Helen Jaksch

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.

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

Recap: Yale Cab 46

Yale Cabaret Season 46 is now just a memory. So let’s test our memories. Surveying the season, I’ve come up with five top picks in thirteen categories, as I have done for Seasons 45 (’12-’13) and 44 (’11-’12). Picks are listed in order of the show’s appearance, except the last named is my top choice. First up, the category of pre-existing play adapted to the unique opportunities afforded by the ever-intimate Cab space: All of these had something to do with power dynamics and each was a gripping experience: Dutchman, the challenging provocation about erotics and racial profiling by LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka; erotomania as a work ethic between sisters in Jean Genet’s The Maids; He Left Quietly, Yaël Farber’s dramatization of the incarceration of an innocent man sentenced to death in apartheid South Africa; YSD alum Tarell Alvin McCraney’s exploration of the bonds and frictions between brothers as archetypes in The Brothers Size; and . . . Edward Bond’s daunting look at a world bereft of goods and memories, Have I None.

New plays inaugurated at the Cab this season, as usual, were a mixed bag, trying out eclectic forms: We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun, by Helen Jaksch (*15), Kelly Kerwin (*15), Emily Zemba (*15) is a drag-show drama with music, comedy, and pathos; The Most Beautiful Thing in the World, conceived by Gabriel Levey (*14) and devised with Kate Tarker (*14), is a performance piece that invites the kinds of pitfalls theater is prone to, and brought the audience into the performance; The Defendant, by Elia Monte-Brown (*14), commands the attitudes and language of its teen characters, while walking a difficult line between comedy and unsettling social reality; The Mystery Boy, adapted by Chris Bannow (*14), is a frenetic theatrical romp as weird and vivid as the mind of a pre-teen; and . . . A New Saint for a New World by Ryan Campbell (*15) is a funny dialogue-driven exploration of faith and defiance through the figure of Joan of Arc.

For Sets, the created space wherein everything happens: the runway by way of Warhol for the camp and glam denizens of We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun, by Christopher Ash (*14); the gritty prison space open to our view to make theater of incarceration for He Left Quietly, by Christopher Thompson (*16); the posters and atmosphere of a bygone theatrical era that lent much visual interest to The Crazy Shepherds of Rebellion, by Reid Thompson (*14); the striking combination of modern and ancient ruin that served as backdrop to graffiti art in We Fight We Die, by Jean Kim (*16); and . . . the improbable rooms within a room, meticulously outfitted and wrought for The Maids, by Kate Noll (*14).

For Lighting, that magical aspect of theater that adds so much atmosphere and affect to our viewing experience: Elizabeth Mak (*16) for the highly effective illuminations of the will-of-the-wisp figures in Crave; Oliver Wason (*14) for the use of light and dark to evoke the uncertain occurrences in The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs; Oliver Wason (*14) for the intricate lighting of actual interior space in The Maids; Oliver Wason (*14) for the different lighting for the different worlds—from domestic earth to prison to another planet—in A New Saint for a New World; and . . . Andrew F. Griffin (*16) for playing with light and dark in an almost musical way in The Brothers Size.

For Costumes, that aspect of the experience that helps us suspend our disbelief, and helps actors convince us of their characters’ reality: Hunter Kaczorowski (*14) for the stylish retro outfits of Radio Hour; Elivia Bovenzi (*14) for a cast of regular people and inspired clowns in Derivatives; Asa Benally (*16) for costuming a cavalcade of different plays in a short compass in The Crazy Shepherds of Rebellion; Fabian Aguilar (*16) for the varied habiliments of Joan of Arc’s ordeals in A New Saint for a New World—including space-age angels; and . . . Grier Coleman (*15) for the pastiche and aplomb, charm and chutzpa of We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun.

