Yale Cabaret 49

Re-Cap of Cab 49

The farewell party for Cab 49, and its Artistic Directors Davina Moss, Kevin Hourigan, Ashley Chang, and Managing Director Steven Koernig, has been held; and the team for Cab 50 has been named: Artistic Directors Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, a rising third-year actor, and Josh Wilder, a rising third-year playwright, with Associate Artistic Director Rory Pelsue, a rising third-year director (and co-artistic director of this year’s Summer Cabaret), and Managing Director Rachel Shuey.

 

And now, before we start talking about the summer and next year, it’s time for the annual re-cap of the past season, in which I pick my favorites in a host of categories, saving my top choice for last. The idea of picking or naming a “best” is highly suspect, to me; but one can pick what one liked best, where the criteria may be as idiosyncratic as some of the work we’re talking about. And with that caveat, let’s go:

New plays: Works, in some cases never seen before, by YSD students that deserve recognition: Styx Songs, a collage of texts and original words all having to do with negotiating death, led by Jeremy O. Harris as a testy Hades; written by playwrights Majkin Holmquist and Tori Sampson; Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, playwright Jeremy O. Harris’s merging of music, porn, Greek myths, and themes of sexual becoming; The Other World, dramaturg Charlie O’Malley’s tribute to the stylistic and soul-searching writings of artist and Aids activist David Wojnarowicz; Circling the Drain, costume designer Cole McCarty’s exploration of three women on the verge of confessional clarity, from short stories by Amanda Davis, and … Mrs. Galveston, playwright Sarah B. Mantell’s engaging and charming depiction of the delusions of age and the anxieties of youth and the bond of family.

Plays: Picking just five from this group is not easy, as the plays were many and varied; my choices are determined by what I found most provocative: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. Alice Birch’s absurdist, anarchic vignettes on the possibilities of gender solidarity; Caught, Christopher Chen’s sharp and clever commentary on the role of the artist in our culture and across cultures; The Slow Sound of Snow, Jabeer Ramezani and Payam Saeedi’s play, translated by Shadi Ghaheri, a beautiful, almost mythic treatment of life under conditions of compelling threat; In The Red and Brown Water, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s involving play of a woman coming of age, in tune with the ageless Orishas of the Yoruban religion, and … Débâcles, by Marion Aubert, translated by Erik Butler and Kimberly Jannarone, an almost slapstick farce of atrocity and brutality during the Nazi occupation of France, kind of like goosing history and giving it the finger at the same time.

Set: The ones I remember best are the ones that included some architectural marvel or unbelievable transformation of that little basement space: for Styx Songs, Ao Li built a graveyard fountain that wasn’t just for show; for In The Red and Brown Water, Annie Dauber constructed a cabin and porch with the cast flanking it; for The Quonsets, Sarah Nietfeld’s constructions created the sense of functional, intimate spaces in the great outdoors; for The Red Tent, Annie Dauber reimagined the Cab as a special space of decorative drapes and personal transformation; and … for Mrs. Galveston, Claire Marie DeLiso built a house as setting and expressive device and work of art.

Sound: Perhaps the most intangible part of production, so choices here tend to those that made sound stand out: In The Slow Sound of Snow (Tye Hunt Fitzgerald), every sound counted, and modulation between loud and soft was crucial; in Débâcles (Frederick Kennedy), the action was all over the place and couldn’t get lost in the spaces; in Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1 (Michael Costagliola), the contrast between miked song and intimate chat at tables and in bedrooms was striking; in Circling the Drain (Frederick Kennedy), the sound effects of horses and trains were subtle abettors of the tales; and … in Collisions (Christopher Ross-Ewart, Frederick Kennedy) the dazzling soundscape was a part of the whole, a mix of jazz music and speaking voice and song and other effects.

Lighting: A way of controlling our access to what is happening, lighting is most striking as a feature when it helps create the world of the play or adds special effects: In Collisions (Elizabeth Green, Krista Smith), lighting was an essential part of the whole effect of sound and sight; in In The Red and Brown Water (Carolina Ortiz), lighting was a subtle aid to our visualization of the different levels of the characters’ interactions; in Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1 (Erin Earle Fleming), there were different palettes of light for the different worlds—including virtual—of the action; in Circling the Drain (Krista Smith), the use of the spotlights made for dramatic and deliberate effects; and … in Styx Songs (Krista Smith) lighting was both mood and essential to story, an other-worldly presence.

Costumes: Help us understand characters but can also be delightful in their own right, here are some I especially liked: in Styx Songs, Sarah Woodham dressed Hades and a host of spirits with great panache; in The Slow Sound of Snow, Sophia Choi created a vocabulary of dress; in Thunder Above, Deeps Below, Cole McCarty’s color sense was eye-catching and dynamic; in Débâcles, Annie Dauber & Matthew Malone had a field day with a range of identifiable types, and … In the Red and Brown Water, Mika Eubanks kept it all plausible but also fictive.

Projections: Not a key part of every production, but when present they can be much more than decorative: in Styx Songs, Erik Freer and Richard Green created an animation that was a major effect; in Collisions, Yana Birÿukova and Michael Commendatore made the action swim in projections to startling effect; in The Red Tent, Yaara Bar’s projections commented and provided context; in The Other World, Yana Birÿkova and Michael Commendatore shaped the background of the story; and … in Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, Yaara Bar pulled out all the stops in making a virtual environment more fulfilling than the everyday.

Music: Not just an effect, music is intrinsic to some productions; here are some where its presence was a major part of the show: in Styx Songs, Sam Suggs’s compositions were essential to making this a show of songs; in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Jiyeon Kim’s compositions provided subtle shifts in mood; in Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, Isabella Summers, and Jeremy O. Harris with Stevan Cablayan created songs that reveal feeling and character; in The Red Tent, songs and dance music made a participatory texture; and … in Collisions, Frederick Kennedy and his musicians made involving, improvised music that interacted with visuals and action to create an event.

The next three categories deal with acting, the element of theater that, when all’s said and done, is still the most charismatic, helping to create “stars” and all kinds of audience identifications. Using the increasingly retrograde division according to the “gender” of the role, I’ve come up with five each, divided by the traditional binary.  And, perhaps more importantly for Cab 49, five for “ensemble.” This year’s Cab was particularly strong in shows where “everyone” was in on the act, making for plays where the whole was more than the individual parts. Be that as it may, I’ve always got my eye out for the particular within the general.

Actors: James Udom as an anxious husband who might kill by procreating in The Slow Sound of Snow; Josh Goulding’s astounding one-man show as a foundling bedeviled by language in Kaspar; George Hampe’s comically beleaguered son and care-giver in Mrs. Galveston; José Espinosa as a maverick artist, at risk and on a quest in The Other World; and … Arturo Soria as a comical emotional contortionist and erring man-child in the world he never made of Débâcles.

Actresses: Moses Ingram as a young woman of spirit and skill facing a world of hurdles in In the Red and Brown Water; Danielle Chaves as a sister and daughter coming to grips with a painful past in North of Providence; Louisa Jacobson as an agent and confidante trying to be a friend in The Other World; Stephanie Machado as a young woman working through the affronts and assaults of a male-dominated world in Circling the Drain; and … Sydney Lemmon as an old woman alive with a compelling sense of what matters and what it means to get things right in Mrs. Galveston.

Ensemble: Ashley Chang, Anna Crivelli, Eston Fung, Elizabeth Harnett, Steven Lee Johnson bringing to life the slippery provocations of a situationist artist in Caught; Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon, as acting instruments; Frederick Kennedy, Kevin Patton, Evan Smith, Matt Wigton, as musical instruments in the vibrant interactive environment of Collisions; Moses Ingram, Erron Crawford, Leland Fowler, Kineta Kunutu, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Amandla Jahava, Courtney Jamison, Jonathan Higginbotham, Kevin Hourigan, Jakeem Powell as a village’s worth of varied characters and archetypes in In the Red and Brown Water; José Espinosa, Rachel Kenney, Jake Lozano, Arturo Soria enacting the stringency of cannibalism as erotics, commodity, and ideology in The Meal; and … Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Courtney Jamison, Stefani Kuo, James Udom, Seta Wainiqolo as unforgettable sufferers of existential dread, at war with and for their souls, in The Slow Sound of Snow.

Directors: In directing, I single-out the work that seemed to me to meet a challenge beyond the already considerable challenge of making compelling theater in a basement/restaurant: Lynda Paul for getting the tone of satire and seriousness with a varied cast, including non-actors, in Caught; Kevin Hourigan, with Frederick Kennedy for keeping the interplay of music and scene and speech so immediate and wonderful in Collisions; Tori Sampson for getting some of their best from everyone involved in In the Red and Brown Water, and for bringing a Folks production into the Cab; Elizabeth Dinkova for managing a wild ride of a play with more segments and themes than is conducive to mental health in Débâcles; and … Shadi Ghaheri for the incredible composure, pacing, and dramatic pay-offs of the haunting drama of The Slow Sound of Snow.

Production: They’re the shows that impress on many levels: technical realization, acting, directing, and, of course, what they express: Styx Songs, the season’s opener, an unforgettable dramatic experience that showed what the Cab is capable of (Producer: Trent Anderson; Dramaturg: Charlie O’Malley; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson); The Slow Sound of Snow, profound theater that showed what the Cab can demand of its audience (Producer: Trent Anderson and Armando Huipe; Dramaturg: Ariel Sibert; Stage Manager: Michael Schermann); Collisions, an event, like a concert, but also more, as theater and multi-media exploration, different each night (Producer: Rachel Shuey; Dramaturgy: Ashley Chang, Jeremy O. Harris; Stage Manager: Paula R. Clarkson); Débâcles, a challenging comedy, a dark night of the collective soul delivered with incredible brio (Producer: Flo Low; Dramaturg: Gavin Whitehead; Stage Manager: Alexandra Cadena); and … In the Red and Brown Water, a bravura production, almost a Rep show in a basement, full of heart, a strong cast, and memorable dramatic features (Co-Producers: Lauren E. Banks, Al Heartley; Dramaturg: Lisa D. Richardson; Stage Manager: Olivia Plath)

Cab 49 has ended. All best to those who participated—many, week after week. For those who are graduating, go in peace. Everyone else: Get ready for Cab 50!

Yale Cabaret 49
Artistic Directors: Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss

Managing Director: Steven Koernig
2016-17

Personal Herstories

Review of Circling the Drain, Yale Cabaret

Amanda Davis’s stories, as portrayed in Circling the Drain, a new play by Cole McCarty adapted from Davis’s collection of the same name, feature female protagonists who suffer from bad relations with others. Three characters—Ellen (Rachel Kenney), Lily (Patricia Fa’asua), and Faith (Stephanie Machado)—bare their tales in an overlapping round-robin of increasingly harrowing misadventures. A fourth—The Fat Girl (Marié Botha)—inhabits Faith’s consciousness as an element of her past she still lives with. The deftly paced transitions in McCarty’s script create mini-cliffhanger effects as one woman or another holds the floor and then surrenders it to another speaker.

As interleaved monologues, the play works well, creating something of that circling sensation alluded to in the title. It also helps that the stories chosen have very different settings. Ellen’s takes place in Brooklyn, Lily’s out west, and Faith’s in a suburban high school. As with any drama where the characters confide to the audience, the feeling of immediacy is palpable, and all four actresses convey well the shifting sympathies of these characters’ commitment to their stories. It’s not that they are necessarily trying to convince us of something, but only want us to witness what they did or was done to them. In a sense, taking possession of the story is the whole point.

Ellen (Rachel Kenney), Faith (Stephanie Machado), Lily (Patricia Fa'asua)

Ellen (Rachel Kenney), Faith (Stephanie Machado), Lily (Patricia Fa'asua)

Interestingly, the show, as the last in Cabaret 49’s season, takes us back to the beginning. Styx Songs, the first show of the season, featured an ensemble of characters sharing with us the means of their deaths, wanting to impress upon us what cost them their lives. Circling the Drain, less metaphysical, looks at the vulnerabilities that unite these women’s stories, costing them, if not their lives, then their peace of mind. The show’s subtitle “all that vacant possibility” would seem to suggest that, in each case, the story might have gone differently, that we aren’t dealing with fatalism, but rather with something more painfully contingent. And yet that’s not how the tales seem to play out. With no male characters or actors on view, there is no way to contrast an actual guy with the force of fascination, or fatal attraction, these women feel.

