Enda Walsh

Telling Tales

A man and a woman, wearing the obvious greasepaint makeup of amateur theatricals, sit in a little triangular room on a makeshift stage, complete with naked-bulb footlights and a painted curtain.  They speak to us with the emphatic and cadenced accents of the Lancashire area of England, in a manner that feels confidential and forthright though also oddly prickly and at times slightly distracted. As the two take us into their confidences—the Man (Christopher Geary) talking about his encounters, as a six year old, with his mother’s breasts, the Woman (Emily Reilly) describing her father’s imposition of “order” and multiplication tables on the household—we might begin to feel they aren’t quite “all there,” particularly as the man keeps worrying an alarm clock and the woman treats her little array of knickknacks as though they are alive.  They have a fondness in their manner that makes them easy to listen to, even if the implications of much of what they say is left to us to interpret—as when they both chortle about “chit-chat, chit-chat, chit-chat” as though the phrase calls up liberating associations.

As the parallel monologues go on, we realize they are reminiscing about events from the same period of their lives—from six, when they first met one another, to about twelve—and that the period is warmly recalled by both, as a time inspired by the strength of their feeling for one another.  It is to Walsh’s credit that he gives such vibrant voices to figures assumed to be elderly, making their recollections create a view of childhood romance that is truly striking.

Gradually, within the same extended recollections, the memories become infused with the horrific and traumatic, having to do with a draconian imposition of conformity by Woman’s father and the Man from the Chip Shop: the two decide who will be silenced by slicing out the tongues of anyone they choose, which leads as well to random killings.

Our entry into this world of past horror follows a unique trajectory—from verbal comedy to an understanding that speech itself can be a crime and, finally, to the sense that only the ability to keep talking about the past, giving words to experience, is what allows humans to maintain a grasp on meaning and identity.

Both performers in the piece are to be commended for letting us into this world. The play, almost static in its staging, must take over our imaginations almost entirely by speech alone—with a few props, an entertaining use of a recorded song Man, as a boy, gave to Woman, as a girl, and a telling use of dramatic percussion and lighting.  At one key moment the duo, bathed in a kind of transcendent light, seem to see one another as Man bids Woman speak of what she remembers.  In that one moment, we might say, he is face-to-face with his past, and with the love of a life that involves a horrible act of betrayal.

Geary is wonderful at remaining in character while also having an eye out for the audience as an element of the play.  He helps us realize that the use of the curtain and footlights and facepaint is meant to give us a feel for the failings of the naturalism of theater, and a sense that the past is something we always to some extent “stage” upon the present.  Reilly is particularly good at creating the fond regard of a doting woman for whom even betrayal and brutality are part of the vitality of her youth.  It’s a performance that stays with you as both endearing and sinister.

While I have caveats about how well thought-out Walsh’s backstory is—it’s best taken as a kind of nightmare of village life, insular and absolute (the age of the children is necessary to the effect)—I have no doubts about the skill, ingenuity, and power of this production.  We owe Reilly, her co-director Hugh Farrell, and company thanks for The Small Things.


The Small Things By Enda Walsh Directed by Emily Reilly and Hugh Farrell

Costume Designer: Nikki Delhomme; Co-Sound Designer: Palmer Hefferan; Co-Sound Designer: Tyler Kieffer; Dramaturg: Hugh Farrell; Percussionist: Victor Caccese; Stage Manager: Rob Chikar; Producer: Eric Gershman

Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street March 7-9, 2013

Coming Up at The Cabaret

Yale’s spring semester starts this week, so that means not only are the kids back in town but so is the Cab.  The Yale Cabaret has announced its new line-up and the first show of the second half of the season—with ten shows rather than the traditional nine—should be getting ready to go up even as we speak. That show is All of What You Love and None of What You Hate, a play by Phillip Howze as recent as last year, about a teenage girl coming to a major decision about herself with what Artistic Director Ethan Heard describes as “a lot of noise” coming at her from her mother, her boyfriend and a friend.  The play is very fast-paced and contemporary, so contemporary, in fact, that three of its four actors are First Years in the YSD program.  The play is directed by Kate Tarker, a 2nd-year Playwright, who worked in the fall on the Cab’s Cat Club.  January 17-19.

