Louisa Jacobson

Can History Be Healed?

Review of Seven Spots on the Sun, Yale School of Drama

As this gripping play goes on, Seven Spots on the Sun by Martín Zimmerman, directed by third-year Yale School of Drama directing student Jecamiah M. Ybañez, becomes an instance of folk history, one that derives its force from traumatic events. Designated as “The Town,” figures in a collective ensemble (Brandon E. Burton, Louisa Jacobson, Kineta Kunutu, JJ McGlone, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, Jakeem Powell) voice a kind of stricken amazement at events that seem the stuff of legend. Zimmerman’s play, in treating the depredations of a civil war, its aftermath, and the effects of a general amnesty for war crimes, has its eye on the tragic course of more than one Latin American country, while the play’s manner lends itself to fable and the sort of retribution we may think of as Fate.

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Early on we learn that the town, which is overjoyed when radio transmissions recommence, accords special status to Moisés (Dario Ladani Sánchez), a former medic who has suffered more than most. So when he smashes the radio so as not to hear pronouncements about the newly instituted government, no one confronts him. The story of all he lost is told in parallel with the story of Mónica (Adrienne Wells), who speaks to the audience about her love for Luis (Robert Lee Hart), a miner in Ojona, who becomes a soldier because he expects it will provide more stability and an eventual pension. Wells’ straightforward address does much to give us direct access to life within the town.

Then the civil war comes, creating a horribly fraught world where victims of soldiers can be left to die in San Isidro’s town square while the town, frightened off by the hand-prints in white paint left as a warning, must endure the misery in their midst. As Belén, Moisés’ beloved, Sohina Sidhu’s emotional reaction to the cries of the dying boy (Powell) provides an important crux for the events to come. Whereas most of us have to read or watch news reports to be reminded, in the midst of our comfortable lives, that horrors are occurring elsewhere, Belén is unable to enjoy the mangoes that Moisés traded morphine for. Finally, goaded by her distress, Moisés agrees to take the boy into the clinic.

When soldiers are reported to be coming back to town, it’s understood that whoever has helped the boy will die. Moisés, despite his overt contempt for the cowardly priest Eugenio (José Espinosa), tries to find sanctuary in the church. Eugenio’s narration of what happens then is delivered by Espinosa as a shameful failure but also as if events are beyond his control—a feeling that gains conviction in the second part of the play. Meanwhile, Luis eventually returns from the war to his wife and newborn son, but he’s no longer the man his wife loved and she fears him.

The full details of the punishment visited upon Moisés are not revealed until late. In the play’s present, we see how, despite Moisés’ antipathy, Eugenio must come to him with a plea: there is a plague in the area that is besetting the children, its symptoms painful but sweet-smelling boils that cause death. Moisés reluctantly agrees to examine a child, then withdraws, appalled by his lack of ability and his own indifference. Eugenio comes again to tell him of a miracle: the child was immediately healed.

The parallel course of the play means that we shouldn’t be surprised that the child of Luis and Mónica will need to be healed by Moisés, but when we learn the part that Luis played in what became of Belén, the play creates a situation worthy of Solomon. At the heart of the dramatic situation is the question of atonement and forgiveness, and how wounds to the social body cannot be healed any other way, though it is more typical to expect that whoever has the upper-hand will exact whatever price satisfies the lust for revenge.

The deftness of the play’s plot is much to its advantage. This is not a realistic tale that strains credulity, but rather a fable about war and love, about hatred and desperate need. The four main characters have both a genuine specificity and a generic quality. The male roles are difficult due to the extremes the actors must evince. Hart’s Luis seems an aloof lover who does what he wants and expects his wife to accept his view; his eventual transformation seems not to take as much toll on him as it might. Sánchez’s Moisés is quite effective in his despair, but perhaps less so in his ultimatums. We have to believe in these characters as persons caught up in events beyond their control and then see them as figures of ultimate nemesis. It’s a striking situation, and an admirable effort.

The boxlike set makes the town seem a cell, an interesting comment on how all are imprisoned by past events they can’t overcome. Late in the play, a wall falls as if breaking through a façade and into the dark events that keep the town spellbound. The fascinating ensemble, with expressive choreography by Jake Ryan Lozano, creates the manner of a people struck to the heart by the story it must tell for the sake of its souls, the individual members wearing haunted looks that stay with us beyond the wrenching outcome.

Grim and trying, Seven Spots on the Sun’s sense of humanity is not without redemption, though it firmly presents the horrors of history as a curse upon the present.

