David Clauson

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

Got Kids?

Review of Make Believe the Make Happen at Yale Cabaret

Make Believe the Make Happen, the final show of Yale Cabaret season 47, allegedly presents a show by #KIDSDIDIT!, an Iowan theater group that works with kids. The group consists of Bubba McDowell (Taylor Barfield), Stephen Mendelsohn (David Clauson), Myantoinia Spampinato (Helen C. Jaksch), Einahpets Dnallor (Stephanie Rolland), and Ryker Metz (Nahuel Telleria), a spirited bunch who come off, at least a bit, as kid wannabes. They have earnestness and whimsy on their side, what they don’t have is the freshness of childhood, even if they are evoking their own.

It’s not easy being kidlike. The troupe aims for the surprising conjunctions that kids can hit upon effortlessly—such as dialogues between a bra and a tuba, or between a sack of flour and a manatee. The costumes and props are as lovingly ad hoc as one would expect, seeming to bear the marks of creative sessions in school art class and based on the wonders of construction paper and paste.

The in-the-know aspect of the show comes from knowing a) that there is an actual project some Yale School of Drama students are involved in that nurtures theatrical creativity in local children—it’s called the Dwight/Edgewood Project—and b) the cast of the show consists mostly of dramaturgs and tech folk—persons who, in various ways, have been instrumental in making many a Cab Show happen. In essence, Make Believe the Make Happen offers a celebration of the kind of seat-of-the-pants theater, involving sweat, inspiration, luck and good will, that makes theater happen in that basement we all love so much.

Yale Cab season 47’s tagline—Make Happen the Make Believe—suggests that theater at the Cab largely occurs thanks to the effort of getting done what the students believe can be done. The last show of the season’s reversal of the terms puts “believe” before “happen,” as though to say that belief is what makes it happen (kinda like the Peter Pan message—clap your hands if you believe). But, either way, the slogan raises the question: what makes us—the audience—believe in what’s happening before our eyes?

The idea that kids were involved in the show is just a ruse or, if you like, a conceit. If you believed it and brought kids, they might be in wonder at the show’s broad silliness and inspired by its DIY trappings, and the sense that anything goes. Though I’m not in the habit of comparing shows to other shows, what's missing, in MBtMH, are the giddy imaginative resources I experienced in Cab shows that had actual kid input: last year’s Mystery Boy, Chris Bannow’s adaptation of a novel written by an 11-year-old, or, in 2010, Strange Love in Outer Space, Christopher Mirto’s production of a play written by Janiya Antrum in the Dwight/Edgewood Project at age twelve (the show was also staged in New York’s Fringe Festival). In those shows, the kids’ view of things was evoked by participation rather than approximation.

The little girls sitting near me in the audience at Make Believe the Make Happen seemed to like best David Clauson’s absurdly passionate delivery of his song, and the underwater diving bell. I liked best Stephanie Rolland’s singing and the underwater contraption. The “unexpected” visit of Liddy (Sarah Williams) from the first show of season 47, Look Up, Speak Nicely, and Don't Twiddle Your Fingers All the Time, added a nice sense of closure, and a feeling of how long ago all that seems.

Make Believe the Make Happen
Conceived and created by #KIDSDIDIT!

Taylor Barfield; David Clauson; Emily Erdman; Irina Gavrilova; Helen C. Jakcsh; James Lanius III; Kate Newman; Jean Kim; Andrew Knaff; Tom Lackey; Maria Marques; Kiernan Michau; Joey Moro; Jason Najjoum; Libby Peterson; Stephanie Rolland; Jenny Schmidt; Caitlin Smith Rapoport; Nahuel Telleria; Sarah Williams

Yale Cabaret

April 23-25, 2015

The artistic and managing directors of Cabaret 48 have been announced and it’s an interesting mix of proficiencies: a director, Leora Morris, an actor, Julian Elijah Martinez, a dramaturg, David Bruin; managing director will be Annie Middleton.

We bid a fond adieu to the team of Cab 47—Hugh Farrell, Tyler Kieffer, Will Rucker, Molly Hennighausen—and wish them well in all their endeavors. Stay tuned for the annual “Cab Recap” in which I look back on my favorite contributions to the season in 12 different categories.

