Patrick Madden

Primordial Struggle

Review of Mud, Yale Cabaret

María Irene Fornés’ Mud, now at the Yale Cabaret, directed by third-year actor Patrick Madden, has the compression of a parable, with scenic shifts reminiscent of Beckett’s knife-edge comedies. The play charts a progress of debility, with, in this production, a mix of wryness and weirdness. It’s haunting theater and that’s in part due to a careful creation of atmosphere, with scenic design by Gerardo Díaz Sánchez, lighting by Emma Deane, sound design and music by Frederick Kennedy and Liam Bellman-Sharpe, and spare but well-designed costumes by Sarah Woodham. The play takes place in a space of intense confrontation and supplication, with key freezes that seem hieratic.

Much hinges on Danielle Chaves’ performance as Mae, a woman of no means whose job is pressing clothes—on the kitchen table, the main prop of the set—while tending to Lloyd (Devin White), a slouch of man who has taken sick. Though there’s enough realism to suggest depths of rural poverty and ignorance, the prevailing tone has nothing to do with social reform and everything to do with whatever, we imagine, separates the human from the animal.

Lloyd (Devin White), Mae (Danielle Chaves)

Lloyd (Devin White), Mae (Danielle Chaves)

And that’s why Mae is so key. If she’s played as a naïf or a struggling woman seeking to better herself, we move into a different realm. Chaves plays her with a steely self-possession, letting us see that, regardless of her circumstances, her will drives the play. Her trajectory takes her from care-giver to desirer to object of desire to—well, I don’t want to give it away. Suffice to say, she leads us to the heart of what Fornés shows to be the basic stuff of life. And it is to this production’s credit that the final image is debased, brutal, sad, and quite beautiful.

The play begins with Mae cajoling Lloyd to seek out a doctor, as they discuss his impotence as one of his disease’s symptoms. We might suspect that the disease is a symptom of a greater dysfunction between the sexes, particularly when Lloyd insists he is able to ejaculate on his own. It’s an exchange that is both funny in its directness and appalling in its unvarnished crudity. The exchange recalls Godot’s joke about death by hanging being worth it for the ejaculation, but in terms of a general condition. Lloyd is a “poor, forked creature,” reduced to sexual mechanism.

When Lloyd does at last get a pamphlet describing his condition, Mae can’t understand it and brings in a more educated man, Henry (Brandon E. Burton) to read it to them, with what becomes an echo of Lucky pontificating for the benefit of Vladimir and Estragon. It all falls on deaf ears, but Mae falls in love with Henry’s brain and so he is invited to stay. The new configuration reduces Lloyd to the role of a family pet as he sleeps beneath the table with Henry enjoying his bed.

Mae (Danielle Chaves), Lloyd (Devin White), Henry (Brandon E. Burton)

Mae (Danielle Chaves), Lloyd (Devin White), Henry (Brandon E. Burton)

Mae’s pitch to Henry shows her as sexual mechanism dressed in an appeal to Henry’s pride in himself. There are many such moments—another is when Mae’s reading from a textbook about starfish angers Lloyd, and another is when Henry queries Mae about her relation to Lloyd and receives a tale about her father, a foundling, and a relation between Mae and Lloyd that is almost incestuous but which she likens to animals mating.

Lloyd gets his own back when Henry suffers a fall that mostly paralyzes him, leading to two other scenes both comic and wrenching: Lloyd tries feeding Henry who drools and spits out a glop that puts us in mind of ejaculate, and, in another sexual mechanism scene, Henry insists he is still virile and drags his failing body to Mae as if pulled forward by sheer lust. In their Cab debuts, White and Burton acquit themselves well, playing the shifts in Lloyd and Henry as two challenged by fate and coping by means of a maleness that proves indomitable no matter how debilitated. White renders well Lloyd's fierce neediness and scary mood swings, and Burton makes Henry a sympathetic man with an eye to his own status who remains remarkably dignified throughout. Important scenes involving money take us into additional areas of rivalry and payback.

In the end, this triangle seems poised to assume any number of allegorical readings, but, as is the case with the best theater, bearing witness to its presentation is a form of participation, requiring contemplative attention and a certain primordial identification that is richly rewarding.