 

Seven Spots on the Sun
By Martín Zimmerman
Directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Choreographer: Jake Ryan Lozano; Scenic Designer: Lily Guerin; Lighting Designer: Evan Christian Anderson; Costume Designer: April M. Hickman; Sound Designer and Composer: Andrew Rovner; Projection and Video Designer: Christopher Evans; Production Dramaturg: Evan Hill; Technical Director: Jenna Heo; Stage Manager: Zachry J. Bailey

Cast: Brandon E. Burton, José Espinosa, Robert Lee Hart, Louisa Jacobson, Kineta Kunutu, JJ McGlone, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, Jakeem Powell, Dario Ladani Sánchez, Sohina Sidhu, Adrienne Wells

 Yale School of Drama
December 13-18, 2018

By One's Lights

Review of the light is…, Yale Cabaret

Movement pieces often present a conundrum. We see bodies in a variety of choreographed routines, we hear music that finds itself embodied in those movements, with costumes, lighting and set contributing to our immersion in the event. How we interpret what we see is where the uncertainty lies.

In the case of the light is…, conceived and directed by third-year Yale School of Drama actor Jake Ryan Lozano, there are also words—words of unusual lyrical polish spoken with a trippy delight by Curtis Williams—that shape our attention more than they provide definite context.

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An atmospheric tree of lights stands at one end of the playing space, and the actors/dancers clad in black, with eyes ringed black, move like a group of bodies controlled by a shared impulse. To find the light? To overcome the darkness? Williams, in a boss coat, is a kind of controlling presence, a commentator, a poetic voice above the proceedings. His vocal rhythms and rhyming diction add to the aura.

The five figures—Seta Wainiqolo, Marié Botha, Shadi Ghaheri, Louisa Jacobson, James Udom—move sometimes robotically, sometimes with a kind of desperate yearning or pantomimed fear. It’s fascinating because there’s a distinct feel of a kind of limbo space and we’re wondering what will break them out of the trance. Meanwhile, the trance becomes contagious.

At some point, I have to admit, I stopped trying to piece together a prevailing direction for the show. I started to zone out and think about how great it was to see these six working together. Udom and Wainiqolo worked together in the hypnotic drama The Slow Sound of Snow and in the highly stylized Death of Yadzgerd, which also featured Williams, two shows directed by Ghaheri; Botha and Udom were paired as lovers/antagonists in last year’s Summer Cabaret in a scorching Mies Julie; Jacobson was recently seen as a loose bourgeois in Native Son at the Yale Rep, and a daughter with a mission in Re:Union at the Cab, and Wainiqolo as a stalwart captain in An Enemy of the People, at Yale Rep. The vagaries of the season at the Rep and YSD determines, often, who is available for shows at the Cab, and here six impressive performers (Ghaheri, a third-year director, has appeared in several challenging Cab shows, including Boris Yeltsin, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., and Adam Geist) work within arms’ reach, far gone in the throes of a shared crisis condition.

The willingness to explore areas that expand one’s repertoire is what keeps the Cabaret alive, and it’s also a key opportunity for YSDers to take on work that stretches our sense of their capabilities. Lozano, as an actor, has developed a unique command of movement—as seen notably in Titus Andronicus, directed by Ghaheri, and memorably featuring Wainiqolo, as Titus, and Botha, as Tamora. With the light is…, Lozano shows his unique command of poetic language, with touches of Shakespeare, rap, and a musing free association merging to form a mythic invocation of light and our desire for the clarity of paradise.

Moments that stand out to me, in recollection: Udom standing right before my face with a look of deep, permeating sadness, during a sequence when the five, in a ring, seemed to have lost all hope; Wainiqolo leading the five into the ring, all in slow motion, and pantomiming being dragged against their will, his face a mask of fear; the five entering one by one the ring another time with each displaying a comical facial expression and a mechanical tremor as they cross the border; the five reaching up for the source of light, with Jacobsen’s face, in a mute longing, the best illuminated.

And through it all, there’s Williams, in his Cab debut, making us take in the spectacle as an allegory of a world in desperate need of illumination.

 

the light is…
By Jake Ryan Lozano

Set Design: Alex McNamara; Costume Design: Stephanie Bahniuk; Lighting Design: Dakota Stipp; Projection Design: Erin Sullivan; Stage Manager: Zachary Rosen; Technical Director: Elsa Gibson Braden, Lily Guerin; Producer: Armando Huipe

Ensemble: Marié Botha, Shadi Ghaheri, Louisa Jacobson, James Udom, Seta Wainiqolo, Curtis Williams

Yale Cabaret
January 25-27, 2018

Yale Cabaret goes dark for the next two weekends, then returns February 15th-17th with its annual, not-to-be-missed Drag Show extravaganza.

For What It's Worth

Review of Re:Union, Yale Cabaret

The fraught sacrifice required by war is given an unusual spin in Sean Devine’s Re:Union. The war dead are in most cases those who fought and died, on either side. In the case of the story of Norman Morrison, the part of civilian casualty of war takes on a different dimension—not only of a personal sacrifice but also of public protest.