Ellen’s story is perhaps the most oblique, as presented. There’s a man in it—“not from around here”— and she eventually finds him in their bed with another guy. Her solution to the situation is to jump off a bridge. Because of how she presents it—in a rather poetic, fatalistic way—the situation feels fraught with peril but we don’t really get why that is. Kenney keeps us on Ellen’s side but the story of what happened to her, in her view, is a foregone conclusion as she tells it. There’s no other possibility because she seems never to entertain one.

With Lily’s story, a similar fatalism comes from the fact that she never doubts what she must do to make her object of desire—a cowboy with an almost symbiotic attachment to a horse—hers. This tale, in part because Fa’asua maintains an almost rapturous cadence in her telling, feels the most mythopoeic, as if there’s more to the story than simply a man and a woman, a blue shirt she knits him, and his beloved horse. The possibility here, if we accept it, might be in an exchange of symbols—the shirt for the horse, or the quest for a new horse to become the couple’s shared raison d’être. In any case, the story arrests us because, as with its descriptions of trains and plains, it has a strong symbolic beauty.

Faith’s story is the most graphically violent and the most realistic, if impressionistic. Its events illustrate the hazards of bullying, sexual predators, low self-esteem, and the desperate need to be loved that fuel many teen tragedies. Here, the interplay between Faith and the Fat Girl delivers some comedy, if in a somewhat caustic register, and that of course lulls us into a hope of Faith overcoming her demons. A brutal rape at the hands of a group of guys whose attention at first is gratifying makes Faith potentially the most damaged woman here, though her resilience is what might mystify us as much as Ellen’s fatalism and Lily’s symbolism.

All of which is a way of saying that these stories of women “circling the drain” probe for response, particularly when the characters are so alive before us. Machado, in particular, makes Faith—name noted—a woman who may prove to be more than her own story about herself. And that, we might say, is where the possibility lies: the power of not only articulating one’s story, but also overcoming it.

The set—a spare bleachers—and dramatic use of lighting and sound effects, for galloping horses and rushing subway trains, create a very malleable space, aided by simple touches like writing in chalk on the playing-space floor. Theater often provides a spectacle at which we stare, Circling the Drain takes us inside the heads of these women and leaves us there.

 

Circling the Drain or, all that vacant possibility
Directed & written by Cole McCarty
Adapted from stories by Amanda Davis

Dramaturg: Josh Goulding; Scenic Designer: Stephanie Cohen; Costume Designer: Beatrice Vena; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Sound Designer: Fred Kennedy; Stage Manager: Cate Worthington; Technical Director: Alix Reynolds; Producer: Lisa D. Richardson

Cast: Marié Botha, Patricia Fa’asua, Rachel Kenney, Stephanie Machado

Yale Cabaret
April 20-22, 2017

SILENCE = DEATH

Review of The Other World, Yale Cabaret

The Other World, written by Yale School of Drama playwright Charles O’Malley, returns us to the heart of the Aids crisis. A slice of the life of 1980s’ New York artist David Wojnarowicz, adapted from his memoir Close to the Knives, the play dramatizes key events in Wojnarowicz’s artistic life to reanimate the past in episodic scenes presented with a sure hand by first-time director Baize Buzan. Less is more in the spare set, complete with particle-board flooring, a sheet draped casually to serve as a screen for the artist’s overhead projections—a bit of authentic technology that does a Proustian madeleine number on aging memories—and a general feel of the open spaces of those unrenovated SoHo warehouses. In other words, the play is something of a time machine and I, for one, was glad to see a contemporary brought to life so well.

David (Jos  é   Espinosa)  (photo:; Elli Green)

David (José Espinosa) (photo:; Elli Green)

The play’s David (José Espinosa) is an introspective figure whose musings have both great immediacy and fascinating detachment. The loss of David’s lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, to Aids is narrated rather than presented, with further details furnished by Marion (Louisa Jacobson), David’s friend and agent. It’s to the credit of all involved that Peter’s demise comes across with both poignancy and inevitability. Comments on a dying-man’s wish of a visit to the shore lets us intuit the frayed nerves, the sensitive psyches, and, more than anything, the unspeakable specter of death coming to the young and talented. By letting us hear how David copes, O’Malley keeps our focus both on the events and an artist’s access to them. Wojnarowicz, who worked in various media, took pictures and video of his lover’s corpse, an act very much in accord with their shared aesthetic. As David, Espinosa presents a serious artist whose art is very much a confrontation with existence, a battle for personal worth in a damaged world.

Friend (Michael Breslin),   David (Jos  é   Espinosa)  (photo: Elli Green)

Friend (Michael Breslin), David (José Espinosa)  (photo: Elli Green)

A visit from a Friend (played with uneasy panache by Michael Breslin) lets us see how out of touch David can be, even while trying to get in touch with his own feelings. The chain-smoking, while a minor detail, speaks volumes for the era these street-based artists inhabit. The Friend’s grasp of his own doomed chances prefigures Wojnarowicz’s fate, but also re-enacts, in miniature, the risky collectivity of gays at the time. The “who can know and who can’t” aspect of their exchange is spot-on. Eventually we see David overcome his morose withdrawal and begin to take steps toward activism, his anger and heartbreak overtaking even his “must-get-away from New York” trip through the Southwest.

David (Jos  é   Espinosa) ,  Marion (Louisa Jacobson)  (photo: Elli Green)

David (José Espinosa), Marion (Louisa Jacobson) (photo: Elli Green)

That trip—in a segment called “on the road”—gives the play some of its best scenes, as David breaks out of his silence to confide an early sexual exploit in a movie theater and then to rail at Marion for being a confidante who doesn’t confide enough herself. As played with canny conviction by Louisa Jacobsen, Marion is an interesting character with her own conflicts. Her faith in David, after working with him for five years, is being tried by his state of mourning and his growing interest in the politics of the plague. Their exchanges do much to give us a sense of how they see themselves and each other, and provide a context of youth and exploration that, if not dated, is at least a reminder of how Aids changed so much and cost so many.

Without making heavy-handed parallels with the present, O’Malley’s play reanimates a specific era of repression to remind us of how hard-won rights were and admission to the status quo has been, and to indicate that getting a hearing in government is no easy matter. It’s not that a trip back in time is going to make Trump look better, but it does serve to highlight how shitty conservative governments can be to anyone outside their ideology. Marches and protest might make for good political theater but, as Marion exhorts David, an artist can make larger and perhaps more telling statements. And so is born an artist-activist, aghast at the horrors made normative by American indifference.

Born 100 years after his sometime artistic alter-ego Arthur Rimbaud, Wojnarowicz, like Rimbaud, died at 37. Both continue to live on because both have something to say to the “accursed” on the outside or margins of the mainstream. If “silence = death,” one of the slogans of Aids activism popularized by ACT UP, it’s also the case that death, for visionary artists like Wojnarowicz, doesn’t equal silence.

David (Jos  é   Espinosa)   (photo: Elli Green)

David (José Espinosa)  (photo: Elli Green)

 

The Other World
By Charles O’Malley
Adapted from Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by David Wojnarowicz
Directed by Baize Buzan

Production Dramaturg: Kari Olmon; Scenic Designer: Paul Rasmussen; Costume Designer: Sophia Choi; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Sound Designer: Andrew Rovner; Projections Designers: Yana Birÿkova, Michael Commendatore; Scenic Advisor: Ashley Flowers; Stage Manager: Cate Worthington; Producer: Caitlin Crombleholme

Cast: Michael Breslin, José Espinosa, Louisa Jacobson

 

Yale Cabaret
April 6-8, 2017

The Goddess Within

Review of The Red Tent, Yale Cabaret

If you want to see theater in New Haven that isn’t simply a play, you’ve got to go to shows brought to the Yale Repertory Theatre as part of No Boundaries, or you’ve got to go to the Yale Cabaret. The Red Tent, conceived and directed by Sohina Sidhu and playing at the Cab for two more shows tonight, explores certain bodily themes with minimal dialogue and much movement. More pointedly, one could say: The Red Tent returns theater to ritual.

Theater, it’s mostly agreed, began as ritual, even in the West. The Red Tent keeps open lines of communication to cultures where ritual and performance mingle. And ritual here manages to invoke the presence of “the Goddess” without propelling us to thoughts of New Agey ashrams in California. Maybe one or two of the voice-overs does, but the space created by Annie Dauber, with its enfolding red drapes, the moody lighting by Nic Vincent, and the spacey projections by Yaara Bar put us in a receptive state for a ritualized process choreographed by the company. The show presents an enactment of how women create community in celebrating one of the most elemental aspects of being female: menarche and the recurrent bodily rhythm of fertility it announces.

Some aspects of the body, polite society would have us think, should be kept private, but The Red Tent arrives fully informed by the view that the private is political, if only because women, in becoming equals with men before the law, still have to find a way to make the specific condition of being female not a special, lesser status. The “affliction”—as it is often called—of menstruation, to say nothing of the demands of child-birth, are simply some of the facts of life, and yet, tampon commercials notwithstanding, menstruation still seems an unacknowledged truth in most stories about women in film and television and fiction. While no one who is a woman or has ever lived intimately with one can have any doubts about the significance of the monthly event, our culture generally ignores it as if it never happens (though, of course, it’s big news if it doesn’t).

The Red Tent kicks off dramatically with a young woman (Amandla Jahava) beside herself at having her first period and being sent to a tent so as to be isolated in her “unclean” state. She’s freaking out, and into her abject state arrive emissaries of a more benign tradition, women who initiate her into a shared condition of being.

Air (Amandla Jahava) (photo: Elli Green)

Air (Amandla Jahava) (photo: Elli Green)

As an unascribed quotation in the production’s playbill has it: “Then she had an epiphany: ‘Menstruation is not a taboo, but a power for women.’” The power, in The Red Tent, comes from the mother goddess, and slide projections alert us to stages in the process by which a woman becomes a goddess. It’s not a question of divinity so much as a matter of aligning oneself with the forces of the natural world. In a world—ours—in which the natural forces are increasingly out of whack, the notion that there might be a more geocentric way to understand our place in it is welcome. Such won’t be achieved, Sidhu’s play helps us see, by women proving they can be “just like” men, but perhaps by understanding better what being a woman means.

The five women in the piece are given elemental roles: Water (Alex Cadena), Earth (Danielle Chaves), Air (Amandla Jahava), Fire (Kineta Kunutu), Cosmic (Sohina Sidhu). I confess that the distinctions were a bit lost on me, but that’s perhaps because I wasn’t looking for them. Or that might be due to the fact that the women, all gowned very suitably in white robes with tasteful accessories, are not differentiated in an overtly archetypal manner. As portrayed, the women did have distinct attitudes, with Air the acolyte and Water with a suitable mutability, and Fire seeming the warmest. At one point, two of the elements war with knives—a segment handled well by Fight Coordinator Jonathan Higginbotham—and at another point, all the goddesses sat about articulating the nature of their goddessness in a scene both comic and poetic.

The notion of the three phases of the goddess (which I remember from my Robert Graves)—youth, maturity, and senescence—are invoked by the phases of the show, with the latter stage evoked very memorably by a song, begun suitably enough by Earth, about “the weight of me” breaking a rocking chair. The song is a lament that becomes, as all the women join in, the kind of strong identification with the inevitable and the elemental that one finds too seldom in our secular and commercial culture.

The Red Tent presents theater as something that happens to an audience, not simply as something we watch. With carefully modulated musical and visual accompaniment, the show is technically accomplished and, with the mutable physicality of its performers, fascinating to see. The final procession of the five achieves the emphatic grace and uplift that many a religious ceremony would be glad of inspiring.

 

 

The Red Tent
Conceived and directed by Sohina Sidhu

Choreography: the Company; Sound: Megumi Katayama, Kathy Ruvuna; Lighting: Nic Vincent; Costumes: Rachel Gregory; Scenic Design: Annie Dauber; Projections: Yaara Bar; Technical Direction: LT Gourzong; Dramaturgs: Michael Breslin, Ashley Chang; Fight Director: Jonathan Higginbotham; Stage Manager: Laura Cornwall; Producer: Lisa D. Richardson

The company: Alex Cadena; Danielle Chaves; Amandla Jahava; Kineta Kunutu; Sohina Sidhu

 

Yale Cabaret
March 23-25, 2017

It's Complicated

Review of Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, Yale Cabaret

In Jeremy O. Harris’ Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, directed by Jesse Rasmussen at Yale Cabaret, Xander (Kevin Hourigan) is an online celebrity, more particularly, he’s a porn star. People sign onto his website and get to watch videos of Xander’s sexual trysts. In this play we simply accept that such access and self-exploitation is something that would earn one a following—and I guess it would. A further question seems implied: what kind of person will shape his life to be known by random access through an online window? That question could probe into much of what passes for life—as virtual life—in our day. But Harris pretty much sticks with Xander’s dilemma: to be a sex hero online or just a dude on a date. Which would you rather be?

