his grasp of the Cab’s possibilities—he wrote, directed, acted and provided elements of set design—and reacted positively to last season’s Dutch Masters “for the quality of the work and the conversation it provoked.”

Ashley said she’s interested in how the Cab can “frame questions and provide a platform” for theatrical inquiries that take risks and “resist the kind of structures” theater often assumes. She pointed to the performance piece Run, Bambi, Run, in Cab 48’s Satellite Festival, because it “made the air different” in bringing into play a “different set of assumptions” about performance.

Ashley Chang, Steven Koernig, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss

Ashley Chang, Steven Koernig, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss

All four are committed to work that pushes beyond the usual bounds of play-based theater, a view suggested on the Cab’s new website: “The Cab—A Basement Performance Venue.”

In days, it will be time to take in the start of Cab 49. See you there!

 

Yale Cabaret
217 Park Street
New Haven

For more information and tickets, menus, season passes, donations, go here.

Cab 47 Recap

Season 47 of the Yale Cabaret has ended its run as of April 25th, which must mean it's time for a re-cap of the season. A re-cap wherein I try to recall and celebrate my favorite contributions to the magical basement that is the Yale Cabaret. Ready? Here are a baker's dozen of categories with my five exemplars in each (in chronological order, but for my fave pick), for a total of 65 citations: New Play: This year’s top five never-before-seen, new plays were: Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time, in which Alice in Wonderland—or rather Liddy in Wonderland—meets “Little Miss” beauty pageants, written with verve for a cast of crazies by Emily Zemba; The Zero Scenario, in which every Cleveland in these United States is threatened by the Ticks of Death but for a special plucky band of heroes, written by Ryan Campbell; The Untitled Project, in which a collective of black male YSD’ers create self-portraits in the context of racial profiling, conceived and directed by Ato Blankson-Wood and created by the ensemble; Sister Sandman Please, in which three sisters put it out there for a cowboy, with varying degrees of passion, irony and intention, written by Jessica Rizzo; and ... 50:13, in which an incarcerated black man about to be freed tries to tell it like it is, with candor, wit and a variety of character sketches, to a young prison-mate, written by Jiréh Breon Holder.

Adapted Play: Impressive pre-existing plays adapted for Cab 47 included four translations and an English-language opera: Don’t Be Too Surprised, written by Geun-Hyung Park, translated and directed by Kee-Yoon Nahm, lets us know in no uncertain terms that familial dysfunction can still take surprising forms on stage; MuZeum, translated and directed by Ankur Sharma, tells stories from ancient sources and contemporary headlines, to dramatize powerfully the victimization of women; Quartet by Heinrich Müller, translated by Doug Langworthy, directed by David Bruin, revisits Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons as a wickedly entertaining pas de deux and psychologically fraught cat-and-mouse; The Medium, an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, directed by Ahn Lê, creates a world of mystery, loss, and deep feeling and gives further credence to the notion that opera is not just for opera houses; and ... Leonce and Lena by Georg Büchner, translated by Gavin Whitehead, directed by Gavin Whitehead and Elizabeth Dinkova, presents a play of aristocratic ennui that torches the well-made play, and this time with puppets!

Set Design: After all, the Cab is a basement with a kitchen, and convincing us we’re in a new space each week takes some doing. Here are some set designs that went beyond all expectation in their achieved artistry: Kurtis Boetcher’s set for Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time made a door where there’s a window and had the coloring and style of a child’s playhouse; Joey Moro’s versatile set for Hotel Nepenthe breathed a seedy charm, like we imagine Hotel Duncan does, or should; Chika Shimuzi and Izmir Ickbal’s stunning set for MuZeum lent aura aplenty and eye-catching beauty to its revue-style presentation; Christopher Thompson’s set for The Zero Scenario seemed to defy space itself in cramming so much busy-ness into the Cab, including a motelroom and a hidden headquarters, and ... Adrian Martinez Frausto’s moody set for The Medium was so fully achieved in its seedy gentility it might be a film set inviting a camera’s scrutiny.