Puppets of Popo and Pipi

Review of Leonce and Lena at Yale Cabaret

Georg Büchner was a genius and also something of an enfant terrible. He died in 1813 at the age of 23, having written a few plays and a novella, works that more or less tore up the terrain. Like Rimbaud in French poetry, Büchner is a figure that, once he became recognized, can lay claim to having originated so much. Steeped in Shakespeare in the age of Goethe, a revolutionary, a Romantic as only the highly ironic German Romantics can be, Büchner, in Leonce and Lena, the latest show at the Yale Cabaret, lampoons aristocracy, court life, melancholy princes, the relation of master to man, and the course of true love. It’s a wild ride made wilder by Emily Baldasarra’s creepy puppets and Haydee Zelideth’s colorful costumes and greasepaint. Written in 1836, Leonce and Lena gives a comeuppance to every notion of comic drama that precedes it and to most that succeed it.

Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova and Gavin Whitehead, who also translated Büchner’s heady text, full of verbal sallies and philosophical silliness, Leonce and Lena is the kind of play that cries out for staging in the Cabaret. This is a show that wants us to see the strings, so to speak, not simply because theater is illusion and all that, but because characters and actors are “puppets” even when they’re flesh and blood. Büchner is the sort of writer who keeps up his sleeve the fact that nothing’s up his sleeve. The play’s pay-off is the happily ever-after of unmasked automatons. When it comes to “holding as ‘twere the mirror up to nature,” Büchner early on sussed that “there’s no there there” and we’re all clad in borrowed robes.

It’s a big cast, with some notable Cab debuts: first of all there’s dramaturg Josh Goulding as Leonce when at court in the kingdom of Popo. Goulding’s natural Brit accent lends a welcome diction to Leonce’s ennui. Addressing himself in the third person, Leonce calls upon himself to deliver—and does—a suitably self-involved soliloquy, a high-point of comic inflation. As Leonce’s man Valerio, Ricardo Dávila shines as an exacting servant, a Pierrot full of asides and commentary, trying to keep his master to some kind of recognizable code of conduct. And Anna Crivelli's Lena, princess of Pipi, kicks against the role of love interest with some imaginative flights of her own, attended by Lynda A. H. Paul as her doting governess.

There are also many Cab encores: to Edmund Donovan falls the less abrasive Leonce of the Italian sojourn, which is to say the Leonce who falls in love with Lena once he hears her voice. Some much appreciated comic bits are served up by cast members with a puppet on each hand—Juliana Canfield provides slow-witted servants and Nahuel Telleria, in a wonderfully energetic segment, two flatfoots trying to decide how to proceed. The stringed puppets are ably manned by Steven C. Koernig (Schoolmaster), Telleria (President and General), and David Clauson (Master of Ceremonies). Last but not least is the dull-minded babble and erratic mutterings of King Peter, another bright comic turn from Sebastian Arboleda, last seen at the Cab as one of Catwoman’s doltish, dancing henchman in Catfight.

In performance, Leonce and Lena loses some of its sparkle during Leonce’s Italian adventures, which may be attributable to the fact that both Goulding and Arboleda are offstage for too long, since they early on give the play its antic tone. Clambering about on boxes to simulate a trek over rough terrain, and coming to terms with the more lyrical side of life are somewhat diverting, but not nearly as rich for satiric send-up as life at court.

The “mistaken identity” ploy of many a romance is served-up here with Leonce and Lena both in flight from their arranged marriage, only to find themselves inevitably drawn to one another, if only because that’s what the plot, or the gods (and that’s the same thing in theater), demand. Büchner’s final flourish is having two automatons wed in the couple’s stead, if only so that Peter’s edict not go unfulfilled. All are pleased when the box-headed creatures turn out to be the lovers who have found themselves amenable to what they had resisted. All’s well that ends well, and our puppets please us best by seeming happy with what we make them do.

Amidst the shenanigans is Büchner worrying the inevitable clash of free will with law in an absolutist state while seeking what might be called full artistic license. Whitehead’s text exults in the verbal flights and his and Dinkova’s puppet show plays up the theme of the arbitrary necessity of dramatic plots. One wonders if, had he lived, Büchner would have stuck with theater. He never managed to finish his best-known work, Woyzeck, which may be a way of saying that sending up, as with Leonce and Lena, “the well-made play” doesn’t help one construct a play according to a different aesthetic. There’s no happy ending for those born before their time.