More ethereal even than Lighting is Sound, but a telling aspect of any production in augmenting the action and creating a mental space to support the visual: Joel Abbott (*14) for tying together all the moods and styles of We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun; Tyler Kieffer (*15) for the use of scored moments in the presentation of The Most Beautiful Thing in the World; Brian Hickey (*15) and Steve Brush (*14) for the razzle-dazzle TV-esque documentary and comedy productions of Derivatives; Tyler Kieffer for letting us eavesdrop so effectively in The Maids; and . . . Tyler Kieffer (*15) and Steve Brush (*14) for the radio soundscape and Foley art of Radio Hour.

For some productions, the visual element doesn’t end with Lighting, Sets, and Costumes, but acquires more presence through the use of projections and other special Visual Effects: Christopher Ash (*14) for the enhancement of the performance space of We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun; Nick Hussong (*14) for the various charts and logos and floating backdrops in Derivatives; Kristin Ferguson (*15) for the striking and lyrical use of photographic projections in Bound to Burn; Joey Moro (*15) for the creation of different visual moods so important to Joan of Arc’s odyssey in A New Saint for a New World; and . . . Rasean Devonte Johnson (*16) for the graffitied visuals of We Fight We Die, and for adding to the fluid visual experience of The Brothers Size.

Use of Music is another element that, for some productions, is almost like adding another character or a special effect to color the action or complete it: Steve Brush (*14) for the songs and jingles and accompaniment so crucial to the aural world of Radio Hour; Jenny Schmidt (*14) for adding to the tensions and suggestiveness of The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs; Pornchanok Kanchanabanca (*16) for the enlivening musical asides that fleshed out the variety of The Crazy Shepherds of Rebellion; Mike Mills for the percussion that acts as Greek chorus to comment musically on—and even control—the action of The Brothers Size; and . . . Joel Abbott (*14) for the sensitive accompaniment that helped render the range of possible motives and actions in We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun.

Another aspect of the experience of the play’s physical presence is how it moves—sometimes that means actual choreography and the creation of dance, other times it has to do with how much activity and physical interaction takes place in the show; choice examples of how intricate Movement greatly enhances a play are: the choreography of the drag queen sleuths by Kelly Kerwin (*15) for We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun; the fluid use of the entire space and the highly expressive interactions directed by Hansol Jung (*14) in Crave; the dance numbers that told stories with movement and mime, choreographed by Rob Chikar (*14) and Alyssa Simmons (*14), in Bound to Burn; the incredibly active interludes bursting out of The Brothers Size, directed by Luke Harlan (*16); and . . . the prop-happy cast, creating sound effects and a variety of characters in different costumes while constantly on stage, of The Mystery Boy, directed by Chris Bannow (*14) and Helen Jaksch (*15).

In terms of Performance, some roles and actors move beyond the traditional “actor”/”actress” dualism, but as such is still the norm of awards shows, I’ll follow suit; for the xy chromosomes: as the one, the only, the much maligned and deeply mourned Edie La Minx: Seth Bodie (*14) in We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun (*14); as Claire, “the pretty one” that Mistress should have designs on: Mickey Theis (*14) in The Maids; for his show-stopping turn as a Lena Horne impersonator in We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun, and for acting out the gripping ordeal of Duma Kumalo in He Left Quietly, Ato Blankson-Wood (*15); as Ogun, the god of iron in the form of a paternalistic and truly fraternal car-shop owner in The Brothers Size, Jonathan Majors (*16); and . . . as the alleged brother who brings death to his sister in Have I None, and as the manipulative “sister” in The Maids, Chris Bannow (*14).

And in Performance, those actors with xx chromosomes: as Lula, the mercurial provocation on a subway car in Dutchman, Carly Zien (*14); as the introducer forced to provide the presentation, with improvised patter and invited responses, Kate Tarker (*14) in The Most Beautiful Thing in the World; as the curious, distraught and distrustful wife in The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs, Chasten Harmon (*15); as a Joan of Arc forced to be normal and then again extraordinary, Maura Hooper (*15) in A New Saint for a New World; and . . . as a woman at her wits’ end in a world of deprivations, Ceci Fernandez (*14) in Have I None.