Costumes: Dressing actors for their parts often goes beyond the norm, creating inspired additions to the visual flair of a show. Some of the tops in costumes were: Grier Coleman’s range of captivating dress for ancient characters of India and contemporary folks in MuZeum; Fabian Aguilar and Alexae Visel’s super cool get-ups for the agents protecting us from Tick Apocalypse in The Zero Scenario; Alexae Visel’s authentic mock-ups of the cartoonish costumes of the old Batman series “fit just like my glove” in Episode 21: Catfight; Haydee Zelideth had a field day with modernist Enlightenment-era costuming in Leonce and Lena; and ... Soule Golden and Montana Blanco rendered camp versions of the White Rabbit, Hatter, White Queen, and Tweedledum/dee we won’t soon forget in Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time.

Lighting: It doesn’t just help us see, it also selects and shows and evokes, sometimes making for quite magical effects. Illuminating dancers with lights that added to both movement and music in Solo Bach: Caitlin Smith Rapoport; creating a wealth of visual effects that kept us entranced in MuZeum: Joey Moro; putting on a show and putting-on the trappings of a storybook world in Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time: Joey Moro; using light to complement stories and to add drama in 50:13: Elizabeth Mak; and ... creating an Old World atmosphere both spooky and authentic in The Medium: Andrew Griffin.

Sound: It can be used in striking or surprising ways, or to create an aural texture to accompany the action. Creating a wintery world with bursts of music and broadcasts in Rose and the Rime: Jon Roberts, Joel Abbott; maintaining a sustained eerieness and B-movie aura in Hotel Nepenthe: Sinan Zafar; incorporating music and a range of emotional tones in MuZeum: Tyler Kieffer; bringing together recorded voice, spoken voice, and background music into a collage in The Untitled Project: Tyler Kieffer; and ... merging voices, sound effects, loops and his own music to create a shifting aural space in Sister Sandman Please: Chris Ross-Ewart.

Music and Movement: We don’t always get both, but it can make for entrancing theater when we do: MuZeum featured essential music by Anita Shastri, played on stage by a crew of musicians/actors and interacted with by the actors; The Untitled Project used recorded music tellingly and featured a show-stopping dance sequence by Ato Blankson-Wood; The Medium presented a stirring reduction of Menotti’s score into a solo piano tour de force by Jill Brunelle, expressive miming from José Ramón Sabín Lestayo, and impressive vocals from the cast; Sister Sandman Please benefited from Chris Ross-Ewart’s compositions amidst the aural textures, and delighted with a raucous “O Holy Night” from Ashley Chang; and ... Solo Bach showcased Zou Yu’s amazing solo violin performances, combined with the inventive, cryptic and dramatic choreography by Shayna Keller and her actor/dancers: Paul Cooper, Chalia La Tour, Julian Elijah Martinez, Leora Morris.

Special Effects: An ad hoc category that includes whatever doesn’t fit into other categories, such as: the combination of lights and star chart backdrop to create a sense of wonder in Touch: Joey Moro; the evocative projections-as-scenery in Solo Bach: Rasean Davonte Johnson; the B-movie monster ticks and blood and projections and other effects in The Zero Scenario: Rasean Davonte Johnson, Mike Paddock; the varied creepy puppets, hand-held and string-operated, in Leonce and Lena: Emily Baldasarra; and ... the use of projections and clips to tell stories and create context with images in The Untitled Project: Rasean Davonte Johnson.

Acting (ensemble): Ideally, the acting in a play is a group affair, in which everyone plays a part, of course. Still, it’s worth remarking on when a cast is more than the sum of its parts, as in these shows: Look Up, Speak Nicely and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time, the big kick-off extravaganza of the season featured a gallery of colorful characters by Sarah Williams, Celeste Arias, Aubie Merrylees, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Melanie Field, Andrej Visky, Libby Peterson; The Zero Scenario, the crowd-pleasing first semester closer, pulled out all the stops with Ariana Venturi, Tom Pecinka, Sara Holdren, Ankur Sharma, Aaron Profumo, Emily Zemba, Ryan Campbell; The Untitled Project, an ensemble-derived show that focused on the subtle distinctions and broad stereotypes of race, was created and enacted by Taylor Barfield, Ato Blankson-Wood, Cornelius Davidson, Leland Fowler, Jiréh Breon Holder, Phillip Howze, Galen Kane; Leonce and Lena, in which actors and puppet-handler/actors interacted to create a zany theatrical world of kingdoms and encounters, with Sebastian Arboleda, Juliana Canfield, David Clauson, Anna Crivelli, Ricardo Dávila, Edmund Donovan, Josh Goulding, Steven C. Koernig, Lynda A.H. Paul, Nahuel Telleria; and ... Hotel Nepenthe, a comic tour de force of changing roles, repeating characters, and linked situations that ran from the creepy to the farcical, all created with manic intensity by Bradley James Tejeda, Annelise Lawson, Emily Reeder, Galen Kane.