In 1965, as the war in Vietnam escalated, Morrison, a married Quaker teacher and father of three, staged a self-immolation outside the Pentagon window of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The event was one of a few such protests on U.S. soil, perhaps spurred by the famous coverage from 1963—including photos and film footage—of a Vietnamese monk lighting himself on fire in Saigon in a call for religious equality after Buddhist monks were killed by government forces in South Vietnam. In the case of Morrison, the choice of location and the fact that his three-year-old daughter, Emily, was in his arms at least until he doused himself in kerosene, added not only more potential symbolism to his act but also more mystery and drama.

Emily Morrison (Louisa Jacobson), Robert McNamara (Charles O'Malley) (Photographs by Johnny Moreno)

Emily Morrison (Louisa Jacobson), Robert McNamara (Charles O'Malley) (Photographs by Johnny Moreno)

Re:Union capitalizes on the degree to which Morrison’s act was likely meant as, and was certainly viewed as, an indictment of McNamara specifically, as the man who, at that time, argued most pervasively that the war could be won. The play’s main action takes place in 2001 when Emily (Louisa Jacobson), now in her thirties, confronts McNamara (Charles O’Malley) about the escalating war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. She’s seeking a means to protest the Patriot Act as sanctioning tyranny, but is also, as becomes clear, looking for a way to come to terms with the past.

The play, which has been shortened for the Yale Cabaret’s running time with the permission of the author, triangulates the action by showing us, 1) Norman teaching a lesson on Kierkegaard’s reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac, in 1965; 2) Emily, in 2001, addressing both McNamara and her father on video, as well as, eventually, McNamara in person, and 3) staged “clips” of McNamara, during his time in the Pentagon, addressing the press or TV in various contexts, and, eventually speaking with Emily.

Director Jecamiah Ybañez and the production's proposer and projection designer Wladimiro A. Woyno R. evoke the varying levels of conscience through trenchant overlaps, so that the story and its ramifications seem to occupy a claustrophobic, obsessional mental space. Emily speaks into a camera which projects her image on screen, as she tries to find the words that would elicit a sense of complicity from McNamara; McNamara, always very poised and relentlessly dry, expounds his war strategy to unseen listeners or deflects criticisms with a lofty tone; Norman, with cute overhead projections, expounds on Abraham’s pact with God, then announces that God has shown him his purpose. As Norman, Jared Andrew Michaud, in a Cab debut, moves from a driven teacher to an eerily detached zealot with only one purpose.

Norman Morrison (Jared Andrew Michaud)

Norman Morrison (Jared Andrew Michaud)

Emily wants closure on the Vietnam War, as a misguided sacrifice of U.S. lives and the destruction of the land and peoples of the belligerent regions of Vietnam, even as the U.S. embarks vaingloriously, and some would say cynically, upon another costly military enterprise. While still personally troubled by her father’s act, Emily, played with an involving sense of conviction by Jacobson, ponders the effects of inaction. She’s not opening old wounds but rather showing that there has never been a return to health in the U.S.

But the play also reflects somewhat the change of heart toward the war that McNamara displayed in works such as the film The Fog of War (2003), and in his comments to Emily’s mother as recorded in the latter’s memoir. O’Malley plays McNamara as a bit of a Vulcan, all about rationality and the logic of his strategy. His main emotion is a certain vindictiveness toward Morrison for fouling the air so abysmally and causing him great personal distress. He seems at best petulant about the event, only gradually, and grudgingly, allowing that Morrison’s conviction caused him, at least to some degree, to question his own beliefs.

What comes out most forcefully in the Cabaret’s gripping and effective staging of the play is the extent to which McNamara demanded sacrifices of his country to an unconscionable degree or at least for a cause he found himself doubting. That demand is set against the faith of Morrison’s uncompromising act, which lets the cost of his loss fall upon his family. Both men, whether acting for the sake of God or for their country or for the dying Vietnamese, are willing to cause great suffering. Of the two, only McNamara had to live with that.

Emily Morrison (Louisa Jacobson)

Emily Morrison (Louisa Jacobson)

 

Re:Union
By Sean Devine
Directed by Jecamiah Ybañez
Proposed by Wladimiro A. Woyno R.

