Lytton Strachey

Eminent Edwardians

Precocious kids have always wondered about sex before their folks are willing to clue them in, we suppose.  But in Edwardian times, apparently, young women could be considered of “marriageable” age and still be utterly clueless about what exactly transpires on the wedding night.  To the rescue: Lytton Strachey composed Ermyntrude and Esmeralda, a little novella in which the eponymous heroines, in a series of breathless letters, try to work it all out.  Transformed into a play by Hunter Kaczorowski at the Yale Cabaret, E & E entertains—and might even make you blush!  (Indeed the novella, written in 1913, didn’t see the light of day till 1969—when the lifting of illegality for same-sex liaisons should have made its enlightened acceptance of homosexual sex acceptable.) Ermyntrude is played by Sophie von Haselberg with a steely practicality in her eye: she’s after the gory details about what she calls “pussy-cats” and “bow-wows”—the genitalia of females and males, respectively—and what happens when they “pout” for one another.  Esmeralda, played with gleeful girlishness by Ceci Fernandez, is more interested in what those pouting pets have to do with love.  And, since no one has quite worked that out to date, E & E is engagingly enlightening.

The back and forth “entre nous” epistles of the duo are illustrated from time to time by shadow puppetry in little framed spaces on the back wall (manipulated by Christopher Ash, Soule Golden, and Carmen Martinez; designed by Kaczorowski).  Depending on where you might be sitting in the packed Cab, you may get the full effect of these little figurines or not—they seem a bit too small to make the kind of visual impression they may be intended to achieve—but they are certainly well-done and evocative of the kind of picture-book politesse that our heroines are endeavoring to delve beneath.  Until, of course, a rather rampant bow-wow vigorously mounts a fulsome feline…

The space (Kate Noll, Scenic) and costumes (Seth Bodie), along with lighting (Solomon Weisbard) and sound/music (Steve Brush) all contribute considerably to the gentility of the evening.  And that’s important to make the quaintness of the young ladies’ questionings seem apropos.  Along the way, E & E espy surprising developments—such as a passionate embrace between Esmeralda’s brother Godfrey and his male instructor (“which buttons were undone?” Ermyntrude presses her), to say nothing of Ermyntrude’s exciting flirtation with the new footman Henry, which leads to ecstatic expressions emoted with an exuberant twinkle by von Haselberg.

As Esmeralda, Ceci Fernandez is inestimable and explosive; she glows and gloats and free associates and turns away one would-be betrothed (the Dean, who cannot countenance her curiosity about Godfrey) only to find another—the dashing Major.  Meanwhile, Ermyntrude, like Godfrey, faces a comeuppance for her pert pursuit of carnal knowledge across class lines.  Heaven forfend!

In the end, as so often happens, the teens may be seen to be following different paths, though we—like them—may wait breathlessly the epistles depicting Ermyntrude’s adventures in sexy-sounding Saxony and Esemeralda’s nuptial discoveries.  All-in-all,  Ermyntrude and Esmeralda is ebullient entertainment.


Ermyntrude & Esmeralda A Naughty Puppet Play Based on the novella by Lytton Strachey Directed and Adapted by Hunter Kaczorowski

Puppet Design: Hunter Kaczorowski; Dramaturgy: Emily Reilly; Scenic Design: Kate Noll; Costume Design: Seth Bodie; Lighting Design: Solomon Weisbard; Sound Design & Original Music: Steve Brush; Stage Manager: Sonja Thorson; Technical Director: Lee O’Reilly; Assistant Technical Director: Joey Moro; Producer: Sarah Williams; Puppetry Captain: Carmen Martinez

The Yale Cabaret February 14-16, 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.