Xander (Kevin Hourigan), Michael (Josh Goulding)

Xander (Kevin Hourigan), Michael (Josh Goulding)

The date is what’s taking place as we watch, and it’s awkward and arch the way depictions of people on dates tend to be, with the fun in the mix provided by Josh Goulding’s breezy seducer, Michael. Xander, in his videos, is hetero, and he remarks to Michael that in his imagination the date would be “more gay.” We might wonder what’s driving Xander to explore. It might just be something to do, or it might have something to do with his relation to his younger brother, Matt (Abubakr Ali).

Lena (Sydney Lemmon), Matt (Abubakr Ali)

Lena (Sydney Lemmon), Matt (Abubakr Ali)

Matt, a singer/musician/composer, is also on a date, sort of. Ostensibly, he’s trying to find a female singer to collaborate with, and Lena (Sydney Lemmon), in hot pants, form-fitting T, and one helluva wig, shows up to try out. But Matt is the kind of guy who seems rather “closeted” about the fact that he’d like to get laid, and his interactions with Lena have an awkwardness that seems endemic to these brothers. Lena, learning that Matt’s brother is a digital stud, is agog with interest, leading to jumps back and forth between the brothers’ simultaneous encounters, and to very busy projections—including porn footage—of Xander’s website. A live chorus, the Internetz (Amandla Jahava, Jakeem Powell, Ivan Kirwan-Taylor), tends to praise Xander in the hyperbolic terms of his own imagination, or of his most fervid fans, or both.

Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

The “dragon” imagery comes from something the boys shared, a fantasy in which, perhaps, sexual molestation is figured, or maybe it’s just the kind of quest fantasy that occupies the imagination of many at that age. There’s also an overlay of Greek god imagery, to suggest, I suppose, that we’ve always been keen on virtual beings.

 In any case, the brothers have some confronting to do, particularly after Matt stops just short of raping Lena and Xander may have done something much worse to his date—worse even than dismissing him with the ringing line: “Your insignificance has been made manifest.” That may be the put-down of all put-downs when “being known” and being glorified for being known is the height of narcissistic self-enjoyment.

Matt (Abubakr Ali), the Internetz (Amandla Jahava, Jakeem Powell), Xander (Kevin Hourigan)

Matt (Abubakr Ali), the Internetz (Amandla Jahava, Jakeem Powell), Xander (Kevin Hourigan)

Both brothers, together with Lena, are good singers, so that helps keep us interested in their self-projections. As performers they tend to be of the self-involved type that doesn’t exactly reach out to the audience. And maybe that’s the kick of the one-way camera of online performing: you know the audience is out there, but you never have to see them. They’re just in your head and you, the performer, are in their personal space—or at least on their personal device. It’s personal, yes, but decidedly detached.

The flesh-and-blood performance elements of the show are carried best by Lemmon’s Lena, who emerges as a supporting character able to redirect the drama away from the principals. “What’s her story?,” we might find ourselves asking, or “I wonder what she’s up to now,” while Xander and Matt pursue their efforts to gaze into one another’s navels. It may be that the main drama is too static in its presentation, or too detached in its characterization, but it brought to mind lines by Leonard Cohen, from “Death of a Lady’s Man”: “So the great affair is over / And whoever would’ve guessed / It would leave us all so vacant / And so deeply unimpressed.”

Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

The projections and the music add considerable elements to the show as an event, making us privy to worlds and possibly feelings that are of our cultural moment. Though deliberate, the staging of the date between Xander and Michael leaves a bit to be desired as it’s rather like trying to watch what’s happening at a table on the far side of the Cab space—unless you happen to be sitting right next to that table—which, I suppose, makes us all eavesdropping voyeurs. How you feel in that space may have a lot to do with how you feel about Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1.

 

Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1
By Jeremy O. Harris
Directed Jesse Rasmussen

Original Music: Isabella Summers, Jeremy O. Harris, Steven Cablayan; Production Dramaturg: Amauta Marston-Firmino; Set Designer: Ao Li; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Erin Earle Fleming; Sound Designer & Additional Music Production: Michael Costagliola; Projections Designer: Yaara Bar; Technical Director: LT Gourzong; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson; Producer: Adam J. Frank

Cast: Abubakr Ali; Josh Goulding; Kevin Hourigan; Amandla Jahava; Ivan Kirwan-Taylor; Sydney Lemmon; Jakeem Powell

Yale Cabaret
March 2-4, 2017

Nice Life

Review of The Quonsets, Yale Cabaret

Often called “the heartland,” and also said to consist of “fly-over states,” the Midwest of the U.S. has been “red”—or Republican—in presidential elections since 1968. But what is life like there? In The Quonsets, comprised of two joined plays, first-year Yale School of Drama playwrights Majkin Holmquist and Alex Lubischer take us to their home states of Kansas and Nebraska, respectively. The title comes from the setting: temporary structures, used as sheds and shelters, in the farming communities of the Midwest. Inside the Quonsets, two one-acts take place as dramas among three different persons, with the fourth character in each provided by the same Custom Cutter (Rachel Kenney), a nomadic worker who provides special services to farms.

The Custom Cutter (Rachel Kenney)

The Custom Cutter (Rachel Kenney)

The Custom Cutter introduces the action and provides comments between the acts. Her story is she had a partner who was an artist, and lived for a time in Chicago, but chose to go back to her birthplace. She lays out the basic situation: she wants to farm but has no birthright claim to land. So she becomes a migrant worker, taking jobs where they can be found, as a kind of freelance farmhand. Kenney’s accent and manner take us into the CC’s world, and her playful designation of natural occurrences—cows in a field, for instance—as “installations” lets us know she has a certain irony toward both worlds: the plain folks of the farms and the sophisticates of the city.

In the first play, in Kansas, two hard-working siblings, Cassidy (Stella Baker) and Clay (Gian-Paul Bergeron) take a break from a 27-day stint of fieldwork due to rain. Sheltering in a Quonset, where the CC is trying to get some shuteye, the two banter about a visitor Cassidy is expecting. A rising sophomore at KU, she’s expecting a fellow student—“he’s not my boyfriend!”—to come calling. When Sylvester (Ben Anderson) does arrive, he’s clad in threads just a notch below a rhinestone cowboy. This, along with his name and his general condescending cluelessness about farm-life, immediately earns Clay’s mockery. Most of the play is simply the one-upmanship between Clay and Sylvester—or “Sly,” as the CC immediately dubs him—while Cassidy is placed in the unhappy position of trying to placate both.

Cassidy (Stella Baker), Sylvester (Ben Anderson)

Cassidy (Stella Baker), Sylvester (Ben Anderson)

The main point of the play seems to be making the “fish out of water” position apply to someone who considers himself more educated and sophisticated then his grudging host, Clay, who bristles at Sylvester’s ingratiating manner. What Cassidy experiences—in a nicely subtle performance by Baker—is the disjunction between life in college and life down on the farm. How she will resolve the two isn’t clear but only the CC—a much older character—takes pity on hapless Sylvester.

In the second play, Baker transforms herself into Barb, a mom and wife concerned that the business her husband, Dale (Bergeron), is running with his business partner/brother, John (Anderson), has been putting unfair financial burdens on the couple. A recent drought and its effect on the crop and their earnings has put them in a vulnerable position, which John solved by selling their combine. Which means hiring the CC, who is present again, waiting to get paid while the brothers and Barb try to sort things out.

Dale (Gian-Paul Bergeron), John (Ben Anderson)

Dale (Gian-Paul Bergeron), John (Ben Anderson)

The undercurrents in the family dynamic, as they slowly surface, are handled well, particularly when we learn of Barb’s fears about a recent violent act of her son. The tensions, mostly resolved by a heart-to-heart, show the strain of business on family, underscored by the difficult arrangements of living year to year.

Director Aneesha Kudtarkar keeps the pace steady in these conversational plays where interactions can veer from casual to tense in a heartbeat. The actors manifest, in the first play, the awkwardness of the outsider trying to break the ice not very successfully, and, in the second, the awkwardness of a family dynamic where Dale has to negotiate a certain gray area between the expectations of business partner and life partner. It’s a tough row to hoe.

As a peek into a rural world and farming as a difficult way of life, The Quonsets sticks to the basics of real lives. The Custom Cutter’s monologue in which she sees Barb as reminiscent of a figure in a painting at Chicago’s Art Institute hints at the poetry of the everyday, even as Barb’s musing reflection on her place in the humdrum scheme of things yearns for access to something else. Morals may hang in the air, but, in these parts, they are neither grim nor comforting. That’s just the way it is.

 

The Quonsets
By Majkin Holmquist, Alex Lubischer
Directed by Aneesha Kudtarkar

Production dramaturg: Molly FitzMaurice; Set Designer: Sarah Nietfeld; Costume Designer: Beatrice Vena; Lighting Designer: Samuel Chan: Sound Designer: Megumi Katayama; Associate Sound Designer: Andrew Rovner; Technical Director: Jenna Heo; Stage Manager: Alex Cadena; Producer: Armando Huipe

Cast: Ben Anderson, Stella Baker, Gian-Paul Bergeron, Rachel Kenney

 

Yale Cabaret
February 23-25, 2017

Le Refus Absurde

Review of Débâcles, Yale Cabaret

Third-year Yale School of Drama director Elizabeth Dinkova has a penchant for wildly dark comedy and she may have found her most suitable match yet directing Marion Aubert’s Débâcles, now in its first-ever English language staging, as translated by Erik Butler and Kimberly Jannarone, at Yale Cabaret. The play sends up the French Resistance with the kind of no-holds-barred approach to comedy that might recall Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick’s caustic satire of prospective world annihilation, Dr. Strangelove. And since Aubert writes in French, the play’s corrosive sense of humanity’s horrendous ability to live with the most appalling circumstances might well recall amusing misanthropes like Céline. It is humor not for the easily offended, and, since it takes to task the situation of occupied France in which, Aubert’s note tells us, only 2% of the population openly resisted the Nazis, it’s a timely enough tale of how folks will get along with anything, so long as there’s food and sex available. Trading one for the other is fairly standard wartime procedure and Aubert is relentless in depicting how dysfunctional all aspects of the world become during wartime.

Simon (Arturo Soria) (photo: Elli Green)

Simon (Arturo Soria) (photo: Elli Green)

The play aims to affront and to entertain. It’s a neat trick when it does both at the same time. Begin with its hapless hero, Simon (Arturo Soria), a precocious teen who lends considerable credence to the view that only the French truly appreciate Jerry Lewis. Soria hits many of the notes of forthright naïveté that fueled many a Lewis comedic man-child, and almost everything he says is in excruciating—and thus ridiculous (or vice versa)—bad taste. Unlike Lewis’s characters though, Simon is not mawkish but rather a walking attack of hormonal urges. He lusts after everyone. In this he’s not alone, as we also have a matronly woman, Madame Lisa (Rory Pelsue), who is pretty much up for anything, a father, Paul (Matthew Conway), who has had sex with his daughter Camille (Anna Crivelli), and a casually rapacious Nazi SS officer Martynas (Josh Goulding) who rapes a waif Itto (Amandla Jahava) and pursues all he can get from Remy (Jakeem Powell), the father of Camille’s baby. Their homoerotic dalliance is a set-piece designed to signal the loathings and lusts that seem to fire the popular imagination's view of fascism.

Indeed, male sexuality, as more or less a constant state of rut, is figured somewhat talismanically by a photo of Remy’s “crown jewels,” and by an elusive figure called Handsome Blond (Jeremy O. Harris), a British airman who seems to be the ne plus ultra of desirability. Meanwhile, Simon, who, despite his teenage tendency to hyperventilate about everything that passes through his bedeviled brain, may have a heart, is harboring two Jews—or, as the play likes to stress, Jewesses—in his closet: the adventurous and probably romantically smitten Clara (Catherine Rodriguez) and her great-aunt Marie-Ange (Caitlin Crombleholme), who has had her tongue cut out by Nazis. There’s also Martin (Michael Costagliola), brother of Camille, who wants to ingratiate himself with Martynas, and Aurélie (Emily Reeder), mother of Camille and Martin, who opens the play in a state of hyper-hysteria that does much to set the tone. Later she sacrifices her hair for no very clear reason.

