Reed Northrup

Birds of a Feather

Review of The Swallow and the Tomcat, Yale Summer Cabaret

Morning (Adrienne Wells) is lazy and doesn’t want to rise. Wind (Dario Ladani Sanchez) tries to persuade her that things can’t get going without her. So they make a deal: first, a love story; then she’ll get up (a bit of bargaining that should be readily familiar to parents and children alike).

In Wind’s story, a group of animals hangout in a playground complete with a white picket fence and a swing and a lovely green lawn (Elsa GibsonBraden, scenic design). Like any human collective, the animals have their “do’s and don’ts” about expected behavior, and they have a love of gossip about anything out of the ordinary. And what could be more out of the ordinary than a haughty Swallow (Zoe Mann) taking an interest in a Tomcat (Reed Northrup), generally considered the scourge of the playground, and vice versa?

In The Swallow and the Tomcat, a story Brazilian novelist and playwright Jorge Amado wrote for his infant son that was later published, playfulness abounds and, as with most stories for children, there is a moral. Here, it arises from the struggle between conservative social customs and headstrong youth which tends to take things as they come. And any child who has encountered playground or classroom dynamics will immediately recognize the way others’ voices often limit our choices.

The ensemble of The Swallow and the Tomcat at Yale Summer Cabaret Verano (Dario Ladani Sanchez, Zoe Mann, Reed Northrup, Anula Navlekar, Julian Sanchez, Adrienne Wells) (Photos by Elsa GibsonBraden)

The ensemble of The Swallow and the Tomcat at Yale Summer Cabaret Verano (Dario Ladani Sanchez, Zoe Mann, Reed Northrup, Anula Navlekar, Julian Sanchez, Adrienne Wells) (Photos by Elsa GibsonBraden)

The play—translated from Amado’s Portuguese text and adapted by director Danilo Gambini, co-artistic director of this season’s Yale Summer Cabaret, and dramaturg Emily Sorensen—is made children-friendly by the colorful costumes (by Stephanie Bahniuk), the charming songs (by Solon Snider with Gambini and Sorensen), and, especially, the ensemble’s full immersion in the world Amado and his adaptors have created. And what makes the show worthwhile for adults are the very same qualities. It’s a joy.

In many ways, the show is a perfect example of what the Yale Cabaret does best: it depends on a concerted effort at make-believe, and, while that can have all kinds of different valence depending on the play, here it’s a question of storytelling as something inherently dramatic—and comic—and romantic—and even, perhaps, subversive. The cast interacts with the audience, drawing us in and making us judge for ourselves about the purpose of the tale they tell.

The ensemble: Anula Navlekar, Dario Ladani Sanchez, Zoe Mann, Julian Sanchez, Reed Northrup, Adrienne Wells

The ensemble: Anula Navlekar, Dario Ladani Sanchez, Zoe Mann, Julian Sanchez, Reed Northrup, Adrienne Wells

The animals all have distinct personalities and distinguishing voices—a total of 18 roles are handled by six actors—and they all have something to say about the forbidden love brewing in their midst. The joy comes from watching how quickly the actors can switch from one odd exchange to another, as for instance, the rather seedy Priest Parrot (Julian Sanchez) telling bad jokes to amuse Cow (Dario Ladani Sanchez) only to stir Cow’s anxious sense of inadequacy, or the way Daddy Swallow (Anula Navlekar) and Mommy Swallow (Julian Sanchez) bill and coo relentlessly. There’s also much fun with the storytelling itself, with interruptions for backstory and various asides and, at one point, a critical dismissal by Toad (Anula Navlekar) of the Tomcat’s hapless effort at a love poem. Other fun bits come from Freud the Mole (Julian Sanchez), always ready to put teen psychology into a nutshell for us, and Owl (Adrienne Wells), a kind of self-important commentator who sees political potential in the unheard-of mating of a cat and bird.