For the task of somehow orchestrating all this diverse input and making decisions that create a coherent theatrical experience—for Directing, in other words: Jessica Holt (*15) for the harrowing world, driven by complex language and meaningful actions and silences, of Have I None; Cole Lewis (*14) for the mounting tensions and effective contrapuntal presentation of The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs; Sara Holdren (*15) for keeping a handle on comedy with cosmic dimensions, and drama with unsettling implications in A New Saint for a New World; Luke Harlan (*16) for the combination of movement, music, intense dialogue and strong characterizations in The Brothers Size; and . . . Dustin Wills (*14) for the challenging presentation and darkly comic tone of drama queens seduced by death behind closed doors but bare windows in The Maids.

Finally, for overall Production, which means having the wherewithal to make this thing happen, as enablers and aider-abetters, the producers and dramaturgs of the shows that impressed me most: We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun: Emika Abe (*15), producer, and Helen Jaksch (*15), dramaturg; Have I None: Molly Hennighausen (*15), producer, and Hugh Farrell (*15), dramaturg; A New Saint for A New World: Sally Shen, producer, and Helen Jaksch (*15), dramaturg; The Brothers Size: Alyssa Simmons (*14) and Melissa Zimmerman (*14), producers, and Taylor Barfield (*16), dramaturg; and . . . The Maids: Lauren Wainwright (*14), producer, and Tanya Dean (*14), dramaturg.

Some of those mentioned have completed their time at YSD—best of luck in all you do!—and others have a year or two to go. Thanks to all for their dedication, talent, and spirited engagement with the special performance space that is the Yale Cabaret. And to this year's departing team, Whitney Dibo, Lauren Dubowski, Kelly Kerwin, and Shane Hudson, many thanks for a lively season.

Coming soon: a preview of the Yale Summer Cabaret, with Artistic Directors Jessica Holt and Luke Harlan, and Managing Director Gretchen Wright.

See you next year, at the Cab!--with Artistic Directors Hugh Farrell, Tyler Kieffer, Will Rucker, and Managing Director Molly Hennighausen.

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

Back to the CAB

Last weekend the Yale Cabaret offered its second-ever Yale School of Drag—memorable for many things, including Lupita Nyong’o drag, but if you missed it, then you missed it. And if you saw it, far be it from me to tell you what you saw. This week the Cab is back with the first of the eight shows that continue the second part of the 2013-14 Season. Artistic Directors Whitney Dibo, Lauren Dubowski, and Kelly Kerwin have arrived at an interesting mix of shows. Five are pre-existing plays, two are never-before-seen productions, and one is a mixture: a devised setting for known pieces (a bit like Radio Show in the fall).

The first three shows are scheduled beginning this week and for the next two weeks, then a two-week break, three more shows, a week dark, and then the final two. Got it? Here’s what’s coming:

Cab 11 is The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs, proposed by 2nd-year Set Designer Adrian Frausto (whose excellent work on Hedda Gabler closed recently) and directed by 3rd-year Director Cole Lewis, whose varied and unsettling thesis show The Visit was offered in the fall. The play, running for the Valentine's Day weekend, looks at the darker side of romance with a revisiting of the Bluebeard tale of the wealthy man who marries a woman and gives her everything, except . . . she can’t go into that room at the top of the stairs. If your Valentine is the kind who loves a good scare, then this is the place to be. And when was the last time the Cab offered a thriller based on tension and suspense? Written by Canadian playwright Carole Fréchette, the play, Dibo promises, will offer an unusual configuration of the Cab playing space and, with its theme of trust in romance, is perhaps all-too apropos for Valentine’s Day. February 13-15

Next comes Jean Genet’s psychological drama The Maids, proposed by 3rd-year Director Dustin Wills, Co-Artistic Director of Yale Summer Cabaret 2013, whose startlingly unusual Peter Pan played in December. The play, which usually takes place among three women—the mistress and her two maids—will be played by three males, “performing rituals of gender,” according to Dubowski, within a staged space constructed by Kate Noll with sound design by Tyler Kieffer. The idea is to present us with a space full of mirrors and different lines of sight so that the audience is placed in the roles of voyeurs and eavesdroppers, spying on what the maids get-up to behind the scenes. Mainstays of the Summer Cab 2013, Mickey Theis and Chris Bannow, will be joined by first-year actor, Andrew Burnap. February 20-22