Marie-Ange (Caitlin Crumbleholme), Clara (Catherine Rodriguez) (photo: Elli Green)

Marie-Ange (Caitlin Crumbleholme), Clara (Catherine Rodriguez) (photo: Elli Green)

Annie Dauber’s set makes use of five different playing spaces: Paul and Aurélie’s livingroom; Simon’s bedroom and closet; Madame Lisa’s kitchen; the meeting place of Remy and Martynas; and a raised stage area that is most often used as the banks of a river. There’s much turning this way and that to follow the action and also lively use of the Cab's open space, with much running about and, at one point, Simon crawling surreptitiously through the audience. Projections and subtitles flash to set up the different scenes. And don’t forget the inestimable Gavin Whitehead, dramaturg and percussionist, who adds many wonderful and important touches of apropos sound to the proceedings and who sits at the back of the playing space like a detached but responsive presence.

Madame Lisa (Rory Pelsue), Simon (Arturo Soria) (photo: Elli Green)

Madame Lisa (Rory Pelsue), Simon (Arturo Soria) (photo: Elli Green)

Highlights in performance, in addition to Arturo Soria’s overwhelming energy as Simon, are Josh Goulding’s charismatic nastiness as Martynas, Caitlin Crombleholme’s comically grotesque dumbshow as Marie-Ange, Amandla Jahava’s bouncy victim Itto, Rory Pelsue’s tense delivery of Madame Lisa’s erratic stream-of-consciousness (Pelsue notably delivers the masculine French names of characters correctly), and Jeremy O. Harris’ lampoon of a French accent.

Finally, the play’s conclusion features a powerful turn by Anna Crivelli as Camille, pushing baby Charlotte in a stroller, and moving through the ruins of the town while projections of bombs flank their path. Camille sings “The Partisan,” the song Aurélie sang to rock the baby (both Crivelli and Reeder have lovely voices), and the comic bathos of Camille’s asides join with the lyrical heroism of the song to create a telling mix of emotions that ends the play quite powerfully.

Débâcle, or what the author’s notes call “regrettable change,” is a word, in English, for an almost catastrophic failure, usually with piquant notes of good intentions gone awry. It’s the perfect word for what a wartime world puts its people through, and it becomes particularly relevant when they try to think of a future beyond the horrors of their present. We are that future, Aubert knows, mired in our own débâcles.

Débâcles
By Marion Aubert
Translated by Erik Butler, Kimberly Jannarone
Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova

Dramaturg, percussionist: Gavin Whitehead; Set & Costume Designer: Annie Dauber; Assistant Set & Costume Designer: Matthew Malone; Lighting Designer: Krista Smith; Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy; Technical Director: Lydia Pustell; Associate Technical Director: Rae Powell; Stage Manager: Alexandra Cadena; Producer: Flo Low

Cast: Matthew Conway; Michael Costagliola; Anna Crivelli; Caitlin Crumbleholme; Josh Goulding; Jeremy O. Harris; Amandla Jahava; Rory Pelsue; Jakeem Powell; Catherine Rodriguez; Emily Reeder; Arturo Soria

Yale Cabaret
February 16-18, 2017

Satellite of Love

Review of The Satellite Series Festival, Yale Cabaret

Last weekend, the Yale Cabaret hosted the second ever Satellite Series Festival over three nights and, from what I saw on Saturday, it was a raging success with crowds at every performance. Of course, with my viewing limited to one night, I didn’t get to see all the work on show, but I did manage to see everything that was designated as theater, as well as a few other pieces.

My evening began with The Dating Game, a participatory event created and hosted by Molly FitzMaurice that featured volunteers trying to match up as in the old TV show Dating Game, where contestants are asked questions about their dates and have to know or intuit the correct answer. The hostess of the event was accompanied by a hand puppet with an obstreperous voice that added a certain tension to the proceedings. All was going well for all four couples—two same-sex, male and female, and two hetero—until some tie-breaking questions came forward, such as: how does your date like his/her eggs? The questioning was all surprisingly domestic, very TV-friendly. The final round involved the two hetero couples (the other two couples had missed answers) attempting the final New Year’s scene in When Harry Met Sally when Harry (Billy Crystal) finally wins the heart of Sally (Meg Ryan). The main trope of the game, that intimacy means knowing things about someone, keeps alive our culture’s ongoing romance with its enduring fetishes. How do you like yours?

Next, I jumped over to the Afro-American Cultural Center to catch some of the Story Slam, hosted by Flo Low and Gwyneth Muller, wherein a selection of regular folk told anecdotes from their own lives. The stories could be of any variety—amusing, unsettling, moving—and sometimes veered from one affect to another. While not strictly ‘theater,’ the program functioned like an open mic for real people telling real stories, and was a good way to learn a little something about the people who frequent the Cabaret. Monologue, we all know, can be risky business, making us wonder what first-person narrative reveals and conceals. Not quite a “slam” in the sense of a poetry slam, where there is generally a very competitive element, this story slam was dignified and its tellers well-received.

Patrick Foley (This American Wife) (photo: Elli Green)

Patrick Foley (This American Wife) (photo: Elli Green)

Back at the Cab, to finish off the reality phase of the evening, was This American Wife, with Patrick Foley and Michael Breslin enacting and commenting on and generally wallowing in the thrill that is Real Housewives. The lure of the TV show is lost on me, but Foley and Breslin played with viewer expectations, being at times catty toward the show, at other times seeming to be wanna-be clones of the show. I guess, in the end, it has to do with how much Reality TV informs your reality. Given Trump, it’s easy enough to see our present as living in a reality-TV regime. I confess I left early in favor of the reality of interacting with folks on the stairs waiting for the next event in the studio above.

Shadi Ghaheri's Butterfly's Terror (photo: Elli Green)

Shadi Ghaheri's Butterfly's Terror (photo: Elli Green)

The heart of my evening was Shadi Ghaheri’s expressive piece, Butterfly’s Terror. Using sound design by Megumi Katayama, movement, shadows, and projections by Yaara Bar, Butterfly’s Terror enacted a comment on the figuration of women and the terror of bodies forever on display. The audience was divided into men, on one side of a length of stretched paper, and women, on the other side. The actors—all women—were located on the female side so that the men saw the actors’ distorted shadows upon the paper, which were also graced with projections, mostly of panoramas of land and sky and water. The movements of the actors was a kind of contained violence that finally exploded when they tore down the paper screen and proceeded to dance with and destroy its remnants. The set-up invited thoughts of Plato’s cave, with the male audience seeing but shadows and shapes, the female audience the actual women, until the breakthrough moment dramatically revealed the segregated audiences to each other.

Edward Allen Baker’s plays are full of the kind of real lives that might recall the “angry young men” era of British drama. His North of Providence, directed by Patrick Madden (who told about his special medical relation to his own feces in the Story Slam, which is about as real as it gets), takes us into the lives of a brother and sister as their father lies dying. It’s a drama about the distance and the intimacy that plague family life. The crescendo of the one-act, well played by Bobby Guzman and Danielle Chaves, is the brother’s confession of facts his sister didn’t know that provide background to a rape she endured years before. Baker manages his effects with a naturalism that doesn’t over-dramatize the difficulty of finding words for traumatic matters. And his sense of his characters grasps the nuances of a world devoid of romanticizing, almost as if Hollywood and TV don’t exist.

Bobbie (Bobby Guzman), Carol (Danielle Chaves) in North of Providence (photo: Elli Green)

Bobbie (Bobby Guzman), Carol (Danielle Chaves) in North of Providence (photo: Elli Green)

Finally, Jenny Schmidt’s The Silent Sex is a very curious work, asking us to take women as represented types, at their word. All the women who speak in its monologues—which derive from a number of texts, mostly female monologues for the stage—make us privy to a relentless policing of the self that is mostly comical—as in Stella Baker as a concert-attendee distracted by a head full of nervous tics, or Caitlin Crumbleholme as a poise-class professional who instructs her “ladies” in how to “hold the lily and lead the lamb.” And yet there’s a tightrope walk as well as each of the speakers seems to vacillate between a strength of purpose and a wary or wry sense of how she sounds or looks, sometimes quite consciously. The pinnacle of it all, for me, was Elizabeth Stahlmann as a preening belle of the ball with her gown stuck in a door in Beatrice Herford’s “The Tale of the Train.” The mix of feigned helplessness and erstwhile assertiveness was remarkably well-played, with neither a door nor a train visible.

The Satellite Series Festival once again presented a wealth and variety of approaches to performance, including musical sets and virtual reality technology. The movement between shows in the three venues wasn’t always seamless, producing more “downtime” than one might like, but given the audience volume and the numbers of shows—12 in all—the Cab team is to be commended for bringing off this lively and adventurous event so well, and during the worst weather of the year so far. There was something for everyone and if you saw it all, you certainly got your money’s worth.

 

The Satellite Series Festival of Performance

Featuring work created by:

Yaara Bar, Micheal Breslin, Drew Busmire, Anna Crivelli, Fjola Evans, Anteo Fabris, Molly FitzMaurice, Patrick Foley, Matthias Freer, Shadi Ghaheri, Barbaro Guzman, Molly Joyce, LINÜ, Flo Low, Patrick Madden, Gwyneth Muller, Jenny Schmidt

Yale Cabaret
February 9-11, 2017

Have a Bite

Review of The Meal, Yale Cabaret

James Joyce once described “eating a thing” as “the apple pie essence of knowing a thing”—an idea that has some relevance to Brazilian playwright Newton Moreno’s The Meal, translated by Elizabeth Jackson and directed by Stephanie Machado and Maria Inês Marques at Yale Cabaret. The three-part play is subtitled, with thoughts of Montaigne, as “Dramatic Essays on Cannibalism.” Montaigne, in his famous sixteenth-century essay “Of Cannibals,” considers that the act of eating someone after death is not nearly so barbaric as the kinds of tortures his own people visit upon their enemies while alive. The point—and the relevant passage from Montaigne is provided as a handout by production dramaturg Nahuel Telleria—is that barbarity is relative, and the reasons for cannibalism may have something more to do with Joyce’s idea: what we ingest and digest becomes a part of us, and that may be a fitting end for a relative’s corpse or for a portion of one’s beloved.

Moreno’s play does not shy away from the grisly aspects of such a practice, but it doesn’t dwell on them either. What it aims at instead is what might be called—and Montaigne would concur—the humanistic aspects of such practices. The first scene, “Hospital Room,” is between lovers (Arturo Soria, Rachel Kenney). Here, the cannibalistic impulse is seen as part of the giving and taking that fuel any passionate attachment: possessing and knowing find expression in availing oneself of the beloved’s actual flesh. In a Christian culture that retains the ancient Greek religious sense of sparagmos (or dismemberment and, often, eating of a god or a god’s stand-in) in Communion, as eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ, the metaphorical sense of consuming flesh—as “becoming one”—is apt to feel powerfully motivated. We sometimes say one has a “consuming” or “devouring” passion: a feeling that “eats one alive,” but that also might be expressed as wanting to eat someone else alive. Machado and Marques let the actors play with the erotics of such matters in an adroit, questioning manner.

Rachel Kenney, Arturo Soria

Rachel Kenney, Arturo Soria

In the second segment, “The Gutter,” the more exploitative aspects of anthropophagy are displayed when a rather jaded libertine-type played by José Espinosa goes slumming amongst those who will sell whatever it takes to survive. Which might include satisfying a predilection for human flesh. In a capitalist world where we are proud to be consumers and commodities—what other purpose do we serve?—the “naked lunch” style of this segment is pointed, and pulled-off well by Espinosa. It’s the point at which the notion of cannibalism—as the richer or more powerful abusing and taking advantage of the lesser—becomes, indeed, unpalatable. And yet we might take our cue from Montaigne and wonder about the less visible eviscerations that are taking place all the time, to satisfy the jaded appetites of our moneyed class. Moreno’s script plays the scene as mostly a monologue, and yet the exploited figure (Soria), however degraded, invites sympathy. But Espinosa’s character does as well, as any drug addict, at the mercy of his vices, might.

Arturo Soria, José Espinosa

Arturo Soria, José Espinosa

In “Jungle,” Kenney plays an anthropologist or maybe just a journalist—someone investigating the ways of a people who retain a tradition of cannibalism. As a dying remnant of that culture, Jake Lozano lounges in a hammock and tries to impart the views of his culture, even if he feels the context into which he is speaking to be somewhat false. History, we know, is a way of making other people—in the past or in other places—meaningful (and often exploitable) to ourselves. Lozano does a great job of making his character cryptic and self-absorbed but also concerned with what the record—particularly a recording of him singing—will show. And what of Kenney’s observer? Can she accept her interlocutor’s world view far enough to offer him the tribute of consuming some part of him?