Swallow (Zoe Mann)

Swallow (Zoe Mann)

Key to the show’s success are its two titular characters, brought to life by Zoe Mann and Reed Northrup respectively. Mann gives the Swallow an early-teen sense of sophistication and a healthy curiosity about things she wants to know—like why she finds herself so fascinated by watching the Tomcat and takes such delight in dropping twigs on him. Northrup’s Tomcat put me in mind of a beloved cartoon character of my childhood—Top Cat—with his street-wise diction and a knack for self-reflection that comes as a surprise to himself. Their infatuation—which we certainly can’t call “puppy love”—is treated as a defining moment that might help both creatures learn things about themselves they wouldn’t otherwise. Both actors make this unlikely love seem both perfectly natural and perfectly unique—the way love is supposed to be.

Tomcat (Reed Northrup)

Tomcat (Reed Northrup)

There’s also a threat which the rather hypocritical critters are willing to let the brave Tomcat defeat for them, even as they treat him as something less than, well, human. The animals’ are adamant: “Dog with dog / Cat with cat / Bird with bird / And that is that.” Of course, a tale of star-crossed or cross-species love wouldn’t be complete without a beau favored by Swallow’s parents—here it’s a Nightingale (Navlekar) more adept at teaching singing than winning hearts. Will Swallow hold out for the lovelorn Tomcat, or will the forces of biological rectitude prevail?

In the end, the wily Wind helps a dawning idea light up Morning.

The ensemble: Anula Navlekar, Adrienne Wells, Julian Sanchez

The ensemble: Anula Navlekar, Adrienne Wells, Julian Sanchez

After plays about the harshness of fate, in Euripides’ Bakkahi, and the harshness of political and sexual abuse of power, in María Irene Fornés’ The Conduct of Life, Yale Summer Cabaret—Verano—with this, its third play of the season, reaches out to children with a lively story to inspire change.

 

The Swallow and the Tomcat
By Jorge Amado
Adapted by Danilo Gambini and Emily Sorensen
Directed by Danilo Gambini

Scenic Designer: Elsa GibsonBraden; Costume Designer: Stephanie Bahniuk; Lighting Designer: Evan Anderson; Sound Designer/Music Director: Emily Duncan Wilson; Composer/Music Director: Solon Snider; Dramaturg/Adapter: Emily Sorensen; Stage Manager: Olivia Louise Tree Plath

Ensemble: Zoe Mann, Anula Navlekar, Reed Northrup, Dario Ladani Sanchez, Julian Sanchez, Adrienne Wells

Yale Summer Cabaret—Verano
July 18-27, 2019

A Show For All Ages

Preview of The Swallow and the Tomcat, Yale Summer Cabaret

The Yale Summer Cabaret’s Verano season continues this week with a show that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Adapted by Co-Artistic Director Danilo Gambini and dramaturg Emily Sorensen from a new translation of Jorge Amado’s children’s book, The Swallow and the Tomcat, the show is aimed for families, young adults, and audiences of all ages—six and up.

The grumpy Tomcat is seen as a horror and a threat by the animals in the garden, but for some reason the sassy Swallow isn’t afraid and tries to get to know him. Their affection is the talk of the garden and makes life difficult—especially as the Swallow’s parents are convinced she should marry the Nightingale. A story of identity and of the social strictures that make some forms of love “forbidden,” The Swallow and the Tomcat asks, Can enemies learn to love one another, and can that love find acceptance? Showtimes have been adjusted to allow for young audiences, with a Sunday 2 p.m. matinee show, and on both Fridays, special 11 a.m. performances. The show runs approximately 70 minutes.

To call the book upon which the play is based a children’s book is a little misleading, according to director and co-adapter Danilo Gambini. The book, in its original Portuguese, was written solely by Jorge Amado for his infant son and was never meant to be published. Amado is best known in the U.S. as the author of the play Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which was made in 1976 into a film that was a huge box office success in Brazil and in the States as well. Amado’s son, with his father’s blessing, chose to publish his childhood gift, and found an illustrator, Carybe, who helped create one of the seminal works for children in Brazil. The book “screams for adaptation,” Gambini said, and there have been two approaches that he is familiar with. One is “to play it strictly for children,” much as one would in a storybook session; the other is make it more avant-garde, with a definite allegorical emphasis.