Acting (individual): For individual performances, I’m going with some standouts, whether in accomplished ensemble work, or showcased in two-handers, or in the unrelenting spotlight of the solo show. Ladies first: Celeste Arias, hilarious as an unhinged mommie dearest in Look Up, Speak Nicely and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time; Sydney Lemmon, riveting as Mme Merteuil but even more so as Mme Merteuil/Valmont in Quartet; Maura Hooper, chameleonic as a series of characters, including a disaffected nun and a happy hooker, in Shiny Objects; Zenzi Williams, demonstrating a range of attitudes in four characters, from spiritual to demur to quietly confident in Shiny Objects, and ... Tiffany Mack, unforgettable as a heart-wrenching victim of an acid attack in MuZeum.

Acting (individual): And from the men: Jonathan Majors, finding himself in an unbearable situation and quietly going to pieces in Touch; Tom Pecinka as a highly verbal passenger monologuing his anxiety in The Zero Scenario; Edmund Donovan, riveting as Valmont but even more so as Valmont/Mme de Tourvel in Quartet; Ricardo Dávila as the slippery, caustic and fascinating Valerio in Leonce and Lena; and ... Leland Fowler as a stand-up guy feeling the longings of the jailed and acting out a quick lesson in family history and racism in 50:13.

Directing: For the vision behind the whole shebang that makes it all hang together, we celebrate directors: for the all-out campy and creepy charm of Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time: Ato Blankson-Wood; for keeping the hopscotch logic and many shifts in tone of Hotel Nepenthe on point: Rachel Carpman; for creating the interplay of stories, including humor, confrontation, and violence in MuZeum: Ankur Sharma; for showing a dramatic and thoughtful grasp of the resilience of a human spirit trapped in a cage in 50:13: Jonathan Majors; and ... for providing the comic highpoint of the season with wild charm, horror surprises and relentless verve in The Zero Scenario: Sara Holdren.

Production: From the above, it’s obvious which shows seemed tops to me, but to bring them all together for a final nod: Hotel Nepenthe, Sarah Williams, producer, Taylor Barfield, dramaturg, Avery Trunko, stage manager, the kind of shifting and surprising show that keeps me coming back to theater; MuZeum, Anita Shastri, producer, Maria Ines Marques, dramaturg, Emily DeNardo, stage manager, a strong and cathartic import to our shores; The Zero Scenario, Ahn Lê, producer, Helen Jaksch and Nahuel Telleria, dramaturgs, Anita Shastri, stage manager, a crazy sci-fi ride that screams “sequel!”; 50:13, Jason Najjoum, producer, Taylor Barfield, dramaturg, Lauren E. Banks, stage manager, an important and meaningful addition to the one-person play and the "black lives matter" movement; and ... Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don’t Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time, Kelly Kerwin, producer, Nahuel Telleria, dramaturg, Avery Trunko stage manager, “the gang’s all here” type of theater, presenting a lively riff on the rigors of growing up female in our media-ized Wonderland.

Thanks again to our hosts for 18 weekends—plus a Drag Show: Molly Hennighausen, Will Rucker, Tyler Kieffer, and Hugh Farrell. And ... see you next season, at the Cab!

The Yale Cabaret Season 47 September 18, 2014-April 25, 2015

Hear the Angels' Voices

Review of Sister Sandman Please at Yale Cabaret

With Jessica Rizzo’s Sister Sandman Please, the Yale Cabaret showcases the kind of experimental work that, in many ways, the basement theater does best. While it’s always worthwhile to see small-scale productions of new or lesser known plays, or devised pieces that bring together various aspects of community to tell stories of our times, a play like Sister Sandman uses the space to present a wholly theatrical and relational work. We’re watching a form of playing that plays with how plays—and audiences—are played.

