Mary Zimmerman

Tales from the Basement

According to Mary Zimmerman, author of The Secret in the Wings, the setting for the play is “some strange place balanced between a basement and a forest.”  The Yale Cabaret, in other words. The Secret in the Wings is now showing in repertory as part of The Yale Summer Cabaret’s 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories, and is the kind of show the intimate acting space thrives on.  The Cab’s basement space has been revamped, by Adam Rigg and Solomon Weisbard, as a cluttered and creepily-lit set looking like the kind of basement kids would enter on a dare, and, with chalk drawings of trees all about, it’s also the kind of forest kids playacting in a basement might create.  With the audience seated at tables hugging the periphery, a talented cast of six—three males and three females—conjure up a sequence of fairy tales told, in the best Grimm Brothers tradition, without sparing us their violence, grotesque oddities, and fantastic variants of the eternal “find a mate and please your parents” agenda that children have been tasked with since feudal times.

It all begins—well, “once upon a time” there was a little girl named Alex (Alex Trow) whose parents (Ethan Heard and Monique Barbee), being somewhat preening and capricious, chose to leave her for the evening in the care of creepy Mr. Fitzbania (Josiah Bania), a neighbor with a garden of roses, a surly demeanor, and, according to the anxious Alex, a tail!  Indeed he does have a tail, several tales, in fact, and the play consists of the stories he regales the girl with, preceded by his simple question, “will you marry me?”

Beauty and the Beast, right?  Yes, and all the tales have both beauty and beastliness, the latter generally attended with a certain sportive sense of the comical: sure, the unsuccessful suitors for “The Princess Who Would Not Laugh” (Hannah Sorenson, kind of channeling Winona Ryder in Heathers) are decapitated, but the basketballs that roll onto the set as their hapless heads are pretty amusing.  As is the little vaudeville routine the three fellas in "Three Blind Queens" enact with gusto as the everyday life of three princes.  When an evil Nursemaid (Sorenson again—she does evil well, if you saw her as Tamora you know what I mean) demands that the three queens the guys marry have their eyes gouged out (while the princes are away at war), we get a jar of marbles.

At times the props become more poetic—as for instance the little stacks of twigs for the blinded queens’ children—and the choreography even more so: the repetitive routine by which six sons transform into swans and back, due to their piqued father’s unthinking curse, is a bit like watching someone become a bird automaton.  Mickey Theis (as “the worst” son, according to his father), has to do this solo in a corner the way a bad child would, with a look of transfixed wonder and horror mixed.  And Bania does a nice turn as the dad, a simple man driven to his wit's end by his noisy sons.

Each tale Mr. Fitzbania reads is left unfinished as he moves on to another, letting these tales of dark doings hang suspended, until we get to The Swan Sons and a sort of entr’acte tale about a dinner party, a ghostly visitor (Trow—who has a flair for wide-eyed ingenue parts) and two coins.  Then we get, fairly rapidly, the outcomes of the tales.

The story I liked best is sung by the whole cast, and the lyric of the madrigal-like song—“where are you going my one true love, never go there without me”—suits perfectly this tale about the possibilities of love after death.  This time Trow gets to be not so nice, and Ethan Heard, as the lover who agrees to be entombed, alive, with his beloved goes through it all with stoic grace.

Prospects for necrophilia not macabre enough for you?  How about incest in the tale of Allerleira, a beautiful blonde (Sorenson of course) whose dad (Theis) wants to wed her since no other woman in the kingdom can match the beauty of her deceased mom?  This story incorporates fun devices such as a hopscotch jingle that says it all, and a bit in which three kids (Heard, the leader, Trow, the minx, and Barbee, the flighty one) try to get the story straight.  It’s an entertaining glimpse of how children take in and make sense of the kinds of odd things adults tell them in books.

 

And what is Zimmerman telling us?  The upshot of it all seems to be something like Bruno Bettelheim’s “the uses of enchantment” argument: the tales we tell—and the odder the better—create our capacity for imagination and allow kids to work through the eternal mysteries of life, such as “what’s up with mom and dad?” and “how do I find love?”

Director Margot Bordelon shows that the great pleasure of Zimmerman’s piecemeal reworking of old themes is to be found in the rapid staging and each cast member’s seemingly impromptu changes, and that its value will be revealed in glimpses of beauty and mystery that surprise us.  The whole evening seems not too far removed from what gifted children might get up to in a basement, working through bewilderment and angst via the magic of make-believe.

The Secret in the Wings is that, no matter how happily ever after the story ends, something is always left hanging—and what you do with that, my child, is up to you.