Jake Lozano, Rachel Kenney

Jake Lozano, Rachel Kenney

Moreno’s play is strong in the virtue of dialogue and monologue: that speech is a means to enact difference and deliberation. The play, for all its provocative material, feels static—in keeping with the notion of these scenes as “dramatic essays.” Here, all interaction is subservient to theme. There is little relief in the further possibilities of character. The most tendentious presentation is that of “Jungle,” saved by Lozano’s nuanced rendering; the most entertaining is “Hospital,” if only because twists in love stories tends to be the stuff of comedy; “Gutter” is, for obvious reasons, the most unsettling, and cast and directors keep the tone suitably arch.

Not a light night of theater, The Meal feels contemporary both in its opening of questions of taboos and as an uneasy repast in the context of liberal capitalism’s effort to incorporate everything it touches.

 

The Meal: Dramatic Essays on Cannibalism
By Newton Moreno
Translated by Elizabeth Jackson
Directed by Stephanie Machado and Maria Inês Marques

Dramaturg: Nahuel Telleria; Set Designer: Emona Stoykova; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Elli Green; Sound Designer: Kathy Ruvuna; Technical Director: Dashiell Menard; Stage Manager: Alexandra Cadena; Producer: Leandro Zaneti

Cast: José Espinosa; Rachel Kenney; Jake Lozano; Arturo Soria

Yale Cabaret
February 2-4, 2017

What good is sitting all alone in your room?

Preview, Yale Cabaret Season 49, Part II

Generally speaking, February—in New Haven at least—isn’t an easy month to like. The good news is that the Yale Cabaret will be back, as of the 2nd, and there won’t be a “dark week” the entire month. And that means you should schedule accordingly: every weekend from February 2nd through March 2nd there will be a new offering, then, in late March and into April, a final trio of shows, plus the celebrated annual Drag Show at the very end of March.

Only two shows will feature pre-existing plays, which means that the bulk of what’s coming has never been shown or seen before. It’s all new and it’s all happening now, this moment, this season, this town. If the fact that the game has changed hasn’t been visited upon you by circumstantial evidence in and around the country, check out the Cab’s new website and new lobby. Looking forward to the 50th anniversary season of the Yale Cabaret—which began in the 1967-68 school year—the new design incorporates elements of the original poster for the Cabaret coffeehouse back in the day. Meanwhile, Cab 49 is under the same management as in the fall—Artistic Directors, Davina Moss, Kevin Hourigan, Ashley Chang, and Managing Director Steven Koernig—but has got a new lease on life, and a new logo.

First up, Cab 11: The Meal: Dramatic Essays on Cannibalism, is a contemporary Brazilian play by Newton Moreno that recently appeared in Theater magazine in a translation by Elizabeth Jackson. Directed by Stephanie Machado and Maria Inês Marques, the play, say the Cab crew, is “weird and gorgeous and grotesque.” It features three tales of cannibalism, in a sense both “metaphorically and real,” with each of the three scenes—“all love stories, in a way”—giving a different spin to the question of appropriation. The fact of cannibalism as an aspect of certain cultures is involved, as well as the ways in which we feed upon one another emotionally and, perhaps, actually. Each segment twists the possible meanings of ingesting your own species, from the erotic to the exploitative, the transactional to the colonial. February 2-4

Cab 12 features the return of The Satellite Festival, a three-night bundling of various shows in a trio of locations that made its debut in Cabaret season 48. Making use of the Cabaret space, the studio space upstairs in the same building at 217 Park, and the African-American cultural center across the walk-space from the Cab, the Festival is an opportunity for short works and works that highlight unusual technical or musical components, such as virtual reality and live music, or dance and video, to have an audience. There will be two “main events” each night at 7:45 and 10:45, interspersed with other show times to make for 15 events in all, but all able to be viewed on a single pass. There will be participants from other graduate schools at Yale, such as Music and Art, and events like a story slam, a concert for bass drum, a one-act family drama, a take-off on reality TV, a cross between Bluebeard and The Bachelorette with audience participation, and a collage of one-woman shows, among many other events. February 9-11

With a certain timeliness, Cab 13 brings us tales of the French Resistance. Marion Aubert’s Débâcles, translated by Erik Butler and Kimberly Jannarone, is, in keeping with most of the productions directed by former Summer Cabaret Co-Artistic Director, Elizabeth Dinkova, a “dark farce.” The translation was given a staging at the Lark in New York, but this will be the play’s first full American premiere. “Fast-paced,” “absurd,” “intense,” the play takes on the French effort to resist fascism when the country had officially capitulated to Nazi Germany. Sometimes real patriotism is a form of treason, and hidden agendas rule the day. Which is worse, double-think or a double-cross? February 16-18

The Quonsets brings together two new plays by Yale School of Drama playwrights, Alex Lubischer and Majkin Holmquist, for Cab 14. Quonset huts are familiar in farming communities as low-cost, portable, temporary housing used during harvest time. Lubischer, a first-year at YSD, and Holmquist, a second-year, realizing they both hail from “flyover States” of the Midwest, decided that each would write a play that would go together with the other, beginning in Kansas and moving to Nebraska, following the harvest. The two plays share a character, a certain “hyper naturalism,” and, of course, the huts. First-year director Aneesha Kudtarkar brings us this unusual visit to a Red-State America “foreign” to many ensconced in embattled Blue States. February 23-25

The uninterrupted streak of weekly shows ends with Cab 15, Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, a new work by first-year playwright Jeremy O. Harris, directed by third-year director, and former Summer Cabaret Co-Artistic Director, Jesse Rasmussen. Xander is a porn star and “digital celebrity” obsessed with his identity on the internet, and on a first date with Michael, who he met on one of the online date-enabling sites; meanwhile, Xander’s brother Matt, a musician, is trying to find romance with Lena, a girl he just met. This “very contemporary” play, set in Los Angeles, explores the problems of love and intimacy in a world where virtual reality can be more compelling than face-to-face reality. March 2-4

After two dark weeks, the Cabaret returns with Cab 16: The Red Tent, a devised work proposed by first-year actress Sohina Sidhu, as a ritual performance investigating the cultural status of menstruation. Involving first-year actors and other women of color, the play’s title refers to the tradition in some cultures of isolating women during their menstrual period, a space the women mean to claim as their own. Using “poetry and music, movement and magic” the play, to use Audre Lorde’s words, shows “how to take our differences and make them strengths.” March 23-25

One night only, for three shows, the Yale School of Drama’s annual “School of Drag” show takes over the Cabaret. An increasingly hot ticket, the show features an unpredictable array of male and female cross-dressing, dance routines, lip-synching, and costumes to die for. Third-year actor Ricardo Dávila and third-year director Kevin Hourigan direct this fun and frolicsome affront to hetero-normativity. March 31

In April, the first show up is Cab 17, The Other World. Directed by third-year actor Baize Buzan, the play is an adaptation by playwright Charlie O’Malley of the memoir and artworks of queer artist/activist David Wojnarowicz who, in the Reagan era of rampant HIV/AIDS infections, deaths, and mourning, created art to raise awareness. Now, 25 years after his death, Wojnarowicz’s struggle to make art and life work together for social ends is again highly relevant. April 6-8

Cab 18, the final show of the season, is the rather balefully entitled Circling the Drain. Third-year costume designer Cole McCarty adapts the short story collection of that name by the late American author Amanda Davis, each focused on “women on the edge: falling out of love, falling into love, falling off a bridge,” and in many senses “dangling on a precipice.” A passion project, the show is, the Cab crew say, a “passionate and compelling” instance of “what we’re going for” in shaping the Cab’s season 49. April 20-22

Eighteen shows plus the Drag Show. Another packed season for stressful times. The welcoming ambiance of the Cab’s basement theater feels more important than ever, and the shows on offer will no doubt provoke, delight, consternate, and inspire. For info on season passes and individual tickets, consult the Cabaret’s website at cab49.org.

As ever, see you at the Cab!

Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, Steven Koernig

Ashley Chang, Kevin Hourigan, Davina Moss, Steven Koernig

 

Yale Cabaret 49, February-April, 2017

A Quest for Joy

Review of In the Red and Brown Water, Yale Cabaret

The cycle of life as a journey under the influences of various gods is an idea common to many religions. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s mythopoetic play, In the Red and Brown Water, directed by YSD playwright Tori Sampson at Yale Cabaret, puts on the stage orishas from the Yoruba religion to enact a drama centered on a young girl’s coming of age and arrival at a moment of sacrifice or surrender. The play’s grasp of the folkloric quality of these characters, dramatized by the engaging performances of the actors, holds viewers in a world that is both natural and mythic.

Annie Dauber’s impressive set—a porch of a rustic dwelling—imposes a sense of place but also, with the actors seated along the sides of the stage, creates an arena-like space where ritual might be enacted. Sampson’s direction communicates the feel of a folktale enacted by a troupe of actors who play the show for the sake of its communal meaning. McCraney’s device of having actors include stage narrative in their lines adds an element of story-telling that further deepens the air of time-honored actions, as in a myth where events follow a set pattern.

Rear: Kevin Hourigan, Jakeem Powell, Erron Crawford; Foreground: Courtney Jamison, Mose Ingram. Amanda Jahava

Rear: Kevin Hourigan, Jakeem Powell, Erron Crawford; Foreground: Courtney Jamison, Mose Ingram. Amanda Jahava

As both archetypes of elemental qualities, like thunder or air, and personal attributes, like “tireless loyalty,” the orishas are personified in characters in a specific milieu surrounding a Louisianan family. Oya (Moses Ingram), an orisha of the air, is here a teen girl who might become a great track athlete. Her Mamma Moja (Kineta Kunutu), a maternal orisha, hinders her dreams in a traditional way: she expects her daughter to find a man and be fertile. And there are interested local males—boys at first who become men in the course of the tale: Shango (Jonathan Higginbotham) is a kind of walking representation of masculinity, while Ogun (Leland Fowler), a more intellectual version of the masculine, has a stutter and is therefore timid in showing his passion.

Oya (Moses Ingram), Shango (Jonathan Higginbotham)

Oya (Moses Ingram), Shango (Jonathan Higginbotham)

Oya’s own passion—as a runner—gets sidetracked despite a place for her at the state college. That, and the loss of Mamma Moja, precipitates most of the play’s drama, its succession of scenes playing out as the signposts of Oya’s journey. Tied up closely with her story is that of Elegba (Erron Crawford), who we see first as a whining child too fond of candy and watch become something like a wise and androgynous father figure. Comedy in the tale comes from Aunt Elegua, Ogun’s aunt and Oya’s god-mother, played with a campy liveliness by Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, who gives Elegua a knowingness that escapes caricature. Also on hand to be teasing goads to Oya are overtly slinky local females Nia (Amandla Jahava) and Shun (Courtney Jamison), the latter a temptation to Shango while still Oya’s lover. The Egunegun (Jakeem Powell) is a party-loving mixer and O Li Roon (Kevin Hourigan) a ridiculous curmudgeon as store owner.

In the Red and Brown Water resonates as a story about determining the proper course in life to pursue, in hopes of attaining a pure joy. Oya’s strengths make her an engaging heroine, but her passivity opens up possibilities with others in her life as we watch to see who will dominate the tale. The highly sexual dance sequence might lead us to think of the play as a fertility rite in which the struggle to escape biological—and perhaps elemental and spiritual—determinants must be both dramatized and exorcised. In the end, orishas, no doubt, must be true to their essential natures, but humans, as imperfect enactments of divine intentions, suffer from having more than one nature.

 

In the Red and Brown Water
By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Tori Sampson

Assistant Director: Leland Fowler; Dramaturg: Lisa D. Richardson; Set Designer: Annie Dauber; Costume Designer: Mika Eubanks; Lighting Designer: Carolina Ortiz; Sound Designer: Kathy Ruvuna; Projection Designer: Brittany Bland; Technical Director: LT Guorzong; Stage Manager: Olivia Plath; Co-Producers: Lauren E. Banks, Al Heartley

Cast: Erron Crawford, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Leland Fowler, Jonathan Higginbotham, Kevin Hourigan, Moses Ingram, Amandla Jahava, Courtney Jamison, Kineta Kunutu

 

Yale Cabaret
January 12-14, 2017

There Was an Old Woman Who...