Baize Buzan, Ashley Chang, Sydney Lemmon

Baize Buzan, Ashley Chang, Sydney Lemmon

The most definite aspect of Sister Sandman Please is how Rizzo and her crew remind us that “setting” and “stage” in a play is not simply the visual, physical space, but is also the aural. And while last week’s show, The Medium, an opera, demonstrated how well music and singing can enhance and expand acting, this week’s show makes a further point: what we hear not only interacts with what we see, but can, through recordings, create alternative features, other presences.

Wiley McDrew (Ben Graham) and A (Ashley Chang)

Wiley McDrew (Ben Graham) and A (Ashley Chang)

The “story” centers on three sisters—A (Ashley Chang), B, or Minnie (Sydney Lemmon), C, or Ada (Baize Buzan)—who sit at a breakfast table, passing around different sections of the New York Times. The soundtrack, initially, is a loop of crunching sounds occasionally broken up by comments and mutterings. There is a tension here as of persons who know one another only too well and can “hear” the unspoken things in each others’ minds. At times there are verbal outbursts between the three, and eventually a veritable Marlboro man of a cowboy, Wiley McDrew (Ben Graham), arrives to spark rivalries. “A” immediately flies to his arms and makes out with him passionately, but that, we assume, is just a fantasy. He’s really more interested in C, who he courts in a more laconic fashion, while her sisters wrestle on the floor and Minnie makes goo-goo eyes at him.

Wiley McDrew (Ben Graham) and Ada (Baize Buzan)

Wiley McDrew (Ben Graham) and Ada (Baize Buzan)

The action is accompanied by aural overlays that create textures and moods that are difficult to describe. Sometimes it’s a monologue, as when a voice (Anna Crivelli) starts talking about her tumbleweed business on the internet. Tumbleweeds are used to create a Christmas tree of sorts and “A” dons Christmas lights, answered by a string of lights on Wiley. And yet the match doesn't come off, so she convulses on the floor, and Ada, who walks about stirring a big pot, eventually becomes the sister who is “expecting.” “A” proceeds to drown her sorrows at some length, drinking from a bottle of whiskey while prone on the floor.

Ashley Chang as A

Ashley Chang as A

Indeed, Chang nearly runs away with the play as her show-stopping, unhinged belting of “O Holy Night,” while perched on the table top, is funny, visceral, and oddly charming, a Christmas carol as torch song. The others hold their own—Lemmon seems to be the oldest sister, the kind of heroine one might find in a frontier story or in some naturalistic drama set in the Midwest: her prop is a clipboard and a managerial air. Buzan plays up the country lass manner, all-too-ready to be the new mom left behind by that rolling tumbleweed of a man. She wants to know what color crayon she should give their son to color with. Clad in a vampire cape and fangs, Wiley McDrew is given his send-off as though by a trio of moms sending him off to school.

Christopher Ross-Ewart

Christopher Ross-Ewart

Accompanying the live action and the recordings is Christopher Ross-Ewart on electric guitar and vocals. His contribution is subtle at first, but by play’s end the swirling sustain of his guitar begins to override the action. The trio sits again at the table, now with suitcases full of newspapers, and the tone is elegiac but also uplifting. What has happened, what have they learned? We might think of three fates or furies or of sisters who always dreamed of Moscow, but, however we regard the return with a difference, the close feels open-ended. At the most basic level, their lives have been changed irrevocably, because a child is on the way, but they are also the same as they were before, living out the repetitive figments of their own existences.

Sydney Lemmon as C

Sydney Lemmon as C

The setting—a country-kitchen table, a floor of linoleum—is spare, the tumbleweed Christmas tree is comical but also an art sculpture, the costumes are “country gal.” Elizabeth Green’s lighting directs our visual attention while loops of sound effects, voices, and other textures create a more impressionistic aura. Sister Sandman Please may sound rather enigmatic when described, but while watching it, one is struck again and again by surprising and intriguing shifts in tone and implication.

Coherence is mannerism; the inchoate occurs.