The third show before the break is He Left Quietly, proposed by 1st-year Director Leora Morris, a play by Yaël Farber about Duma Kumalo, a man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit in apartheid South Africa. Kumalo’s story, which involves a stay-of-execution delivered on the day the death sentence was to be carried out, followed by another four years of incarceration for a total of 7 years in prison, is a story of a man’s spirit triumphing over unspeakable deprivations. The show, which features three 2nd-year actors, Ato Blankson-Wood, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Maura Hooper, returns us to the dark realities of apartheid South Africa and a search for justice. February 27-March 1

After two dark weeks, the Cab will return with The Crazy Shepherds of Rebellion, a partly devised piece proposed by 1st-year Dramaturg David Bruin. The show will transform the Cab into a Greenwich Village basement in the early 1960s where beatniks and bohemians gather to check out two one-acts by two of their own: Edward Albee and María Irene Fornés. The production takes us back to when these darlings of the theatrical world were still “up-and-coming” and where the surroundings for the play are part of the play in a time of porous conceptions of theater. March 20-22

Cab 15 is We Fight We Die by Long Island-born playwright Timothy J. Guillot and directed by 1st-year playwright Jiréh Breon Holder; the play looks at the fate of the work of graffiti artist Q in his tussle with City Hall, which aims to stamp out his form of art. With a Greek chorus rapping to us about the struggle and original works of art by MFA students in the Yale School of Art, the show provides an interesting collaboration between art forms and media that should be aurally and visually challenging, and, with the recent obliteration of 5Pointz in Long Island City, very timely. March 27-29

Next comes an unusual devised piece from 3rd-year actor and Co-Artistic Director of Summer Cabaret 2013, Chris Bannow. The source material: The Mystery Boy, Bannow’s sister’s original 126-page novel, written two years ago when she was 11. With 2nd-year dramaturg Helen Jaksch (seen in the fall as M in Crave) co-directing, the ensemble cast will be put through their paces with a love triangle, adventures involving the Mafia, vacation romance, and the various pleasures and perils of social media as the lingua franca of our current pre-teen world. April 3-5

2nd-year playwright Ryan Campbell—his Dead Ends was a studio play this past fall—offers his own A New Saint for a New World, directed by 2nd-year director Sara Holdren, who directed Tiny Boyfriend in the fall. The premise: Joan of Arc wants to return to earth; God finally agrees on the condition that she not start any wars or revolutions. Conceived as “a real big play for a small room,” Saint considers the possibilities for faith in 2014 NYC and the frustrations faced by a heroic crusader forbidden to crusade. April 17-19

Cab 18, the last of the season, might be a somewhat obvious choice: The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the YSD graduate playwright who recently won a Yale Windham-Campbell Writing Prize and a MacArthur “genius” Award in the same year. Three 1st year actors, Jonathan Majors, Julian Elijah Martinez, and Galen Kane proposed the play, written while McCraney was a third-year at YSD, and made their case that it’s a play they have an urgent need to enact due to their personal histories and the unique opportunity offered by the Cab. Directed by Luke Harlan, the play is the story of two brothers—Ogun runs a car-repair shop, the other, Oshoozi, recently released from prison, comes to work for him—and a third man, Elegba, also come from jail, who visits to bring Oshoozi a gift. Set in the bayou country of Louisiana and involving music and African myths, the play should end the Cab’s 46th Season with a strong finish as YSD pays tribute to one of its own. April 24-26

So, that’s what you can look forward to in the weeks ahead. See you at the Cab!

Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street New Haven, CT

Season 46 Co-Artistic Directors: Whitney Dibo, Lauren Dubowski, Kelly Kerwin Managing Director: Shane Hudson

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

The Unforgiveable Thing

Without doubt, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is a great play. While some might choose The Glass Menagerie as the quintessential Williams play, I’ve always preferred the goings-on in Elysian Fields, giving us that fascinating threesome plus one of Stanley, Stella, Blanche, and Mitch. The play is so good in giving these characters interesting things to say and do that, we imagine, all a director and cast need do is get out of the way and let the thing work. Directed by Mark Rucker, the Yale Rep’s Streetcar aims for and mostly achieves the kind of definitive version admirers of the play would hope for.

Start with that set (Reid Thompson, Scenic Design): the size of the University Theater stage is put to good effect—particularly its height, with an upstairs we can see just below the overhanging curtain, so that there is a real feel for a two-room apartment below another one. It’s the classic proscenium with missing fourth wall, and it’s satisfying to see it used so well, with very fluid movements from one room to another and from outside to inside. The action is all blocked with an animated naturalism that moves at just the right pace. The play is long—with two intermissions that are required for dramatic curtains along the way—but never tiring. If you already know the play well, it’s still a great opportunity to study Williams’ ability to structure scenes and dialogue. Theater, film, television—rarely are scripts this good.

All the buzz in the media has focused on Joe Manganiello as Stanley. While I can’t claim any knowledge of Manganiello’s work as a werewolf, I feel certain his fans will get what they came for. In his very first scene he strips off his shirt to expose his ultra-buff bod—he’s so built, it’s almost a special effect—and in general he struts his stuff so as to give us a Stanley who is a bit more muscle-bound than might be common. The physical threat of Stanley is therefore palpably present, and so I found myself struck by how reserved this Stanley can be. I mean, he could really cause some damage, but is generally an easy-going guy. To a certain extent, Stanley—as written—received a disservice in the widespread view of Marlon Brando as the definitive performance of the role. Brando’s Stanley is far too fascinating, full of an intensity that goes well beyond the kind of guy Stanley is meant to be. Manganiello’s Stanley, to my mind, is closer to the “average Joe” qualities we should find in the master of 632 Elysian Fields.

In the demerits column, Manganiello’s performance at times left a bit to be desired in terms of elocution—the effort to give Stanley a certain tone and voice is appreciated, but at times the lines get a little swallowed, and there wasn’t quite as much comedy as there might be—as with the Napoleonic Code and the contents of Blanche’s trunk. But then comedy is hard, as they say.

The main emphasis in any production of Streetcar must fall on the role of Blanche. René Augesen takes on this exhausting role with amazing energy and a full sense of its many nuances. There aren’t any surprises in her performance, but there is a great feel for Blanche’s wit, and for the comic aspects of the play. Even knowing the outcome, we can watch the play with a sense that nothing that happens is a foregone conclusion. Even when the revelations about her past begin to surface, Blanche has the presence of mind to face them with style. Sure, she’s on a downward spiral after her last scene with Mitch, but it’s still the assault from Stanley that tips her over the edge. What I enjoyed most in Augesen’s performance is a sense of just how resilient and adaptable Blanche is. It’s a role full of the tragedy of indignity and Augesen gets it all across. And her costumes (Hunter Kaczorowski) are amazing—particularly the robe of Della Robbia blue in which she departs her sister’s home.

There’s fine support all along the way: April Matthis and Marc Damon Johnson, as Eunice and Steve Hubbell, the upstairs neighbors, have a proprietary sense of belonging that underscores the uniqueness of the DuBois sisters, and Adam O’Byrne’s Mitch meets the challenge of playing awkwardness gracefully. As the most “sensitive” of Stanley’s friends, Mitch might be just what Blanche needs—and Streetcar is perhaps at its best in showing that illusion can only go so far in masking the hard line of reality. The interplay of illusion and realism—as dramaturg Helen Jaksch’s playbill points out—is crucial to Williams’ sense of theater, and to see fond illusions crumple is both sad, inevitable, and dramatically satisfying, even if that means deliberate cruelty is the victor.

