The Yale Cabaret

Theater News

New Haven is a great town for theater.  If you have any doubts on that score, check out the following:

Thursday, 10/20 till Saturday, 10/22, The Yale Cabaret offers a student-generated theater piece, Creation 2011, that asks its performers to revisit and re-enact events or experiences that inspired their desire to work in theater.  Co-Artistic Director Michael Place assures us the show will be "sweet and engaging on a personal level," but will also entertainingly visit some tropes of academia--certainly we can all recognize the inherent comedy of a powerpoint presentation.  Yale Cabaret, 217 Park Street, New Haven.

Arts Council Award-Winning local theater group Broken Umbrella debuts its first play of the season this weekend, Friday, 10/21 through Sunday, 10/23,  with Play with Matches, developed by the company with playwright Jason Patrick Wells and director Ian Alderman, the play "tells the story of quirky New Haven inventor Ebenezer Beecher" (euphonious name!), who developed matches at a factory that once stood where Westville's Mitchell Library now stands.   The show continues for the next two weekends: 10/28-10/30 and 11/4-11/6.  Tickets on sale now for all shows.  Broken Umbrella.  The Smokestack, 446A Blake Street, New Haven.

New Haven Theater Company, another local conclave of thespians, is now selling tickets to its second show of the season, Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, set in Dublin and featuring a card game that may cost someone his soul.  NHTC’s Talk Radio was a strong showing this fall, and this show, directed by Hilary Brown, like the latter will feature the group's trademark ensemble acting.  11/10-12 and 11/17-19, 8 p.m., The New Haven Theater Company, 118 Court Street, New Haven.

At the Long Wharf, the Tony-Award-Winning musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ is getting up and running and purports to be a lively show, tickets on sale now for shows running from 10/26 to 11/20.  And, also at the Long Wharf, tickets have gone on sale this week for what should be a hot show: respected actor of stage and screen Brian Dennehy delivers the memory-ridden monologue of Samuel Beckett’s caustically funny and generally existential play Krapp’s Last Tape, which will run on Long Wharf's Stage II, 11/29 to 12/18.  Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargeant Drive, New Haven.


And, at The Yale Repertory, the world premiere of new playwright Amy Herzog’s Belleville, about a contemporary Parisian couple newly immersed in 21st century malaise, begins previews on 10/21, with its official opening on the 27th.   The Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven.  And coming up shortly, 10/25-10/29, provocative YSD director Lileana Blain-Cruz’s thesis show: a rendering of Gertrude Stein’s Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights, which should give us a memorable sense of how modernism plays a hundred years on.  Yale School of Drama, Iseman Theater, 1156 Chapel Street, New Haven. 



A great season is shaping up!  Check back for reviews of these shows as they open.    And for more theater news and reviews, check out Chris Arnott's site.

An Arresting "Orestes"

The Yale Cabaret states its mission to be “a gauntlet thrown in the face of our future, a scar in the memory of our audience, a ballerina dancing with a stick of dynamite.”  If this sounds a bit in your face, can that be a bad thing?  Theater can’t cuddle its audience, that’s what TV is for.  And unlike an audience watching a film in a moviehouse, a theater-going audience shouldn’t be allowed to hide in their darkened seats, secure in the fact that whatever they’re watching is already in the past. At Yale Cabaret, the audience sits at tables at the same level as the performers.  There’s nowhere to hide.  And for the first show of the 2009-10 Season, the audience had to sit or stand outside along two of the four sides of a courtyard in the middle of which Euripedes’ blood-thirsty and manic Orestes was enacted by a small ensemble cast of seven players.  In fact, we were gestured to a few times as an ugly mob, and Elektra even demanded we keep alert and pay attention.

The play is a good choice for the Cab’s stated goal.  For if any classical author lives up to that mission statement, it’s Euripedes.  Brechtian “alienation effect,” Artaudian “theater of cruelty,” Beckettian “theater of the absurd” -- none of them have anything on Euripedes.  Reading his plays, one is never sure whose side we’re supposed to be on.  It’s not that everyone is equally bad, it’s just that no one is really good, or noble, or virtuous, or even tragically misunderstood.  It’s as if his characters suffer from the hubris of believing the gods give a shit; worse, they sometimes think they understand what the gods want and try to act accordingly.

Orestes, in Devin Brain’s production, was even more than usual denuded of the voice of reason.  By cutting the figure of Tyndareos, who counsels his young grandson to give into what the polis decides, and by removing a speech which describes the arguments in the agora, this Orestes knocked away the prop supporting the contention that the play is about the need to replace blood-vengeance with civil proceeding -- which should have been used against Orestes’ husband-murdering mother and her paramour in the first place.

Instead of such city-state thematics, we have a tale of two siblings, Orestes and Elektra, wrapped together in a rather sensual folie à deux: they plotted the killing of their mother and now are pariahs who have only each other.  The pair becomes a trio with the introduction of Pylades, a stalwart friend of Orestes to whom Elektra is promised, should they live.  But one can’t help feeling, after the trio exchange full kisses with one another, that, if they live, they should all live together happily ever after in a ménage à trois.  Does that make us less sympathetic to them or more?

Hard to say, but when they try to murder Helen (whom they hate and whom Euripedes seems really to enjoy pillorying), and grab her unsuspecting daughter Hermione as hostage, running up a fire escape above the courtyard  to hurl taunts at Menelaos while insisting on negotiating a way out of their death sentence, they become gleeful would-be killers, a kind of mini Baader Meinhof cell, asserting their rights, but more than anything their detestation of the likes of Menelaos and Helen, the bourgeois beginners of battles that others must die to fight (Elektra -- played with suitable heart-wrenched woe by Emily Trask -- even gives a very affecting speech to that effect, mourning all those fallen Greek heroes at Troy).

Indeed, with Elektra so distraught, and Orestes, as played by Babak Gharaei-Tafti as somewhat of a maunderer, so clearly in need of her (and so happy he can call her a man in a woman’s body), and Helen so vain, and Menelaus so bureaucratic, it’s hard not taking the side of the kids, blood-lust, sex-lust, and all.

Then Apollo steps in.  As played by Kevin Daniels -- hairless bare chest, hairless bare head, black, in white flannel -- he steps in like the guy from upper management who has to put the peons in their place.  He’s scathing, indifferent, and incontestable.  Hermione and Orestes will marry!  We can imagine the wonderful get-togethers they’ll have at Menelaos’ place, or maybe Hermione will one day complain that her hubby never holds a knife to her throat any more like when they first met.  It matters not to Apollo -- or to Euripedes either.  We get the gods we deserve, and seeing the imperious shrug of the Sun god as he doled out just deserts put a big smile on my face.

It’s hard to say who Euripedes has more contempt for: these mythic figures whose messy lives have to be rehearsed again and again, or the audience that expects theater somehow to make sense of what makes no sense.  For a modern audience, that level of absurdity is always to some extent comforting, for it shows us that someone else has noted, and determined how to enact, mirth in passion, doubt in belief, randomness in justice, death in sex.

A great start to the season!