Baize Buzan as Ada

Baize Buzan as Ada

Sister Sandman Please
Written and directed by Jessica Rizzo

Dramaturg: Ilinca Todorut; Lighting Design: Elizabeth Green; Set Design: Samantha Lazar; Costume Design: Sylvia Zhang; Composiiton/Sound Design: Chris Ross-Ewart; Stage Manager: Sally Shen; Production Manager: Kat Wepler; Producer: Sally Shen; Photos: Joey Moro

Yale Cabaret, April 2-4, 2015

Hotel California

OMG what an energetic show! The Mystery Boy, currently playing at the Yale Cabaret, is director/actor Chris Bannow’s adaptation of a novel by Jacqueline Weaver, his 11 year-old sister, a show short on logic but long on wildly imaginative interactions and adventures. Staged very cunningly by Bannow and Helen Jakcsch, the show is like a master class in how to put on a play where all characters are onstage all the time and all necessary prop wrangling and costume changes take place before our eyes—though you’ll have to be attentive to catch it all.

The story starts, with all cast members taking round-robin turns in the hot seat to read from the text, with the rom-com possibilities of girlhood and “the boyfriend code,” and quickly shifts from doubts about the “too good to be true” boyfriend to the travails of what is real and what isn’t. Crammed with a host of horrific possibilities, the show becomes a dizzying dash through the psyche of a girl on the edge. Her only constant companion in all this is her smartphone, which seems to never let her down. Justin, the first boyfriend, who almost loses her through his dim sense of how to carry on a text conversation, becomes her stalwart support as well, though he has to be one of the most amorphous characters ever.

The play’s goal seems to be to keep the audience as “confizzled” as its lithe protagonist, Lola (Ashton Heyl), running madly from romantic scene to sinister scene and back again. Along the way are less than comforting run-ins with her mother (Jaksch), her waffle-chomping brother (Ashley Chang), and zips up and down the elevator (she’s staying in a hotel California on a trip, in more ways than one, from Oregon) in search of the elusive thirteenth floor. Oh, and did I mention the sound effects are also performed onstage and seem to act almost as commentary. The “pings” of text messages are particularly effective.

As Lola, Heyl is breathless, wide-eyed, and probably any young girl’s dream of what she’ll look like one day. She keeps the play in focus, for all its leaps, by never losing her Nancy Drewish, this will all make sense in the end gumption. The able support comes from cast members willing to become whatever is necessary. Who can play a romantic interest that becomes a bestie (BFF) that begins to transform, through make-up, dress, and wig, into a best girlfriend (BGF)? Dustin Wills, that’s who, while also setting the record for the number of times one can run upstairs, through the studio and down the backstairs to simulate someone running from Oregon to California. And as “the Mystery Boy” himself, Phillip Howze is hilarious as possible ghost, possible killer, possible threatening romantic attachment, and all CA slacker no matter what.

There are squirt guns, ray guns, the incredible shifting table that does everything but levitate, and any number of laughs, references, and hair-breadth escapes that will likely have you—or the young-at-heart amongst us at least—ROFLMAO. A word on the dialogue: it’s rife with the text-message terms and phrases that are sometimes interpreted and sometimes not, adding a note of authenticity to the entire odyssey because, y’know, if someone texts it, it must be true. If you like B movies and the flutter of first romance, this show’s for you.

And what happens next? Maybe Lola should go online so we can follow her future adventures on Twitter. #girluninterrupted

 

The Mystery Boy Conceived by Chris Bannow Directed by Chris Bannow and Helen Jaksch

Ensemble: Chris Bannow, Ashley Chang, Ashton Heyl, Phillip Howze, Helen Jaksch, Dustin Wills; Set: Alexander Woodward; Lights: Joey Moro; Sound: Kate Marvin; Costumes: Sophie von Haselberg; Technical Director: Scott Keith; Stage Managers: Ryan M. Davis, Taylor Barfield; Producer: Kee-Yoon Nahm

Yale Cabaret April 3-5, 2014

A Victim of Voices

The most recent Yale Cabaret production, Sarah Kane’s Crave, directed by playwright Hansol Jung, is staged as a kind of dark night of the soul of a writer. Sitting at a table with sheaves of paper, M (Helen Jaksch) interacts at first with disembodied voices that seem external but also possibly internal. Soon, the voices take shape as three distinct interlocutors—A (Taylor Barfield), B (David Clauson), and C (Ashley Chang). The trio come at M from all directions, bursting through screens, leaping out from behind curtains, popping up from a big plastic trash can. Their mixture of memory, poetry, confrontation, and exhibition drives the show.