 

Mud
By María Irene Fornés
Directed by Patrick Madden

Producer: Leandro Zaneti; Scenic Design: Gerardo Díaz Sánchez; Costume Design: Sarah Woodham; Lighting Design: Emma Deane; Sound Design & Original Music: Frederick Kennedy, Liam Bellman-Sharpe; Production Dramaturg: Nahuel Telleria; Stage Manager: Olivia Plath; Technical Director: David Phelps

Cast: Brandon E. Burton, Danielle Chaves, Devin White

Yale Cabaret
February 22-24, 2018

Face Time

Review of The Ugly One, Yale Cabaret

Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One is an extended absurdist sketch about the cult of appearance, or, it could be said, an illustration of the notion “the face makes the man.” So, what if you could wear a face the way you choose to wear certain clothes or cosmetics or hairdos? How good-looking would you have to be? Enough to inspire a following of devoted fans?

The play’s satire is only skin deep, as it gestures to how supply and demand might work in the world of cosmetic surgery, and how a certain brand—one particular physiognomy—might come to dominate. There’s also a few random pokes at psychology, if only to make the case that appearance trumps interiority every time.

In the Yale Cabaret’s current version of the play, directed by Lucie Dawkins, a crackerjack cast keeps the proceedings wacky and disconcerting, aided by Liam Bellman-Sharpe’s slightly offstage sound and Foley art, and Christopher Evans’ projection design. The special effects help create a surgery scene that is a hilarious send up of the “vid it while it’s happening” world we know so well.

Lette (Patrick Madden) (photos: Brittany Bland)

Lette (Patrick Madden) (photos: Brittany Bland)

The play’s dark comedy plays out with wonderfully funny performances from the entire cast: Patrick Madden, one of the most consistently subtle actors in the School of Drama, is Lette, a man who discovers, suddenly, that he’s too ugly to hawk his new invention to the public; Steven Johnson plays an underling who gets the PR spot; Danilo Gambini enacts the flippant boss; and Emily Reeder seems sweet and supportive as Lette’s wife. Then—in sometimes quite quick variations—Gambini doubles as the surgeon consulted to replace Lette’s ugliness with something better; Reeder plays as an aged but re-worked chief executive enamored of Lette’s post-surgery looks, and Johnson enacts the executive’s tortured son, a sexual plaything of his “domineering mother.” And Madden doubles as Lette, now an icon of irresistible looks.

As the boss, Gambini spends much of the time peeling and eating various kinds of fruit while also bossing his underlings with manic glee. Then, as the surgeon, he treats Lette’s misgivings with a blithe, offhand indifference that is oddly charming. In both roles, his looniness is infectious.

The surgeon (Danilo Gambini), Lette (Patrick Madden)

The surgeon (Danilo Gambini), Lette (Patrick Madden)

Madden gives Lette the kind of stoical common sense that works well as a foil to everyone else’s preposterousness. His frenetic debate with his reflection in an elevator late in the play pits borderline hysterics against savvy sangfroid.

Reeder, as Lette’s wife, is agreeable until she realizes, faced with his sudden good looks, that she has desires too—especially when her husband, now a magnet of female attention, tries to convince her to accept him sharing himself with 25 different women, particularly that oversexed executive. Both women become amorous amazons eager to have sex with beautiful men.

foreground: the son (Steven Johnson); background: Lette (Patrick Madden), the mother (Emily Reeder)

foreground: the son (Steven Johnson); background: Lette (Patrick Madden), the mother (Emily Reeder)

Johnson gets the darker roles, as usual. Kalmann, the assistant, is full of thwarted ambition, while the son is a puerile mess who eventually makes his own play for Lette, once they share the same irresistible looks.

One might say the switches between characters could be better maintained, but the amorphousness of this fast-paced comedy is what makes it work. By the end, it’s hard for the characters themselves to know who they’re dealing with, as more and more people sport Lette’s new face. And Lette wonders what exactly makes him himself.

The projections, cameras, and other effects help create a world of distortions where normative behavior is lacking. The set—a desk/operating table/bed with a much abused angle-poise lamp, surrounded by a low wall on which cast members sit and look on when offstage—makes the action feel improvised and self-enclosed. It’s an anodyne space for a tempest of actions and reactions, of ambitions and envies and lusts and sorrows.

The Ugly One lets us know that, while beauty may be only skin deep, ugliness can be all-encompassing. After seeing the Yale Cabaret production, you may not look at yourself, others, or fruit the same way as before.