For Gambini, who dislikes the earlier plays adapted from the book, creating a new adaptation was crucial. When Sorensen told him that she was translating a Spanish version of the book into English for a translation class, he knew he’d found his second show of the Verano season. As a director, Gambini is attracted by the levels of storytelling in the play he and his collaborators are creating. “The play lets us investigate which storytelling devices are theatrical, engaging, and fun.”

The Cast of The Swallow and the Tomcat (front: Julian Sanchez, Adrienne Wells, Zoe Mann; rear: Anula Navlekar, Dario Ladani Sanchez, Reed Northrup); Set: Elsa GibsonBraden; Costumes: Stephanie Bahniuk; Lighting: Evan Anderson

The Cast of The Swallow and the Tomcat (front: Julian Sanchez, Adrienne Wells, Zoe Mann; rear: Anula Navlekar, Dario Ladani Sanchez, Reed Northrup); Set: Elsa GibsonBraden; Costumes: Stephanie Bahniuk; Lighting: Evan Anderson

There are two layers, he said, to the presentation: a chorus of six animals is telling the story of a swallow and a tomcat who fall in love, and as they tell it, they take on and act out the parts of the story, which involves a host of comical roles, quite in the manner of Disney cartoons. For Gambini, “the theatricality of the play depends upon the virtuosity of the players.” And, of course, there are songs, all of which are original to this production and have been developed by Gambini and Sorensen with recent Yale College graduate Solon Snider, the show’s composer and music director.

The main cast consists of the Cat (Reed Northrup) a loner who finds himself intrigued by the Swallow (Zoe Mann); a Parrot (Julian Sanchez) who has definite ideas about decorum; a rather laconic Cow (Dario Ladani Sanchez), a rather pretentious Toad (Anula Navlekar) and a busybody Owl (Adrienne Wells), with additional roles, such as Swallow’s parents, the Duck family, a Snake, as well as Wind and Morning, taken up by the ensemble as needed.

The attractions of the show, for its director, is that “it’s engaging to see actors play animals,” and that, as a family-oriented play, it will entertain children while also depicting social types and attitudes. It’s “about love and seeing how others react” to the choices we make. For Gambini, there is always the question of what he calls the “five daemons” in creating theater. The first is to have a “marvel” that children can enjoy—such as talking and singing animals; next is a “passion” that appeals to the teens in and among us, wanting theater to be intense and convincing; third is a civic or social or political element that addresses what the young adult finds compelling; for the fully adult, perhaps more detached, there must be intellectual satisfactions, such as artistic virtuosity; finally, for mature audiences, a feeling that the show “lives in the now,” providing something that hasn’t already been overdone. The challenge of a show that accents the first and second “daemon” is how well it can still satisfy the other three.

Gambini’s first show of the Verano season adapted Anne Carson’s recent translation of Euripides’ Bakkhai, a show which foregrounded, perhaps, the fourth daemon while fully engaging with the second and third. It also featured Dionysus, an androgynous god who considers himself a daemon—a daemon that oversees the creation of theater since ancient Greek times. While the emphasis, mood and nature of The Swallow and the Tomcat will be very different from the season’s first show, the need to please the theater-god remains. And that means, for Gambini, addressing, even in a children’s story, important themes such as “living with the consequences of how we live and what we do.”

What kind of consequences? Gambini ended the interview by citing a line from the play, spoken by Wind: “Every morning is a chance to make a little revolution.”

The Swallow and the Tomcat
By Jorge Amado
Translated and Adapted by Danilo Gambini and Emily Sorensen
Directed by Danilo Gambini
Yale Summer Cabaret—Verano
July 18-27, 2019

For more information about the cast and creatives, and for tickets and dining menu and reservations, go here.

poster.jpg