At times there is argument and contestation among the voices, at times there are moments of tenderness or hilarity, and seductive arias and impassioned pleas. It’s a very vocal show but unlike the Cab's recent Radio Hour—another show driven by voices—Crave is anything but static as the four characters move all about the playing space as though the audience just happens to be sitting in their personal playground.

The tech of the show is superlative as lights (Elizabeth Mak) and sounds (Cahyae Ryu) have to create much of the atmosphere—an atmosphere that is nothing if not mercurial. And because the set is a part of our space, and vice versa, the set design (Samantha Lazar and Andrew Freeburg)—like that deconstructable desk or the paper screen of texts or a blanket grabbed up for all four to get behind—counts for a lot. The tale-telling trio are clad in loose white outfits that make them easy to focus on as they dart about amongst the tables like will o’ the wisps.

M, in glasses with sturdy frames and a rather no-nonsense attitude—all things considered—roots the proceedings in a reality not as threatening as it might be. This could be a play of someone losing her mind, coming apart in a schizophrenic meltdown, but as enacted by Jacksch seems rather to be a lengthy, therapeutic exploration. Kane gives us a protracted whine about sex and death and the ineluctable modalities of physical existence and mental distraction—the conditions of inner angst that a writer has only the dwindling resources of imagination and graceful utterance to combat or overcome.

At times we might be in the midst of repressed memories—the kind that come out on the psychiatrist’s couch—at other times we might be in a moment of truth one might reveal to a lover or friend. B is the most petulant, seeming to want something to be resolved, preferably in his favor; A is the most histrionic, at one point mooning us or grabbing a microphone like a game show host looking to entertain with embarrassing factoids; C is generally like some Id-child, storming about, almost hyperventilating, and having “accidents” we associate with childhood. M is often like a patient teacher or older sister, stern but forgiving, until the whirlwind of loose ends begins to take its toll.

Like a kind of verbal Rorschach test, the text of Crave is something that no two audience members will experience the same way, and this staging by a playwright and four dramaturgs brings that text to life in imaginative ways, so whether or not we follow every implied dramatic situation, we still get the kind of visceral pleasures we come to the Cabaret to find. At times moving, at times funny, at times wildly histrionic, Crave is a fascinating “treatment” of a certain kind of modern ailment—the compunction to find words adequate to experience. If only to find the final word we all crave.

 

Crave By Sarah Kane Directed by Hansol Jung

Dramaturg: Kee-Yoon Nahm; Producer: Sally Shen; Set Designer: Samantha Lazar; Assistant Set Designer/Tech Consultant: Andrew Freeburg; Costume Designer: Hunter Kaczorowski; Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Mak; Sound Designer: Gahyae Ryu; Projection Designer: Ni Wen; Stage Manager: Emily DeNardo; Assistant Director: Gabrielle Hoyt-Disick; Photographs: Nick Thigpen

Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street November 14-16, 2013

What We Talk About When We Talk About Carver

Raymond Carver’s short story “Beginners” became his published short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and therein lies a tale. The published title and story became “Carveresque” in the minds of his admirers, but it turned out that the title, and many other elements in the story, were due to the editorial efforts of Gordon Lish, a writer and editor who nurtured Carver as his mentor and publisher. Was Carver more “Carver” after Lish’s intervention or before? Whose story is it, anyway? This literary question seems to be the matter being dramatized in Phillip Howze’s Beginners by Raymond Carver; or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love at Yale Cabaret, but, as might be expected, that story-behind-the-story is not so easy to dramatize.

Sitting before the audience are four people around a table, just like in both versions of Carver’s story: Mel/Herb (Aaron Bartz) and Terri (Prema Cruz) are a couple, as are Nick (David E. Bruin) and Laura (Ashley Chang). In the story these four get onto the subject of “love.” In Carver’s “Beginners,” Herb holds forth about his views more than the others, mostly in an effort to offset Terri’s claim that the abusive man, Carl, with whom she had lived before Herb and who eventually took his own life, loved her. “If that’s love, you can have it,” Herb says, more than once. In “What We Talk…” Herb is called Mel, and he says most of the same things. (You can know this by looking up the changed text—The New Yorker printed the original with Lish’s emendations some time after Carver’s death.)