In the end, the female roles are what make this production—particularly the many nice comic touches in the sisterly rapport between Blanche and Sarah Sokolovic’s Stella. Sokolovic plays Stella as a realist who accepts the world she lives in without expecting more from it than it can provide; she’s a constant contrast to Blanche’s genteel volubility and fanciful conceptions, and Sokolovic lets her facial expressions in silent reactions say a lot. We have the sense of a woman who has been found wanting in Blanche’s view of things all their lives, and her solicitude for her sister is matched by her sense of Blanche’s pretensions. Some of the best scenes are the ones when the sisters are alone together.

One cavil: the moment when Stella, after her make-up session with Stanley, climbs out of bed nude in her sister’s presence. Nudity on stage is fine, but when it’s not specified in the text, we can wonder what purpose it serves. While it might be in character for Stella to be nude in front of her sister—which I doubt, given her sense of Blanche’s dignity—it seems to me completely out of character for Blanche not to say something. But she can’t say anything because Williams didn’t intend for her to be reacting to nudity.

It’s the one ill-chosen contemporary touch in this otherwise faithful, entertaining, and fascinating revival.

A Streetcar Named Desire By Tennessee Williams Directed by Mark Rucker

Scenic Designer: Reid Thompson; Costume Designer: Hunter Kaczorowski; Lighting Designer: Stephen Strawbridge; Composer and Sound Designer: Steven Brush; Production Dramaturg: Helen C. Jaksch; Dialect Coach: Jane Guyer Fujita; Fight Director: Rick Sordelet; Casting Director: Tara Rubin; Stage Manager: James Mountcastle; Photographs: Carol Rosegg, courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre

Yale Repertory Theatre September 20-October 12, 2013

Queen for a Day

The curtain has gone up on the new Yale Cabaret season—Cab 46—and the debut show is We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun, written by YSD students Helen Jaksch, Kelly Kerwin, and Emily Zemba, and directed by Kerwin. The show has a lot of what makes Cab shows work—a sense of the audience’s proximity, a showy self-consciousness, and a lot of moxy. The play is not so much a whodunit as a howwasit, involving a late, beloved drag queen, Edie (played with show-stopping flair by Seth Bodie), a mummified, gunshot body in her apartment, and a gun. What the hell happened?

Well, of course, the entire subculture of which Edie was a reigning queen has its conjectures, so we meet a variety of possibilities—some plausible, some comically outrageous (my favorite was Edie in full Mae West drag getting the drop on a bandanna-ed bandit)—with all the enacted scenes employing the genre markings of any drama queen’s inner cinema; the bottom line: “he done her wrong.”

The real fire of the show is in the musical performances (original songs, and accompaniment as Charlie the Piano Guy, by Joel Abbott). Bodie/Edie could’ve sung more, for my money, and bravo to Ato Blankson-Wood, looking like a Grace Jones impersonator, for taking the passed baton from Lena Horne’s “The Man I Love” and scoring. Then there are the big, uplift moments, some with lip-synching, that have the audience clapping and cheering. Yes, despite murder and death, this show is a celebration of what Iggy calls “Lust for Life.”

Christopher Ash’s stage set is Warholian with its projections of Edie and it’s glitzy “everybody’s a star” aura; the other queens seem to recall tropes from the 70s and 80s as well—my favorite is the über-slinky Cabaret-like Mistress of Ceremonies played by Tom Pecinka, with her tale of carnations—and there’s a trio of comic turns by James Cusati-Moyer as a blonde ditz, complete with New Yawk squawk, in Daisy Dukes, a leather-skirted conchita hot for fun, and a hilarious Pacino take-off as one of Edie’s more aggressive paramours. Kristen Ferguson works best as the tersely barking flatfoot stumped by this cold case. And Christopher Geary rounds out the cast as a speculative intimate with a place in his bitchy heart for some of the loveable oddities of Edie in her prime.