Leonce and Lena
Written by Georg Büchner

Translated by Gavin Whitehead

Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova and Gavin Whitehead

Scenic Design: William Hartley, Elizabeth Dinkova; Costume Design: Haydee Zelideth; Sound Design: Tom Larkey; Lighting Design: Elizabeth Mak; Puppet Design: Emily Baldasarra; Technical Director: William Hartley; Dramaturg: David Clauson; Production Manager: Lee O’Reilly; Associate Production Manager: Rae Powell; Stage Manager: Avery Trunko; Producer: Adam Frank; Photos: Joey Moro

Yale Cabaret, March 5-8, 2014

All in the Family

Review of Don't Be Too Surprised, Yale Cabaret This weekend the Yale Cabaret is dark. Last weekend, Cab 2 offered Don’t Be Too Surprised by Korean actor and playwright Geun-Hyung Park, translated and directed by Kee-Youn Nahm, a YSD dramaturg. As a production, the show was indicative of the ad hoc approach the Cab often boasts, as none of the performers in the play were actually actors and two were non-YSD students. A chance to work outside discipline is one of the attractions of the Cab for YSD students and others, so we shouldn’t be too surprised.

The show’s menu featured the names of all dishes in both English and Korean and that gave immediate indication of the kind of hybridity the play sported. Finding a Korean equivalent for “lemon madeleines” might be as interesting as finding English equivalents for the dynamics of Park’s offbeat play, as filtered through Nahm’s translation. At times we might wonder how what we’re seeing would sound and feel in its native language, where the odd family dynamic featured in the play might be embraced as obvious satire or maybe even as tragi-comic melodrama. The playbill statement from the Artistic Directors and Managing Director asserts that “this production tackles a cultural translation—one that offers a fresh perspective on the absurdity of our everyday.”

Indeed, the humor of absurd theater keeps the play unpredictable and enigmatic, where Father (Helen Jaksch) seems to be in low-key mourning for a colleague who recently committed suicide and then, to the surprise (though not too much) of his Second Son (David Clauson), hangs himself in the bathroom. That might not seem the least bit amusing but for the fact that he continues to hang in plain view of the audience every time the door to the bathroom is open—as it frequently is due to Second Son’s constipated but determined attempts to void his bowels. Clauson crouched on the commode grunting beneath his dead father’s more or less sympathetic eye becomes a regular “gag,” if you will—one that might have, depending on how you view such things, considerable symbolic meaning for anything from customs of potty-training to customs of burial and commemoration. Or it might just be a protracted bathroom joke.

The other members of this dysfunctional family include First Son, played by David E. Bruin as a self-involved filmmaker who barely notes in passing late in the play that his wife (Caitlin S. Griffin) gave their child up for adoption. The child, as his wife reveals, also in passing, had a blood type that indicated the child could not have been her husband’s. Other shenanigans: in addition to Second Son’s constipation he is also unwilling or unable to leave the house; the wife seems to occupy the role of waitress/exotic dancer/escort at a local bar, a position she says her husband urged her to take. And why not, her fees for her services there—including bringing home a client (Justin Meadows)—seem to be the household’s only real income.

The latter might seem a minor point, but as the play goes on the “absurdity” of its situation seems to teeter more to a kind of “toilet seat realism” where the throes of this family hitting rock bottom is buoyed only by their rather odd and amusing detachment from what they’re going through. A situation which might seem potent with plenty of O’Neill-like psychic misery and verbal breast-beating is instead delivered with a zest only a few notches lower than a sit-com. We could even say that its sit-com nature predominates when—as occurs several times—characters enact karaoke routines that appear, sometimes, on their living room console (in Ni Wen’s colorful projections) and also on flatscreens strategically placed in the theater. Griffin in particular does a great job of presenting the at-times brutally direct speech of the play with engagingly forthright delivery. Similarly, Meadows as the rather nonplussed “gentleman caller” in one little scenario is hilariously off-hand when meeting his escort’s husband, brother, and the corpse of her father-in-law. In perfect he-handyman fashion, he offers to fix the fan in the bathroom to help with the stench.

In the midst of all this are moments, gestures, speeches that may cause us to contemplate the precariousness of family relations, the difficult accommodations that any of us might have to make with our place and time, and even fable-like tales of an octopus and a crab, as well as talismanic memories—for Second Son, of his mother—that create a kind of post-Freudian (in the West anyway) fabric of potential symptoms, regressions and repressions. While that might sound heady, the play’s language is so precise in its casual rhythms we don’t really feel confronted, though we may well be uncomfortable.