The Island is an early-ish play by Athol Fugard, developed with John Kani and Winston Ntshona, in his Brechtian period, 1972, and set in a prison cell in Robben Island, the South African prison that held Nelson Mandela at the time.  The two men in the cell are rehearsing Antigone, Sophocles’ great play about a clash with the State in the name of mourning, ritual and blood ties.  The play, directed by native South African and 3rd-year dramaturg Kate Attwell, stars Winston Duke and Paul Pryce, both 3rd-Year Actors, recently shown to great effect in Iphigenia Among the Stars.  January 24-26.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes Ermyntrude & Esmeralda, a “naughty puppet play” derived from the naughty epistolary novella by Lytton Strachey.  Directed by 2nd-year Costume Designer Hunter Kaczorowski (who recently did such an excellent job on the YSD’s production of Sunday in the Park with George), the play’s titular characters confide in each other about all sorts of things that, we imagine, young Edwardian ladies were not supposed to notice, much less comment upon.  It’s an intimate world of bow-wows and pussycats and whimsical euphemisms. February 14-16.

The first of the two shows this semester not derived from a pre-existing source, All This Noise* is the creation of 3rd-year Actor Jackson Moran, who directed last semester’s tour de force, Cowboy Mouth.  In this one-man show based upon interviews with persons who have had experience with mental illness—as professionals, patients, and relatives—Moran seeks to create some of that “conversation about mental health” that politicians in the media profess an earnest interest in, but which seems to never get started. February 21-23.

The second show originating with YSD students is The Bird Bath, a movement piece created by The Ensemble and directed by 3rd-year Actor Monique Barbee, who shone in last semester’s Sunday in the Park with George and last summer’s K of D, at the Summer Cabaret.  Inspired by the art of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington*—partner of Max Ernst—this piece uses text from the artist's account of her experiences in a mental institution. February 28-March 2.

Contemporary Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s The Small Things is a chilling play for two actors, directed by 3rd-year dramaturg Emily Reilly.  The characters, a man and a woman, tell stories in a kind of dialect, both to explore the power of speech and to reconstruct occurrences from a devastating past. March 7-9.

Lindbergh’s Flight by Bertolt Brecht was written as a radio play with music by Kurt Weill.  As carried out by an Ensemble that includes Kate Attwell and 3rd-year Actors Brenda Meaney and Gabe Levey, the play, Heard says, is “mischievous fun” with potential for audience participation, and a political dimension to the hero worship of Lindbergh. March 14-16.

Heard’s own project this semester is a production of Arthur Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, or Opus 21.  A moody musical piece involving 21 poems by Belgian poet Albert Giraud, the composition dates from 1913 and is an open-ended working through of Symbolist motifs, most notably the figure of “the sad clown” Pierrot.  The work calls for five instrumentalists and a soprano, but Heard is still deciding how much action will be expected from the musicians and how many actors will be involved.  In any case, the piece seems an even more ambitious combination of music and drama than Basement Hades, the show Heard directed in last year’s Cab.  March 28-30.

The Twins Would Like to Say, by collaborators Seth Bockley and Devon de Mayo, continues the “twinning” that seems a theme this semester.  And like E & E, it involves two girls looking on at their community, and, like The Small Things, it involves the rigors of a private, shared life.  Directed by a duo, Lauren Dubowski and Whitney Dibo, two 2nd-year Dramaturgs, the play is about twin sisters from the Caribbean trying to cope with life in Wales.  The play is usually presented “promenade” style, which means the audience moves around, spending time in one area or another as things happen simultaneously. April 4-6.

The final show of the season is Marius von Mayenberg’s The Ugly One, directed by 2nd-year Director Cole Lewis, who directed the gripping and entertaining show “Ain’t Gonna Make It” in the fall semester.  This four-person play takes place in a slightly futuristic world in which a person who has been deemed the ugliest has undergone plastic surgery to become the most beautiful.  The play is about appearance and substance, we might say, but also about the worship of beauty in our looks-conscious culture. April 11-13.

And that’s that.  See you at the CAB.


The Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street New Haven, CT

*Corrections: the original post used the working title Halfway House for the piece entitled All This Noise, and misidentified Leonora Carrington as Dora Carrington, a British artist in the Bloomsbury Group.