Wassily Kandinsky

It's Not Easy Being Blue

The most recent Yale Cabaret offering was inspired by the art theory of Wassily Kandinsky, the modernist painter and Bauhaus instructor who earlier was a founder of the avant-garde group The Blue Rider.  If you’re wondering how art theory can supply the basis for drama, you have to imagine a series of dialogues between blue and yellow. For Kandinsky, these two primary colors represent the first principles of color in painting—yellow, terrestial warmth; blue, celestial coolness.  In Out of the Blue, written by Kee-Yoon Nahm, a dramaturgy student at YSD, and directed by Elliot B. Quick, the Cab’s Associate Artistic Director this semester, Blue and Yellow become, respectively, an artist (Jack Moran) and his model (Jillian Taylor).  “Art can only begin at the point where love and compassion end,” Kandinsky wrote, and with that statement as the tagline for the play, you can intuit that whatever the desires of the individuals might be, the pursuit of art is going to overwhelm any attempt at intimacy.

In the play, Yellow represents the aggressive nature of human interaction, always trying to make something happen between people, and Blue represents the withdrawal from interaction, the attempt to remain solitary and unprovoked.   If that sounds incredibly abstract, that’s appropriate to Kandinsky’s view of art, but in practice it produced several amusing vignettes in which the artist figure became a French monk, a Russian explorer, and an American Man in the Moon.  In each case Yellow became the figure for human interest, the busy destroyer of solitude, arriving to insist on a relation to other people.

Back at the painting studio, the artist has to explain to his mother why he dropped out of art school, and overcome his model’s aggressive suggestion that he represent her entire body, not just her hands.  Both actors expressed the qualities of their respective colors, with Moran moody and detached, Taylor bright with bonhomie.  The set (Kristen Robinson, designer) and lighting (Yi Zhao, designer) added dimension by providing painted blue shadows to objects—a chair, an easel, a bookshelf—bathed in yellow light.  And there were slide projections (Hannah Wasileski, designer) that seemed derived from a personality test in which the viewer was asked to describe the relation between a yellow triangle and a blue circle.  The fact that the circle seemed at times like an ovum subjected to the triangle’s efforts to penetrate only added to the old notion that the artist is “feminine,” and the imagination a world unto itself.  And yet, the play suggested, looking at art, no matter how detached from the everyday worlds we inhabit, might still bring us together.

Out of the Blue, written by Kee-Yoon Nahm; directed by Elliot B. Quick

The Yale Cabaret, February 10-12, 2011