Review of Mrs. Galveston, Yale Cabaret

The final play of the first half of Yale Cabaret’s 49th season is an entertaining look at the at- times fraught world of elder care. Mrs. Galveston, by third-year Yale School of Drama playwright Sarah B. Mantell, enjoys some easy laughs at misunderstandings between an old woman and the young people assigned to impose some kind of regimen on her stubborn existence, then develops more interesting narrative devices. These include a big white pop-up book that Mrs. Galveston treats like a precious heirloom and an array of Post-It Notes that a young man’s grandmother berates him with.

An interesting conflict in the play comes from a somewhat surprising correspondence. Jim (George Hampe) visits the elderly Mrs. Galveston (Sydney Lemmon) because a Mr. Sanford has requested she be looked after (though she doesn’t welcome the intrusion), while, at home, Jim is not doing such a good job of taking care of his grandmother, though also refusing any care-givers from the organization both he and his cousin Liz (Aneesha Kudtarkar) work for. The highest-rated caregiver is Mark (Edmund Donovan), but neither Mrs. Galveston nor Jim have any interest in accepting his services. The frustrations Mark faces are expressed comically, and that helps to keep things light. And the irony of Jim’s situation—he’s failing with his own grandmother but succeeding with Mrs. Galveston—opens up the implied theme that, sometimes, families do need professionals, that the familiarity of blood ties can cause more tensions than they ease. While Mrs. Galveston is never quite comfortable with having a stranger in the house, she eventually is pacified by Jim’s ability to concoct a story that goes with the pop-up images in her big white book.

Mrs. Galveston (Sydney Lemmon), Jim (George Hampe) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Mrs. Galveston (Sydney Lemmon), Jim (George Hampe) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

The book, and the scenic design by Claire Marie DeLiso, add elements of charm and visual cohesion to the story. The living room Mrs. Galveston resides in is situated in a charming little house that echoes the paper house in her book. A step down and across a connecting space of paneled floor sits the table festooned with Post-Its where Jim attempts to meet his grandmother’s demands. Both spaces are united with framing posts that situate the action within a homey interior that expands to join both houses.

Mrs. Galveston (Sydney Lemmon), Mark (Edmund Donovan)

Mrs. Galveston (Sydney Lemmon), Mark (Edmund Donovan)

The play, directed by dramaturg Rachel Carpman, is particularly nimble in its transitions and in dialogues that find characters mostly having to feel their way. Mantell’s script registers the caregiver’s ups and downs and confusions, the good intentions that go awry, and, in its sweetly realized conclusion, the comfort of the familiar. Along the way, there are the tensions of dealing with elders as though they were children, of trying to anticipate concerns, of trying to make time in one’s prime of life for a life past its prime, and, in a speech Liz directs at Jim, the fact that, in most families, the care of parents is left to female family members. Mrs. Galveston provides a touching corrective to that perception when we finally meet the mysterious Mr. Sanford (Edmund Donovan).

The neat doubling of the situations means there’s potential for confusion about who Jim really cares for. Playing the role with a kind of nervous distraction, Hampe’s Jim wants all to go well but seems to wish he could be doing something else. Donovan’s Mark is a bit unctuous and we don’t really fault Mrs. Galveston for preferring Jim. Kudtarkar’s Liz seems mostly at a loss—her scene with Mrs. Galveston is the funniest of the attempts to fathom the big white book because the least patient. And, as the chair-hugging Mrs. Galveston, Lemmon plays the title role as a mistress of her detachment, a woman defiantly herself and with a child’s sense of entitlement in deciding what works and what doesn’t.

As a family dramedy, Mrs. Galveston seems well positioned in the season as a reminder of the bonds of home and the allegiance owed the elderly as the holiday visits begin.

 

Mrs. Galveston
By Sarah B. Mantell
Directed by Rachel Carpman

Co-Dramaturg: Davina Moss; Co-Dramaturg: Molly Fitzmaurice; Set Designer: Claire Marie DeLiso; Costume Designer: An-Lin Dauber; Lighting Designer: Samuel Chan Kwan Chi; Sound Designer: Ian Scot; Technical Director: Harry Beauregard; Production Manager: Scott Keith; Stage Manager: Rebekah Heusel; Calling Stage Manager: Paula Clarkson; Co-Producer: Jaime Totti; Co-Producer: Adam J. Frank

Cast: Edmund Donovan; George Hampe; Aneesha Kudtarkar; Sydney Lemmon

Yale Cabaret
December 8-10, 2016

Say What You Think

Review of Kaspar, Yale Cabaret

As a one-man show of a single character pitted against the problem of identity, Peter Handke’s early play Kaspar, translated from the German by Matthew Ward and directed at Yale Cabaret by Ayham Ghraowi, seems at times like a more than usually active Beckett monologue. There’s a similar disconnect from immediate context—no particular where or when but only an abyss lurking around and behind and beneath each statement. The drama is a lengthy grappling with verbalizing, as though repeating a phrase often enough will confer meaning. And as if words are an object to throw against the body’s cage until either the body breaks or the self breaks through.

Kaspar (Josh Goulding) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Kaspar (Josh Goulding) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

On a stage that acts as a cell, Kaspar, played with amazing physical abandon by Josh Goulding, is trying his utmost to articulate a view of himself that would be authentic to his experience. But his main struggle is to make his own experience intelligible. He is tortured or taught—it comes to the same thing—by voices that speak dispassionately and provide instructions and cautions and even bits of wisdom. Kaspar can treat these speakers as oracular or as simply part of the environment, like air or light, or an object to be used or ignored, like a broom.

The culprit of consciousness, for Handke, is language itself as it normalizes the flow of time and being as an interplay between sentences and otherwise inchoate moments. Handke’s text, which makes a virtue of repetition, circles around a single sentence that Kaspar Hauser, the German misfit who inspired the play, was able to speak when he was first discovered, a teen who, he alleged, had lived for most of his life with no human interaction.

The background to Kaspar is germane to the play but not really necessary to viewing it because, in any case, we are forced to interpret how it is that Kaspar can seem to mean what he says and not understand it, simultaneously. Handke can trust to the theatrics of his creation’s mannered grasp of speech to sustain our fascination. Seemingly articulate though not coherent, Kaspar struggles to master his body, objects—such as a chair, a table heaped with printed pages, a broom—and, most naggingly, the relation between the presence in his head and the words he has learned to shape into intelligible if often cryptic sentences.

The repeated sentence, “I want to be a person the way someone else was once,” is Handke and Ward’s variation on the actual Hauser’s single sentence of introduction, "I want to be a calvaryman as my father was." The statement floats through the play like a mantra but also as a claim upon language itself. The speaker announces his condition as a claim based on feeling—“I want”—in which the object “a person” stands for a desired identity—“to be”: “I want to be a person,” but this simple and very complex statement is further modified by a perception of a past state—“the way . . . was once”—that suggests as well the non-identity we all have with earlier selves. The way we might say: “I want to be the person I once was,” though that’s not quite it. For Kaspar, there’s a “someone else” who was a person the way he would like to be, which carries with it a sense of succession, as though saying, “I want to be a man (or a person: both “Mann,” in German) the way, for instance, an ancestor or relation was.” In other words, there’s a number of differing but related intentions embedded in the statement, together with a kind of untranslatable disjunction born of the vagueness of its denotations: “a person,” “the way,” “someone,” “once.” And this array of uncertain objects is brought together by a desire for identity stated by someone for whom the statement is his only identifiable intellectual trait. It’s all he knows, whether or not it actually corresponds to anything he wants or believes. And that, as they say, is the rub.

Brought to us by a quire of dramaturgs—eight are listed in the playbill and includes everyone connected to the production but for its director—Kaspar is a play that drowns in text. Kaspar is almost always talking, whether or not he’s saying something, and the voices speak almost as much; then there are the pages full of writing sharing his cell, and the words cycling on a trio of teleprompters, often distracting the viewer from Goulding as he reads aloud what we can read as well. If we look on, the words of the text enter our consciousness both by vision and hearing, just as they do for Kaspar who hears himself read them. At some points, we may find ourselves trying to articulate to ourselves what it is we think we are hearing.

There are moments when Kaspar seems to be speaking only to himself and other moments when he is proclaiming to us all, and other times when he seems to want desperately to address us and be acknowledged. It’s a fascinating and tiring performance, as Goulding falls about the stage, knocks things over, topples, hurtles, strips, and occasionally performs quirky rhythmic movements as if to an inner tune. His expression is often puzzled or deeply concentrated, and a segment of inarticulate grunts and growls is as comical as a child’s effort to mimic other creatures, or even other humans, can be.

Indeed, Kaspar is, in some ways, a cosmic child, a kind of poetic Id at play in the fields of indeterminate psyche, where he has all of language before him. Though he is not in a joyous state, Kaspar does not seem to be despairing either. Rather, he seems caught up in the solving of an endless puzzle. Mostly frustrated, he seems to exist on the hope that something may become clear—if only he can get past the words in his way, or if only he can find the array of words that will illuminate, in an unprecedented way, what he has in mind.

 

Kaspar
By Peter Handke
Translated by Matthew Ward
Directed by Ayham Ghraowi

Composer: Jiyeon Kim; Dramaturg: Ashley Chang; Dramaturg: Abbey Burgess; Dramaturg: Erin Fleming; Dramaturg: Josh Goulding; Dramaturg: Jiyeon Kim; Dramaturg: Chad Dexter Kinsman; Dramaturg: Ariel Sibert; Dramaturg: Matthew Ward; Lighting Designer: Erin Fleming; Stage Manager: Abbey Burgess; Producer: Chad Dexter Kinsman

Cast: Josh Goulding

Yale Cabaret
December 1-3, 2016

 

 

 

 

Only Collide!

Review of Collisions, Yale Cabaret

Collisions, a collaboration between music, theater and visual projections now playing at the Yale Cabaret, co-directed by Frederick Kennedy and Kevin Hourigan, is a multimedia extravaganza. No two shows will be exactly the same, as the projections and other effects by a team at a tech board in the center of the space respond to what is happening on stage, and the music played live by a four-man band is improvised. It’s the kind of show for which the Cab is uniquely suited, with a range of meanings and sensations happening almost spontaneously.

Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon (photo: Elizabeth Green)

So, the performers are sometimes interpreting music, sometimes being supported by music, sometimes performing a song, and the music is sometimes the main focus, sometimes background, and the projections are sometimes extending or amplifying the stories and sometimes seem to have gone a bit rogue. It’s a wonderful mix of effects and routines and jazz workouts whose effect will be mostly in the eye and ear of the beholder.

The set is a mélange of actual instruments to be played and a kind of electronics dump of obsolete bric-a-brac—a dusty old VHS deck c. 1980 is a treasure. The band—Evan Smith, saxophone and woodwinds, Kevin Patton, guitar, stage right; Frederick Kennedy, drums and percussion, Matt Wigton, bass, stage left—are placed amidst the visual cacophony to create a variety of musical textures that can be at times a hypnotic groove, at other times, celestial sounds, and at times a hot jam.

Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon (photo: Elizabeth Green)

The performers—Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon—are clad in different costumes of white. Buzan has the knit cap, England-Nelson, the baseball cap, Lemmon is hatless. At times they narrate what they’re doing, as in Buzan’s “bit at the podium,” a kind of Ted talk to open the piece. Other times, they wordlessly interact with the music—which can mean expressive slow-mo or very physical jousting with chairs, much of it designed to play with the various ways we might experience “collision”: something hitting something else, an idea meeting an obstruction.

Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon, Baize Buzan (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon, Baize Buzan (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Here and there, dialogues sprout up—one, particularly amusing, has Lemmon as a tensely serious art-maker talking about her collage deconstructions as England-Nelson skeptically quizzes their purpose. At one point, Lemmon sings a song and the others join in, breaking up the jazz score with simple melody and, yes, feelings. A favorite segment for me was England-Nelson leading a meditation class more apt to cause anxieties than allay them (“what’s that, is that the water level rising to engulf us all?”), and Lemmon sounding off in a kind of lecture that skewers some of the pretensions of our particular cultural moment (“how can we make violence safe again?”).

Brontë England-Nelson (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Brontë England-Nelson (photo: Elizabeth Green)

There are a lot of meta moves, where the three are commenting on what it is we’re all experiencing—at one point, as they consult their snapchats or tinders, the camera man at the tech board pans the audience to let us appear in a projected cellphone frame. The interaction between the trio never feels portentous, and they can be remarkably eloquent even when—or especially when—they aren’t saying anything.