Apart from all the comedy and song and dance, Bodie really shines in an intimate boudoir moment where Edie takes the entire audience into her confidence—we’ve all been given envelopes containing little icons that she lovingly identifies by the names of the queens they stand for. It’s perhaps the most Warholian moment of all—the idea that, without a historical sense, a scene, a subculture, an art-form, a performance, an identity will be forgotten as if it never was. Well might the other queens rehearse the stories of Edie’s alleged act of violence—she not only had a gun, but a heart and a memory. Viva La Minx!

 

We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun Written by Helen Jaksch, Kelly Kerwin, Emily Zemba Directed by Kelly Kerwin

Dramaturg: Helen Jaksch; Producer: Emika Abe; Sets, Lights, & Projections: Christopher Ash; Costumes: Grier Coleman; Sound, Original Music: Joel Abbott; Stage Manager: Anita Shastri; Set/Technical Assistant: Samantha Lazar; Tango Consultant: Joel Abbott; Photographs by Nick Thigpen courtesy of Yale Cabaret

Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street

September 19-21, 2013

 

A Cab of Many Colors

Every year the Yale Cabaret enstates new artistic directors—Yale School of Drama students whose vision of and commitment to theater will guide the choices of shows for the coming season. For Cab 46, almost ready to kick-off this month, the people running the show are three dramaturgs—Whitney Dibo, Lauren Dubowski, Kelly Kerwin—as co-Artistic Directors, and Shane Hudson, as Managing Director. All have previous background with offerings at the Cab—particularly, for the ADs, The Twins Would Like to Say, the penultimate production of Cab 45. Dibo and Dubowski co-directed the play and Kerwin was the production’s dramaturg. Those who saw the play will remember its use of the entire space of the Cab (there was no “back stage”) and its encouragement that the audience move about during the show, which was staged, at times, in different locations simultaneously. Hudson has already become a familiar face at the front desk of the Cab, particularly during the Yale Summer Cab of 2012.

The tag words for this year’s Cab are “invention – urgency – artistry,” and the three ADs stress “risk” as an element of what they’re looking for in choosing the shows that will be staged this year. Being “allowed to fail” means having the luxury to try out approaches, plays, collaborations that might be something less than a “sure thing.” If everyone only does what they’ve already done and know they’re good at, all sense of exploration, innovation, and challenge goes out the window. As regulars of the Cab know, there’s always a mix of amazingly spot-on shows and shows that reach for something they might not grasp, this time ‘round. There’s also a beguiling sense of not knowing what you’ll get until you arrive and the show starts. The Cab’s mystique is largely predicated on the unexpected and the untried before.

The questions that Dibo, Dubowski and Kerwin—sounding a bit like a law firm or agency when you say it like that—ask of their colleagues, in the application process, apply to time and place. “Why here?” is a question about the use of the specific space and implies a sense of community as well. Why the Cab, both as a uniquely intimate and amorphous space, but also, why the Cab, in the sense of its audience and its larger context within the School of Drama. D,D,K are committed to tapping the unique ability of the Cab to serve their colleagues in YSD as the premiere locus for artistic investigation.

The complimentary question, of course, and one that every theatrical venue should ask when setting up its season is “why now?” The “here and now” of any play is what convinces audiences that they should be present to see this particular show and not some other.The Cab shows, in their short lives (only three nights for each play), arrive with a sense of urgency, a sense that the story to be told is worth all the sweat and toil for such an ephemeral run.

With shows that are completely generated by graduate students—usually in a mix of already existing plays and plays originating before our very eyes—the Cab can’t get us in the door with stars and celebrities. The venue’s allure has to do with the possibility of discovery: what future greats may even now be honing their talents for audiences at a ridiculously low price? (A non-student flex pass of 9 shows makes each show cost $10, which is the standard price for students.) A host of top notch theater people have worked at the Cab in its 46 illustrious years: Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Paul Giamatti, John Turturro, Christopher Durang, Anna Shapiro, to name but a few. We’ve no doubt that their fellows can be found working with devotion on the “passion projects” at the Cab (no show at the Cab counts toward graduation for any of its participants; these shows are all ends in themselves—unless they go on to future development, as some do).