On stage, we get a brief gesture to the name change and maybe the sense that we’re going to be watching an enactment that registers the alterations, so that “the story” will morph according to which version we’re getting. The problem with that approach is the changes are often too subtle to enact. So, Howze and director Andras Viski append to the story happening in front of us voice-overs from Carver’s letters to Lish, read by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, to give a sense of how the story got away from Carver. And yet nothing he says comments on any specific changes. We can only infer what Carver objects to, as he goes from gratefully “taking the changes” to questioning what Lish has done to his story.

As someone who both edits the writing of others and writes, I found this aspect of the play to be the most interesting. I could feel for Carver, and Abdul-Mateen reads the prose in a clear and forceful voice that lets us hear how carefully—and even desperately—Carver was choosing his words, trying to call off the editorial license he had called down upon his tale. But what about the story in front of us and the interplay?

The things Lish struck out of the story float at times behind the players as ghostly text, then as struck-through text. No one reads this text aloud—I suppose because it has been silenced by Lish—so if you read quickly you know what’s happening in “Beginners”; if you don’t you only get “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

The disparity is very important at the story’s close when Mel/Herb, now pretty drunk, starts to flounder around about calling his kids—from whom he is separated by his divorce from his first wife—and then goes off to take a shower before, ostensibly, the two couples go out to eat. In Carver’s original version, there is much more speech from Terri; in the Carver/Lish version, not. Both include the speech by Nick, looking out the window and away from the women—Laura comforting Terri, who is upset—, with which Howze’s play ends. It’s hard to say, at that point, what version of the story we’re getting. Neither Carver’s nor Carver/Lish’s because, most obviously, neither were written as a stage play.

So, what about Howze’s version? The best thing about the play version is Aaron Bartz’s reading of Mel/Herb. While he doesn’t “look” like I imagine a Carver character looking, he is closer to that image than the others and capably delivers the long speeches—particularly the story-within-the-story about the old couple hospitalized after an accident—that describe Mel/Herb’s view of what married love should be. The fact that neither of the couples is enjoying that kind of married love is clear, but, at the same time, we do experience the hopefulness of Laura—Ashley Chang makes the most of the reactions her character is there for—and the neutrality of Nick.

In the story, though, Nick is our narrator, so his neutrality is partly offset by the fact that we get everything through his perspective. Howze doesn’t let us in on that until Nick delivers the final statement of the play, and that has the effect of making his words sort of hang there, even more than they do in the short story.

As Terri, Prema Cruz’s role is crucial because, as the night goes on, we come to realize that much of Mel’s fulmination is directed at her previous love. Mel can forthrightly state that he now hates his former wife, while allowing he must’ve loved her at one time, but Terri’s silence on that point tells us that she won’t say she hates the at-times violent man she previously married. She still feels his love was love because she still loves him (she sat at his side until his death, three days after the self-inflicted gunshot that killed him), and that love makes her current husband increasingly surly. All this is dramatized quite well in Viski’s production, though Cruz seems too detached to be the kind of "open heart" I imagine Carver imagined Terri to be.

What is much more murky is what any of that has to do with the drama between Lish and Carver, and if we’re to read the lines that pass by us too quickly—as the figures at the table turn away from us to read the wall with us—as part of the play or not.

 

Howze and Viski’s version of the content of “Beginners/What We Talk About…” works because Carver’s story has enough verbal interaction to be stageable. The four-way conversation is interesting and Bartz engaging enough to carry the evening. But what doesn’t get across is the “Carver” element of story-telling: that rather laconic and undemonstrative narrative voice that floats ghostly behind-the-scenes, here, but which is the whole point, in narrative fiction. Instead, we get the drama of those letters, whose reality almost overwhelms the playlet before us. Which may be the point. Or not.

 

Beginners by Raymond Carver; or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Adapted by Phillip Howze Directed by Andras Viski

Dramaturg: Rachel Carpman; Producers: Emika Abe, Libby Peterson; Set Designer: Jean Kim; Costume Designer: Sara Holdren; Lighting Designer: Joey Moro; Sound Designer: Joel Abbott; Projections Consultant: Shawn Boyle; Projections Engineer: Joey Moro; Stage Manager: Kate Pincus; Technical Director: Ted Griffith; Photography: Nick Thigpen

Yale Cabaret October 17-19, 2013