Frederick Kennedy (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Frederick Kennedy (photo: Elizabeth Green)

The point of mixing media is in the mixing, generally. Here, one is often struck by the wherewithal to sculpt with sound and image and physical performer. Collisions can be a very immersive or contemplative experience, and, in the best tradition of live performance, it makes you glad you were there.

 

Collisions
Conceived and written by Frederick Kennedy
Developed in collaboration with the entire company
Co-directed by Kevin Hourigan and Frederick Kennedy
Additional text: Jeremy O. Harris
Additional music: Molly Joyce

Choreography: Jake Ryan Lozano, Emily Lutin, Gretchen Wright; Dramaturgy: Ashley Chang, Jeremy O. Harris; Set Design: Choul Lee, John Bondi-Ernoehazy; Costume Design: Cole McCarty; Lighting Design: Elizabeth Green, Krista Smith; Sound Design: Christopher Ross-Ewart, Frederick Kennedy; Assistant Sound Design: Haley Wolfe; Projection Design: Yana Biryukova, Michael Commendatore; Technical Director: Rae Powell; Stage Manager: Paula R. Clarkson; Producer: Rachel Shuey

Cast: Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon

Musicians: Frederick Kennedy, drums/percussion; Kevin Patton, guitar, custom interactive system design; Evan Smith, saxophone/woodwinds; Matt Wigton, bass

Yale Cabaret
November 17-19, 2016

Catch the Cab

Preview, Yale Cabaret: shows 7-10

No, it wasn’t a good week, last week. But this week will be better in at least one way: the Yale Cabaret returns, with the three shows before the winter break and the first show of the new year already named.

The Yale Cabaret lets us see theater students early in their career, working on shows they are passionate about, working to give expression to the many complex themes of our current world, and letting us—the audience—participate in vibrant talent and creativity. This year’s Artistic Directors are Ashley Chang, Davina Moss, Kevin Hourigan, the Managing Director is Steven Koernig, and the Associate Managing Directors are Kathy Li and Sam Linden. Here’s a brief preview of the shows chosen for the next four slots.

First up: Cab 7: Collisions. Proposed by sound design student and free jazz percussionist Fred Kennedy, the show will include some elements seen in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s show, “Envy: the Concert,” namely jazz—featuring Kennedy and a group of musicians—as well as performance pieces, co-directed by  Kennedy and Cab co-artistic director Kevin Hourigan, who also worked with Kennedy in last year’s multidisciplinary performance piece “I’m With You in Rockland.” The notion of “collision” comes from trying to “collide” free jazz—which “abandons composition in favor of collective improvisation”—with narrative and theater performance. Playwright Jeremy O. Harris contributes as well, to provide a performance piece where theater, as developed by the entire company, structures the music. The musicians joining Kennedy are Kevin Patton, guitar and interactive systems design; Evan Smith, sax and woodwinds; Matt Wigton, bass; and they’ll be aided and abetted by a trio of actors: Baize Buzan, Brontë England-Nelson, Sydney Lemmon. The show purports to be a collision of music and performance, with a definite narrative aspect. November 17-19

The following week the Cab is dark as we all drift about trying to find something to be thankful for on our national holiday.

Returning, Cab 8 offers Matthew Ward’s translation of Peter Handke’s play Kaspar, which takes its inspiration from the young adult foundling Kaspar Hauser, subject of a well-received film by Werner Herzog in the 1980s. In this production, the Cab’s graphic designer, Ayham Ghraowi directs dramaturg Josh Goulding—who recently directed Current Location and acted in Styx Songs at the Cab—as Kaspar, a man who grew up without human company and suffers estrangement while being integrated into society. The show features elements of vaudeville, slapstick, physical humor, and—according to Ashley Chang, who has a “heavy hand” in the show—“linguistic torture.” The play will be divorced somewhat from its original context. Think “clown figure assaulted by language.” The doctor who studied the actual Kaspar Hauser remarked that he “seemed to hear without understanding, to see without perceiving . . .“ Sound like anyone you know? December 1-3

Cab 9, the last show of 2016, will be Mrs. Galveston, a new play by third-year playwright Sarah B. Mantell, whose play Tiny was produced in last year’s Langston Hughes Studio Series. In this play, Mantell re-works her earliest play, deliberately re-scripting for her actor-collaborators at the Cab, which include George Hampe and Sydney Lemmon. Mrs. Galveston is an aged woman who one day finds herself visited by Jim, a young man who has been assigned to evaluate her health care needs. At the interview, she determines that he should be her caregiver. The play, directed by dramaturg Rachel Carpman, sounds like a bit of a Harold and Maude tale, as a comedy about an unlikely cross-generational relationship. The play entails themes of adult care and the autonomy of our aging Baby Boomer population, and involves a mysterious big white book. December 8-10

When we all return from seasonal holidays and welcoming in the new year in a January that looks to be joyous indeed, Cab 10 proffers a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, 2007 YSD graduate, 2013 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize winner. In the Red and Brown Water is the second-written play but first in chronology of the Brother/Sister trilogy that includes The Brothers Size (staged at the Cab at the close of the 2013-14 season). Oya is a young woman and a skilled track star under pressure to develop and cash in on her talent, an expectation at odds with her ties to her family and her own romantic interests. As with the others in the series, the play is based on Yoruba myths in which Oya is a goddess of wind and change. The play is directed by third-year playwright Tori Sampson, who co-authored Some Bodies Travel in last year’s Carlotta Festival and wrote This Land was Made for the Langston Hughes Studio Series last year. The production was proposed by Folks, the African-American theater artists collective at the Yale School of Drama. January 12-14

That takes us through Cab 10; the next eight shows will be posted early next year, along with the date of the annual Yale School of Drag show. For a few weeks more, see you at the Cab!

For tickets, passes, donations, menus and show info: www.yalecabaret.org

Yale Cabaret 49
2016-17
217 Park Street

Three on the Street

Review of Thunder Above, Deeps Below, Yale Cabaret

A. Rey Pamatmat’s Thunder Above, Deeps Below plays in some ways like a fairy tale, but what the playwright has in mind, given the title’s reference to Pericles, are the plays, often called “romances,” that Shakespeare wrote later in his career. The possibility of tragedy is present, but a certain saving grace, often beyond the bounds of the merely human, carries the day.

Gil (Bianca Castro), Hector (Ricardo Dávila) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Gil (Bianca Castro), Hector (Ricardo Dávila) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

In Pamatmat’s play, the tragic dimension comes from the hand-to-mouth life on the streets of an unlikely trio: Teresa (Francesca Fernandez McKenzie), sort of the den-mother of the bunch, a Filipina who still mourns the mixed-race child her parents wouldn’t allow her to have; Hector (Ricardo Dávila), a Puerto Rican youth who sells sexual favors on the street and who has become the obsession of Locke, (Jason Land), a married black man; and Gil (Bianca Castro), a transexual who wants to trade her male equipment for female. Together, they’re trying to raise the money for three bus tickets to California, to escape the encroaching cold of another Chicago winter. They hang out near, and sometimes take shelter in, a coffee shop where Marisol (Patricia Fa’asua) waits tables and lends a helping hand when she can. A further device, where Shakespearean romance comes into view, poses James Udom as Perry, a figure from Teresa’s past who seeks his Perdita, so to speak, and imagery of a ghostly boatman (Fa’asua), and, for Gil, the hope that one day her prince will come.

In the Cab production, the play's tone can be hard to pinpoint. That might be deliberate, but for the romance elements to surprise us, the hard scrabble elements have to be convincing. The street characters here are all easily likeable, and that very quality makes their desperation feel a bit like an after-school special about “choices.” The bonds these three feel for each other are best perceived under duress, as in the final show-down in the coffee shop, when Marisol confronts Hector with his past. Other scenes of struggle, such as the love-hate relations between Hector and Locke, are the most vivid aspects of the drama. Also on the plus side is Gil’s big number, providing show-stopping charisma that earns her either an admirer or a stalker (Armando Huipe) whose intentions create further drama.

Teresa (Francesca Fernandez McKenzie), Marisol (Patricia Fa'asua), Hector (Ricardo Dávila) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Teresa (Francesca Fernandez McKenzie), Marisol (Patricia Fa'asua), Hector (Ricardo Dávila) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Director Sebastian Arboleda, working with non-actors in some key roles, makes the most of the play’s potential for open staging. The cast move easily between imagined street, imagined lakeside, imagined coffee shop, imagined swanky apartment; the main set element, a large, transparent curtain at the back, is used effectively to set off some incidents from the immediate action. One also has the sense that, to make this full-length play fit a Cab show’s running time, certain cuts have perhaps thinned-out elements of characterization that might help us inhabit this world more fully. Pamatmat’s text can be rather lyrical, and that quality needs a certain pacing to be developed fully.

Teresa (Francesca Fernandez McKenzie), Gil (Bianca Castro) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Teresa (Francesca Fernandez McKenzie), Gil (Bianca Castro) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

A compelling element here is that the production combines impersonation and authenticity. Dávila, always a very capable actor, makes us see Hector as the changeable teen he is, while Castro is not an actor playing a transgender character—she is herself a trans performer and becomes Gil for the play’s purposes. Her role asks her to be acutely discerning, sympathetic, quick-witted, and dreamy, by turns. It’s a tall order. As Teresa, McKenzie frowns and scowls like a harried mother of wayward children, though her pay-off scene at the end is conveyed with winning joy.

A complicated stab at giving us a sense of lives lived on the edge, while also buttressing such lives with deliberate romance elements, Thunder Above, Deeps Below is best at registering the mystery of friendship.

 

Thunder Above, Deeps Below
By A. Rey Pamatmat
Directed by Sebastian Arboleda

Assistant Director: Jamie Farkas; Dramaturg: Amauta Marston-Firmino; Set Designer: Riw Rakklulchon; Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Green; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Sound Designer: Tye Hunt Fitzgerald; Fight Choreographer: Jonathan Higginbotham; Technical Director: Matt Davis; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson; Producer: Trent Anderson

Cast: Bianca Castro, Patricia Fa’asua, Jason Land, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Armando Huipe, Ricardo Dávila, James Udom

Yale Cabaret
November 3-5, 2016

Disaster Management

Review of Current Location, Yale Cabaret

When you hear a rumor of unusual, threatening occurrences, how do you react? Do you buy into the speaker’s sense of panic? Do you try to distance yourself from the situation, perhaps undermine the report’s veracity?

Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada’s Current Location—translated by Aya Ogawa and directed by Josh Goulding at Yale Cabaret—implies that, in today’s world, we are all under threat in a generalized way: climate change, pollution, military interventions, the testing of weapons and chemicals we know nothing about. We might say that our ability to soldier own, despite our intuited sense of how toxic is our environment—not least the one the media creates—is our lives' main dramatic situation. The phrase used as the play’s title echoes its general use in describing a threat—whether a killer on the loose or a natural disaster. Everyone is concerned about a threat’s “current location,” so as to differentiate those people “there” from us, “here.”

the cast of Current Location (photo: Elizabeth Green)

the cast of Current Location (photo: Elizabeth Green)

In Okada’s play, the sense of generic threat we all live with, at some level, becomes real for a group of women in a village where everyone sort of knows everyone else. Which means, ostensibly, there should be some solidarity in how they react to odd events—a glowing blue cloud, a remarkable drop in the lake’s water level, unusual behavior among other villagers—and yet. . . .

As the play goes on we mainly encounter what may be called different coping mechanisms. Cassie (Molly Fitzmaurice) is the most panicky, but then she’s the one who saw that huge, glowing cloud, while out with her boyfriend who, to add to her stress, wanted to view the phenomenon “romantically.” Like Cassie, Hana (Bianca Boragi), also freaking out, comes to two sisters, Irina (Chiara Klein) and Katrina (Emily Reeder) for advice. The sisters are presented as the bedrock dispensers of practical viewpoints. They are not easily swayed to hysterical outbursts, evincing a patient sense of the plausible and the practical, what is usually called, in sci-fi or horror movies, “a logical explanation.” Of the two, Irina seems more sympathetic; Katrina, more imperious and flinty. Eunice (Eunice Amo), another neighbor, expresses her gratitude for the kinds of heart-to-hearts the sisters provide.

Katrina (Emily Reeder), Hana (Bianca Boragi), Irina (Chiara Klein) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Katrina (Emily Reeder), Hana (Bianca Boragi), Irina (Chiara Klein) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Whether there is an explanation or not is something that Okada keeps us guessing about. And so, as viewers, our sense of implication becomes a matter of how we react to such provocations. Are the sisters so rational we want to scream? Is screaming Cassie or Hana so extreme we want to stifle her? How do we get to the truth? And, even if we know the truth, how should we act on it?