 

The Ugly One
By Marius von Mayenburg
Translated by Maja Zade
Directed by Lucie Dawkins

Producer: Markie Gray; Dramaturg: Gavin Whitehead; Set Designer: Jessie Chen; Costume Designer: Beatrice Vena; Lighting Designer: Nic Vincent; Sound Designer & Foley Artist: Liam Bellman-Sharpe; Projection Designer: Christopher Evans; Technical Director: Dashiell Menard; Stage Manager: Chad Kinsman

Cast: Danilo Gambini, Steven Johnson, Patrick Madden, Emily Reeder

Yale Cabaret
December 7-9, 2017

And that’s it for the first half of Yale Cabaret’s Season 50. The season recommences January 11-13 with For Your Eyes Only.

God Save the Queens

Review of And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens at Yale Cabaret

First-year Yale School of Drama director Rory Pelsue and first-year actor Patrick Madden offer stunning Yale Cabaret debuts with Tennessee Williams’ one act And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, a title that riffs off Shakespeare’s Richard II and, by the time it shows up as a line in the play, attempts to add levity. Which is worth noting because, though this is a sad story, it isn’t, finally, a tragedy.

Candy (Patrick Madden) is a drag queen when at home, but when we first meet her, in the midst of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, she is a he, playing host, in a rather “out” manner, to an ostensibly straight sailor, Karl (Jamie Bogyo), who seems ill-at-ease with the implications of fraternizing with Candy, even as he seems transfixed by his host’s charm and charisma.

Jamie Bogyo (Karl), Patrick Madden (Candy)

Jamie Bogyo (Karl), Patrick Madden (Candy)

Madden’s assured performance luxuriates in Candy’s fascination; something of a figment of her own fantasy, she is also very much a familiar figure from Williams’ subsequent plays. It’s long been my contention that Streetcar should be staged with a drag queen or transgendered actress as Blanche, and Candy in many ways anticipates such casting, making us see the drag queen at the heart of many of Williams’ female characters. Which is not to say that Williams or Madden or Pelsue are content with “female impersonation.” The subtlety of Candy’s demeanor is the point; it’s a performance of a character whose reality is an achieved performance.

Even when she gets ruthless with an apparently well-meaning gay couple who rent from her, Candy’s bitchiness indicates Williams knowing sense of how someone like Candy survives. Successful as an interior decorator, Candy—in a play written in 1957—is fully cognizant of the influence and fascination of queer culture for straight America, which, she says, would be “barbarian” without queens.

Patrick Madden (Candy)

Patrick Madden (Candy)

An indication of her taste is her apartment, which co-scenic designers Lucie Dawkins and Sarah Nietfeld drench in a florid Japonisme that lets us know at once that Candy identifies with aesthetes of the previous century, such as James McNeill Whistler. But the ersatz Japanese theme, c. 1950, would also be perfect for a boudoir intended to lure service-men, like Karl, whose sense of what “decadence” means would come from “the East.” Perhaps it should suffice to say that Japonisme in New Orleans’ French Quarter immediately characterizes Candy as decadence redux.

The question hovering over Candy’s passive-aggressive seduction of Karl is how much of a barbarian is he. And Williams—per usual—gets dramatic mileage out of the punishment that straight society seems all-too-glad to dole out to its “deviants.” Karl, in Bogyo’s nicely laconic performance, is a user and a bully who, occasionally—and Candy wants to believe in it as a saving grace—seems willing to play his role in Candy’s protracted fantasy. The audience looks on aghast, knowing this has to end badly. And Alvin (Steven Lee Johnson) and Jerry (Josh Wilder) from downstairs know so too. As a one-act, the foregone conclusion doesn’t hurt—we’re uncertain how bad it is going to get and can be relieved that things don’t get worse.

The anxiety we feel for Candy is very much the main take-away here, as her previous life with her “husband,” a sheltering “sponsor,” has made her too secure, financially, and too insecure, emotionally, to register fully the threat that lurks in manipulating someone like Karl. In our day, with a public more aware of the transgendered and of the fatalities, from violence and suicide, that indict straight culture, we might wonder what Williams’ play, had it been produced during the playwright’s very successful run of plays in the 1950s, might have done to create more awareness and understanding. Not much, probably, since the queer themes in Williams’ best-known plays tended to be minimized for mass consumption, such as in Hollywood movies. And that’s why seeing Candy on stage now is both timely and telling. Bravo!

 

And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Rory Pelsue

Dramaturg: Catherine María Rodriguez; Co-Scenic Designers: Lucie Dawkins, Sarah Nietfeld; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy; Scenic Charge: Dan Cogan; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson; Co-Producers: Al Heartley, Rachel Shuey

Yale Cabaret
March 3-5, 2016