This year, the ADs have instituted a deviation. Usually the ADs of the Cab reserve a few slots for their own projects. Our three ADs have chosen to waive that perk but have replaced it with a different kind of participation: each approved play will have one of the three ADs assigned to it as Creative Producer. That role will be a vantage from which to offer notes before a show goes up, and, more importantly, to facilitate the show in any way necessary. The role of CP lets D, D, or K have a creative role in how a project shapes up—not that ADs are traditionally hands-off entirely about the shows they accept. The CP role will mean that the ADs are a bit more invested in each show than might sometimes be the case.

As students of dramaturgy—the text-based, historical consciousness of the theatrical community, we might say—Dibo, Dubowski, and Kerwin have paid their dues: both Dibo and Kerwin have worked in Chicago with the famous Steppenwolf Theatre, as well as other innovative companies, and Dubowski has worked with Headlong Dance Theatre in Philadelphia, and at the Yale Rep as dramaturg on last year’s comic satire American Night: The Ballad of Juan José. Dibo and Dubowski also collaborated on Cab 44’s The Yiddish King Lear, and the trio have worked on thesis shows and Carlotta Festival shows at YSD. In other words, D,D,K have run the gamut of the kinds of shows YSD produces as well as having experience with the kind of theater that takes place off-the-beaten-track.

And now the first three shows . . .

Cab 1: September 19-21: We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun by Helen Jaksch, Kelly Kerwin, and Emily Zemba; directed by Kelly Kerwin. Using live music—including a tango—to tell the tale, based on a real story, of a fictional legendary drag queen, Edie La Minx explores “the grit behind the glam.” Edie, it seems, not only has a gun, she also has an unexplained mummified body in a garment bag in her apartment, complete with a gunshot wound to the head. Who is it, and what’s it mean for Edie? Seth Bodie assays the role of Edie (those who braved the biggest blizzard in recent memory last winter to see the First Annual Yale Cab Drag Show may remember Seth’s performance, which may or may not be relevant to the role of Edie). The show purports to have the lively and unpredictable elements so crucial to season kick-offs, and that’s reason enough to see how it plays.

Cab 2: September 26-28: The Dutchman by LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka; directed by Katherine McGerr. Jones’ play was incendiary in its time, making free use of “the n word” and exploring the vexed issue of inter-racial attraction and antagonism on a New York subway in 1964—the year after Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. In these “post-racial” days of the Baraka administration, an event like the murder of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman (to say nothing of more distant events such as the O.J. trial in the ‘90s) shows us that, in the U.S., race is never “in the past.” McGerr has done notable work at the Cab in staging already existing plays that featured the grisly (Howard Benton's Christie in Love), the timely (Arthur Kopit's Chamber Music), and the unpredictable (Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit/Red Rabbit).

Cab 3: October 3-5: The Most Beautiful Thing in the World; conceived and directed by Gabe Levey. If you’ve been around YSD in the last few years, you probably know Gabe Levey—his Andy Kaufmannesque one-man show, Brainsongs, in Cab 44, or his comic role as the Shoemaker/Puppet-master in the Summer Cab’s enactment of Lorca’s The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife, or perhaps his memorable turn as a young girl in a pinafore in Margot Bordelon’s thesis production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine last spring. This time he’ll be directing Third-Year playwright Kate Tarker in play that promises one of “the world’s most renowned motivational speakers” and a pitch to put the "you" in “universe.” Levey and Tarker share a penchant for the techniques Christopher Bayes teaches in his clown classes at Yale (Bayes is the comic vision behind such recent Rep hits as The Servant of Two Masters and A Doctor in Spite of Himself), so this show will be nothing if not funny.

Another innovation of Cab 46 will be the use of actual images from the productions in the support materials, such as the playbills at the shows, and a logo that provides grounds for seeing this as “a Cab of many colors.”

The remaining seven shows of the first semester will be previewed here some time in October, and, until then, see you at the Cab!

(photographs by Christopher Ash; courtesy of the Yale Cabaret)