Dramaturgs: Patrick Young & Alex Vermillion; Set Designer: Gerardo Diaz Sanchez; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Erin Earle Fleming; Projection Designer: Wladimiro A. Woyno R.; Sound Designer/Composer: Frederick Kennedy; Producers: Kathy Li & Laurie OM; Stage Managers: Cate Worthington & Madeline Charne; Technical Director: LT Gourzong; Associate Projection Designer: Brittany Bland

Cast: Louisa Jacobson, Jared Andrew Michaud, Charles O’Malley

Yale Cabaret
October 5-7, 2017

SILENCE = DEATH

Review of The Other World, Yale Cabaret

The Other World, written by Yale School of Drama playwright Charles O’Malley, returns us to the heart of the Aids crisis. A slice of the life of 1980s’ New York artist David Wojnarowicz, adapted from his memoir Close to the Knives, the play dramatizes key events in Wojnarowicz’s artistic life to reanimate the past in episodic scenes presented with a sure hand by first-time director Baize Buzan. Less is more in the spare set, complete with particle-board flooring, a sheet draped casually to serve as a screen for the artist’s overhead projections—a bit of authentic technology that does a Proustian madeleine number on aging memories—and a general feel of the open spaces of those unrenovated SoHo warehouses. In other words, the play is something of a time machine and I, for one, was glad to see a contemporary brought to life so well.

David (Jos  é   Espinosa)  (photo:; Elli Green)

David (José Espinosa) (photo:; Elli Green)

The play’s David (José Espinosa) is an introspective figure whose musings have both great immediacy and fascinating detachment. The loss of David’s lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, to Aids is narrated rather than presented, with further details furnished by Marion (Louisa Jacobson), David’s friend and agent. It’s to the credit of all involved that Peter’s demise comes across with both poignancy and inevitability. Comments on a dying-man’s wish of a visit to the shore lets us intuit the frayed nerves, the sensitive psyches, and, more than anything, the unspeakable specter of death coming to the young and talented. By letting us hear how David copes, O’Malley keeps our focus both on the events and an artist’s access to them. Wojnarowicz, who worked in various media, took pictures and video of his lover’s corpse, an act very much in accord with their shared aesthetic. As David, Espinosa presents a serious artist whose art is very much a confrontation with existence, a battle for personal worth in a damaged world.

Friend (Michael Breslin),   David (Jos  é   Espinosa)  (photo: Elli Green)

Friend (Michael Breslin), David (José Espinosa)  (photo: Elli Green)

A visit from a Friend (played with uneasy panache by Michael Breslin) lets us see how out of touch David can be, even while trying to get in touch with his own feelings. The chain-smoking, while a minor detail, speaks volumes for the era these street-based artists inhabit. The Friend’s grasp of his own doomed chances prefigures Wojnarowicz’s fate, but also re-enacts, in miniature, the risky collectivity of gays at the time. The “who can know and who can’t” aspect of their exchange is spot-on. Eventually we see David overcome his morose withdrawal and begin to take steps toward activism, his anger and heartbreak overtaking even his “must-get-away from New York” trip through the Southwest.

David (Jos  é   Espinosa) ,  Marion (Louisa Jacobson)  (photo: Elli Green)

David (José Espinosa), Marion (Louisa Jacobson) (photo: Elli Green)

That trip—in a segment called “on the road”—gives the play some of its best scenes, as David breaks out of his silence to confide an early sexual exploit in a movie theater and then to rail at Marion for being a confidante who doesn’t confide enough herself. As played with canny conviction by Louisa Jacobsen, Marion is an interesting character with her own conflicts. Her faith in David, after working with him for five years, is being tried by his state of mourning and his growing interest in the politics of the plague. Their exchanges do much to give us a sense of how they see themselves and each other, and provide a context of youth and exploration that, if not dated, is at least a reminder of how Aids changed so much and cost so many.

Without making heavy-handed parallels with the present, O’Malley’s play reanimates a specific era of repression to remind us of how hard-won rights were and admission to the status quo has been, and to indicate that getting a hearing in government is no easy matter. It’s not that a trip back in time is going to make Trump look better, but it does serve to highlight how shitty conservative governments can be to anyone outside their ideology. Marches and protest might make for good political theater but, as Marion exhorts David, an artist can make larger and perhaps more telling statements. And so is born an artist-activist, aghast at the horrors made normative by American indifference.

Born 100 years after his sometime artistic alter-ego Arthur Rimbaud, Wojnarowicz, like Rimbaud, died at 37. Both continue to live on because both have something to say to the “accursed” on the outside or margins of the mainstream. If “silence = death,” one of the slogans of Aids activism popularized by ACT UP, it’s also the case that death, for visionary artists like Wojnarowicz, doesn’t equal silence.

David (Jos  é   Espinosa)   (photo: Elli Green)

David (José Espinosa)  (photo: Elli Green)

 

The Other World
By Charles O’Malley
Adapted from Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by David Wojnarowicz
Directed by Baize Buzan

Production Dramaturg: Kari Olmon; Scenic Designer: Paul Rasmussen; Costume Designer: Sophia Choi; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Sound Designer: Andrew Rovner; Projections Designers: Yana Birÿkova, Michael Commendatore; Scenic Advisor: Ashley Flowers; Stage Manager: Cate Worthington; Producer: Caitlin Crombleholme

Cast: Michael Breslin, José Espinosa, Louisa Jacobson

 

Yale Cabaret
April 6-8, 2017