 

Yale Summer Cabaret

50 Nights: A Festival of Stories

June 20-August 19, 2012

The Yale Cabaret

The Secret in the Wings by Mary Zimmerman

Directed by Margot Bordelon

Cast: Josiah Bania, Monique Barbee, Ethan Heard, Hannah Sorenson, Mickey Theis, Alex Trow

Adam Rigg: Sets; Maria Hooper: Costumes; Solomon Weisbard: Lighting; Matt Otto: Sound

 

July: 21st, 8pm; 22nd, 8pm; 25th, 8pm; 28th, 2pm August: 3rd, 8pm; 4th, 2pm; 9th, 8pm; 11th, 8pm; 15th, 8pm; 19th, 8pm

50 Nights: A Festival of Stories:

Tanya Dean, Artistic Director; Reynaldi Lolong, Producer; Eric Gershman, Associate Producer; Shane Hudson, Associate Producer; Dana Tanner-Kennedy, Associate Artistic Director/Resident Dramaturg; Jacqueline Deniz Young, Production Manager/Technical Director; Alyssa K. Howard, Production Stage Manager; Rob Chikar, Stage Manager

What's The Story?

photo

All the world tells stories.  Some for entertainment, some as explanation, some for identification, some for cautionary purposes.  Some are called escapist, some are called educational.  Some are called fables, fairy tales, myths, tall tales, urban or rural legend.  Some are based on what happened, some are about things that could never happen, some imagine things that might happen.  Some are about things happening right now. When Reynaldi Lolong, a third-year Theater Managing student at Yale School of Drama, asked Tanya Dean, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Drama and a 2011 MFA in Dramaturgy, to meet with him at Chocopologie for a casual chat about his ideas for a 2012 Yale Summer Cabaret proposal, they immediately clicked in their love of a variety of fictional fare: comix, sci fi stories, Dr. Who episodes, tales of the supernatural, as well, of course, as Shakespeare and classic theater.  What they quickly established is that what they love best in all these genres is the story itself, the tale to be told.  They also agreed that the Cabaret “is the perfect venue for celebrating storytelling.”

Finding themselves “increasingly obsessed” with a search for stories that became “enjoyably all-consuming,” Reynaldi and Tanya consulted colleagues at the YSD and came up with a letter of intent for three theatrical experiences that will run in repertory throughout the summer.  It didn’t hurt that Reynaldi, the Producer this year, was the Director of Marketing for last year’s Summer Cab, nor that Tanya has been involved in some capacity in a total of thirteen regular season Cab shows.

All three shows of 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories will be up by the end of the first week of the season, which begins June 20th, with a show per night, and two shows performed each Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., throughout the run of 8 weeks, or 50 nights.  There will also be two marathon Saturdays—July 14 and August 11—on which all three plays will be staged (at 1, 4, and 8).

First up, June 20 to August 17, is Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D (short for “Kiss of Death”), a one-woman play featuring Monique Bernadette Barbee as sixteen different characters in a rural Ohio town.  Directed by Tanya Dean, the play explores the kind of legends that small communities can sustain, with flights that are both funny and frightening, involving both tragedy and youthful high spirits.  Can a kiss from a dying brother give a young girl the power to kill with a kiss?

Next, June 22 to August 18, Of Ogres Retold.  The play is the brain-child of YSD designing genius Adam Rigg (also the scenic designer for the Summer Cab this season) who uses several Japanese folktales as the basis for this original piece of puppet theater, with a cast of five, involving other-wordly creatures and a sense of the mysterious, the macabre, the monstrous and the miraculous.

Finally, June 23 to August 19, Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, directed by Margot Bordelon, uses the full cast of six actors for this intriguing revisiting of fairy tales.  A journey into the world of “once upon a time,” in a play that weaves together strange and strangely familiar elements from childhood, as a young girl experiences an unsettling night with an unusual sitter who regales her with tales of menace and magic.

As Reynaldi says, each Summer Cabaret is in dialogue with previous years, and the 2012 version builds on last year’s repertory offering of three shows with a dedicated team of actors.  This year there will be six actors, with each actor performing in two of the shows.  The main difference is that there will be one set for all three shows, a versatile playing space able to transform the Cab into the environment needed for each unique play.  Tanya describes the basic set as a kind of “cabinet of curiosities” adaptable to the dock on a lake for K of D, the props and costumes discovered in the course of The Secret in the Wings, and the projection surfaces for the “Victorian macabre” of Ogres Retold.  The doorway into the Cab this summer is like the door of the wardrobe into Narnia, a passage into a world of  surprises, secrets and summer wonder.

Additionally, selected performances throughout the summer will be followed by the Fireside Series, a reading of stories under the stars, with an opportunity to chat with others about the show, and to hear firsthand some of the tales that have been incorporated into the plays.  The Series will recreate that familiar locus of storytelling: the camp fire, and, if it rains, there will be ghost stories with flashlights inside the Cab.

And once again the Summer Cab will boast the cuisine of Anna Belcher of Anna’s on Orange.  There will be light fare, snacks and beverages beginning at 12:30 for the 2 p.m. shows and full dinner beginning at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. shows.  For info, tickets, schedule visit: http://summercabaret.org/.  This year there’s also a blog with behind-the-scenes notes, chat with the production team, and ongoing updates about production and performances, at: http://50nights.wordpress.com/

And, if you like what you see on the site, consider helping the Summer Cab to meet it’s goal of $4,500.  At the link below there is a pledge drive, with various rewards even for minimal contributions of $5—every little bit helps, so don’t hesitate, stress Reynaldi and Tanya, to give whatever you can.  And the Summer Cab Board, a highly supportive and enthusiastic group, have agreed to a two for one deal: so whatever you pledge will be matched by them.  If pledgers meet the goal, that means a total of $9,000 for production, money you will see on the stage.  So, if the thought of stories, creatively told in an intimate performance space by gifted theater students, thrills you, get in on this early and help Reynaldi and Tanya meet their goal.

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/7673-50-nights-a-festival-of-stories