The costumes and set by Chika Shimizu combine to form what we might call an aesthetic of the second-hand. The TV console is an ungraceful embarrassment that might be salvageable as a kitschy keepsake. And the same applies to the vaguely hipsterish look of First Son’s jacket and pants and the economy-store eroticism of his wife’s costume. As an elderly man with a certain dignity in his depression, Jaksch does most to remind us that these characters were written as modern day Koreans. That aspect of the play—its relation to a where and when that Park might have in mind—becomes tenuous as we progress, despite kowtows by First Son and Second Son to their father’s hovering corpse—or is that to the toilet bowl?

Don’t Be Too Surprised is an oddly engaging and amusing play that keeps us guessing about its intentions long after we’ve seen it.

A week from this Thursday, the Cab returns with American Gothic, a newly derived work combining short stories by three exemplars of the form: Jorge Luis Borges, Flannery O’Connor, and Raymond Carver.

 

Don’t Be Too Surprised Written by Geun-Hyung Park Translated and directed by Kee-Yoon Nahm

Dramaturg: Helen Jaksch; Costumes: Chika Shimizu; Set: Chika Shimizu; Lights: Carolina Ortiz; Sound: Kate Marvin; Projections: Ni Wen; Stage Manager: Emily DeNardo; Technical Director: Kate Newman; Producer: Sally Shen

Yale Cabaret September 25-27, 2014

Everybody Hurts

“’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all,” Tennyson said. A nice retrospective reflection, but what about when you’re in the midst of the “losing” part? Bound to Burn, a dance-theater piece at Yale Cabaret, by Rob Chikar and Alyssa Simmons, is an expressive enactment of that part. The show features three couples—Valerie (Elizabeth Mak), the breadwinner, and Tim (David Clauson), her husband; Jessica (Chasten Harmon), a free spirit, and Mark (Daniel Reece), her heart; Ryan (Steven Rotramel), a prostitute, and Braden (Rob Chikar), his hope—who all end badly, couple-wise. The dance routines take us through each couple’s journey—from hopeful coupling to longing separations to suicidal despair—in very lyrical movements that are greatly enhanced by lighting and projections.

Kristen Ferguson’s projections—on three large panels or screens—interact in very evocative ways with the movements, choreographed by Chikar and Simmons, while a variety of all-white costumes by Steven Rotramel also do a lot for visual interest. There are projections of texts, of large close-ups of the dancers, sometimes static, portrait-like, sometimes in motion (I particularly liked the hair movement in a close-up of Mak perfectly synched with the song); there are shadow figures of the dancers, and dancers in front of the panels interacting with dancers behind the panels. The dances, in couples and as solo figures, manage to trace a progress through each number, so that we are following both movement and narrative. Very well thought-out.

The show’s tech is excellent, and all six dancers are expressive as actors as well—especially Harmon and Reece (the couple I thought was going to “work”) as Harmon’s expression of loss is very moving. As Valerie, moving on from her marriage, Mak executes a few balletic moves that add greatly to the sense of release that can come when something’s really “over.” The story between Ryan and Braden, involving the offer of a wedding ring, savvily put the age-old trope of the rejected marriage proposal into the context of gay prostitution, reminding us that the downer of unworkable relations is indifferent to gender. As R.E.M. might say, “everybody hurts.”

And apropos of that musical reference, I have to say that the choice of music for the show surprised me a bit. I found myself thinking about how “mainstream” the music made the show feel, to me. Which is a way of saying that the Cab, here, seems to be exploring the possibilities of a show able to speak to formulas of romance and sentiment found in contemporary popular music—for a wide audience. The music, by the likes of Damien Rice, Jason Walker, Plumb, and SafetySuit, is varied enough to allow for different moods, but mainly conveyed yearnings and chagrin with the restrained gush of emo sensibility. I started (almost) hoping for an ABBA song.

Which led me to this reflection: if the music in Bound to Burn expresses your sense of the possibilities of romance, change the soundtrack!

 

Bound to Burn Conceived by Rob Chikar, directed with Alyssa Simmons

Choreographers: Rob Chikar, Alyssa Simmons; Producer: Melissa Zimmerman; Scenic Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz; Costume Designer: Steven Rotramel; Lighting Designer: Andrew Griffin; Sound Designer: Rob Chikar; Sound Engineer: Steven Brush; Projection Designer: Kristen Ferguson; Technical Director: Keny Thomason; Stage Manager: Melissa Zimmerman; Photographs by Nick Thigpen

Yale Cabaret December 5-7, 2013

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