One way to deal with what we don’t understand, Okada suggests, with a sense of satire, is to satirize it. Maya (Amber Koonce) and Audrey (Caitlin Crombleholme) attempt to put on a play that mimics the kind of dread and dread-defeating rationales to which all the characters are susceptible. But it proves too much for Cassie. Art is no refuge, if in fact the entire village and its environs are contaminated. (Okada wrote the play in the wake of the 2011 nuclear reactor crisis in Japan, following the Tohoku earthquake, so that the play within the play is very much apt to the author’s situation in writing Current Location.)

Audrey (Caitlin Crombleholme), Maya (Amber Koonce) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Audrey (Caitlin Crombleholme), Maya (Amber Koonce) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

The Cab’s staging takes place in the round, the set itself consisting of two chairs that face each other as on a talk show. The actors open and close the play seated amidst the audience, which of course has the effect of including us in “the village.” In fact, the way in which the action includes the audience is much to the point here. Goulding’s cast make us feel their discomfort; they aren’t acting so much as reacting, and, it’s implied, how can we remain so detached when lives are at stake? With an all-female cast, the play deliberately avoids the presentation of males in authoritative roles, so that our sense of the crisis is filtered entirely through how these women speak to each other.

In the middle of the play or thereabouts an act of violence perpetrated by Katrina is staged with a kind of matter-of-fact solidarity by the others (except Irina). It’s not a do-or-die moment, where a definite threat must be suppressed, and the act feels almost ritualistic, a kind of group mind enactment we are suddenly complicit with. As with the final imagery of the play, we are asked: are you in or out—on the ship looking back at the deluded fools who remain behind, or, secure in the only world you’ve ever known, looking on at deluded fools who try to escape their own fears?

Current Location is a thought-provoking play, a stab into the complacency of the onlooker, an effort to suggest that catharsis should occur in real life. This production’s immediacy and lack of distancing helps make the play’s point.

 

Current Location
By Toshiki Okada
Translated by Aya Ogawa
Directed by Josh Goulding

Composer: Molly Joyce; Music Director: Chiara Klein; Dramaturg: Kari Olmon; Set Designer: Joo Hyun Kim; Lighting Designer: Erin Fleming; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Sound Designer: Megumi Katayama; Fight Director: Michael Commendatore; Stage Manager: John Carlin; Technical Director: Brian Pacelli; Assistant Technical Director: Jenna Heo; Producer: Chad Dexter Kinsman

Cast: Eunice Amo, Bianca Boragi, Caitlin Crombleholme, Molly Fitzmaurice, Chiara Klein, Amber Koonce, Emily Reeder

Yale Cabaret
October 27-29, 2016

Next up at the Cabaret this week:  Thunder Above, Deeps Below, by Yale School of Drama MFA and celebrated playwright A. Rey Pamatmat, directed by third-year actor Sebastian Arboleda, who also directed last’s season’s intriguing Cloud Tectonics, which also featured elements of magical realism, as does Pamatmat’s play. As the last play this season to be staged before the 2016 election, Thunder Above, Deeps Below asks us to look at the “quintessentially American lives” of characters who are “disenfranchised, queer, trans, or immigrants.” November 3-5.

Suffer in Silence

Review of The Slow Sound of Snow, Yale Cabaret

A family huddled together in their home, fearing to make a sound. Are they in hiding from oppressive forces? Yes, but in The Slow Sound of Snow, adapted by Jaber Ramezani and Payam Saeedi from Turkish playwright Tuncer Cücenoğlu’s The Avalanche, directed by second-year director Shadi Ghaheri at Yale Cabaret, the force of oppression is the threat of avalanche for these mountain dwellers.

Yashar (Courtney Jamison), Sayrash (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Yashar (Courtney Jamison), Sayrash (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

As the play unfolds, almost in slow motion at times, in a silence so pervasive the breaths of the characters are quite audible in Tye Hunt Fitzgerald’s arresting sound design, its action is intense and hypnotic. Yashar (Courtney Jamison), a pregnant woman, lies on the floor in an abode shared with her husband Talaz (James Udom), her father-in-law, Eli Arkha (Seta Wainiqolo), and his mother Sayrash (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy). The concern of the entire family is when her child will be born. In this country, births are only permitted in the non-winter months, which number at most two or three. The sound of giving birth and the cries of the baby, the folk here believe, will bring on an inevitable avalanche.

The play’s folkloric quality is enhanced by the visitation of a young girl (Stefani Kuo) who flits in and speaks loudly about herself, rattling on into the other characters’ oppressed silence. Her manner is so different from theirs, her role in all this seems questionable. And Kuo doubles as an odd talismanic figure, with a wolf’s head, carrying a white suitcase that, we’re told, Eli Arkha’s wife took with her when she left. Leaving, in what are apparently the trackless wastes of winter in this locality, is deemed “madness.” What isn’t considered madness, in a kind of Shirley Jackson manner, is burying pregnant women alive or smothering them so they don’t give birth during winter. Like a “just so” story or myth or folktale, the situation, in Ramezani and Saeedi’s telling, must be accepted. The more remarkable aspect of the play isn’t in “the set up” per se, but in how it is conveyed.

The logic of the actions is left for us to intuit. It's the relations between the characters, even when almost wordless, that are vivid and persistent. The actors playing the family are uniformly excellent, keeping the situation close to its existential core. The weariness in Crowe-Legacy’s every move; the furtive guilt of Udom’s Talaz, who knows it's his fault his wife will give birth in the interdicted season; the intensity of Wainiqolo’s patriarch who seems so burdened by life, his every move and thought feels constricted; the deep, unspoken misery of Jamison’s Yashar, a woman who should be happy and who seems the most burdened of all. Late in the play, a struggle between the two men and a simultaneous suppression of the younger woman by the elder seem not only matters of life or death but a writhing battle of the life force against an unbearable repression (kudos to fight choreographer Jonathan Higginbotham).

Eli Arkha (Seta Wainiqolo), Talaz (James Udom), Sayrash (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), Yashar (Courtney Jamison) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Eli Arkha (Seta Wainiqolo), Talaz (James Udom), Sayrash (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), Yashar (Courtney Jamison) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

What audiences might find in this tale, beyond some vague notion of what it’s like to live in mountainous wastes, is left open-ended by the play’s rendering. Each character is oddly moving, an exhibit of humanity circumscribed by extremely limited bounds, and each is put across as an actual fact. A telling of the story could seem parable-like; Ghaheri’s staging of the tale, with actors fully inhabiting these roles, is a spellbinding glimpse into that abyss where the living choose to preserve their own lives at whatever cost.

Talaz (James Udom) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Talaz (James Udom) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Lighting, sets, costumes, all help create a believable world. And many elements in the telling—the rumble of a possible avalanche, the sound of a baby crying, the musical instrument that Talaz threatens at one point to strum, the visiting girl’s ululation, the dripping of a carcass hung up to dry, the sweet cooing of Talaz and Yashar, Eli Arkha’s attempt to bond with his son by talking of the local circumciser, Sayrash’s long-suffering face, the surreal wolf in a skirt with a suitcase—add up to a fully wrought and fascinating night of theater, not soon forgotten.

 

The Slow Sound of Snow
By Jaber Ramezani and Payam Saeedi, adapted from The Avalanche by Tuncer Cücenoğlu
Directed and translated by Shadi Ghaheri

Dramaturg: Ariel Sibert; Set Designers: An-Lin Dauber and Stephanie Cohen; Lighting Designer: Carolina Ortiz; Costume Designer: Sophia Choi; Sound Designer: Tye Hunt Fitzgerald; Fight Choreographer: Jonathan Higginbotham; Props Master: Michael Schermann; Stage Manager: Michael Schermann; Producers: Trent Anderson and Armando Huipe

Cast: Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Courtney Jamison, Stefani Kuo, James Udom, Seta Wainiqolo

Yale Cabaret
October 13-15, 2016

The Cabaret is dark this week, then returns October 27-29, with Current Location, by Toshiki Okada, directed by Josh Goulding, inspired by Japan's attempts to deal with a nuclear disaster in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

Represent!

Review of Caught, Yale Cabaret

Playwright Christopher Chen’s Caught plays like a behind-the-scenes look at conceptual art, while at the same time positioning itself as an effort to “catch” the current political climate concerning race and art. In formulating that sentence I found myself cutting-off certain possible phrases, in the spirit of Wang Min, the artist played by Ashley Chang, who at one point launches into the rhetoric of calculated intellectual subterfuge: it’s not about “role” or “staging,” it’s not about “story,” and, yes, all stories are lies, or, if you like, possible versions of the truth. Why do we need a conceptual language of pre-digested terms? This isn’t Fox News.

What Caught does best is create what is often called “mise en abyme,” that tricky territory where an image mirrors itself, or a literary work reflects on its own composition, or, as here, scenes which seem to be “happening”—in some fictive version of our world—are actually happening in an actual version of the play we’re watching. Or, more properly, the play and the actors playing its characters are often playing with the level of reality we should engage with. The deliberate disorientation begins with turning—wonderfully successfully—the Cab space into an art gallery, complete with images that capture the alliance of art and commodity, commenting on art’s commercial, “productlike” existence, while also gesturing to one of the big topics of our time: China’s effect on the global economy and on the U.S. dominance of the latter. As such, the show is remarkably timely the very month that the yuan has joined the International Monetary Fund as a reserve currency.

Lin Bo (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Lin Bo (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

What’s that have to do with art and theater? Deep in the “process” of this play, we might say, is concern about the artist’s relation to capitalist and media “appropriation,” as well as to the semiotic system that treats racial distinctions as the basis for identity tagging. Lin Bo, the artist/brand enacted by Eston Fung, begins what is billed as a “gallery talk” by talking about his incarceration at the hands of the Chinese authorities. He speaks to us—Americans—as an example of a dissident artist finding, in the land of social and artistic freedom, a kind of new age vindication. He’s instantly a hero, his art a provocation that lets us feel good about ourselves.

No sooner do we accept the horrors of his imprisonment and his gratifying release into an art world eager to receive his conceptual performance pieces that involve the internet in virtual protest gatherings that never take place, then an editor (Steven Lee Johnson) and a writer (Anna Crivelli) at The New Yorker, once disposed to coddle Lin Bo, begin to question his facts, à la, on This American Life, Mike Daisey’s apology for distorted facts in his theater monologue about working conditions at Apple. Armed with the kind of fact check so prevalent in our digital age—for evidence of verbal imagery or details lifted from other sources—the interrogation becomes even more brutal than the questioning Lin Bo told us he received in China. In other words, be a dissident artist all you want and question political reality, racial identity, and conceptual cliché, but don’t fuck with the facts. The scene between Fung, Johnson, and Crivelli is very well-played and structured, and, with the gallery talk, creates an amusing and wry commentary on “the discourse” surrounding the liberal championing of art.

Editor (Steven Lee Johnson), Author (Anna Crivelli), Artist (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Editor (Steven Lee Johnson), Author (Anna Crivelli), Artist (Eston Fung) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

But Chen’s play—directed with skilled pacing by Lynda Paul—doesn’t stop there. We next enter into a televised talk between an art critic played by Elizabeth Harnett and Wang Min (Ashley Chang). In their increasingly tense discussion, Wang Min, ostensibly the author of the play we just saw, attempts to disabuse her interlocutor of every dearly held expectation about what her art is trying to say and how it should be received. Lots of terms get tossed around in this very funny scene, but one thing Wang Min (and, behind her, Christopher Chen) never gets into is the reason for the focus on facts in the interrogation of Daisey and Lin Bo and other such artist provocateurs: our legal system is based on case histories, and every case has to maintain a strictly conceived regard for the facts, even if we don’t really believe it’s possible to ever “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” “Artistic license” is just a figure of speech; there is no authority capable of issuing or revoking such a license. Here and there, Min’s naivete becomes its own mise en abyme, a mirroring of the role media—and all art is a medium, theater as well—plays in trying to construct plausible versions of things that happened or might happen or could have happened. Mostly to see what it can get away with, in my view.

Interviewer (Elizabeth Harnett), Wang Min (Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Interviewer (Elizabeth Harnett), Wang Min (Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Eventually we get what might be called a reflection on “process” itself as the practitioners of conceptual art—or theater—might experience it, particularly when the creative partners played here by Fung and Chang were simultaneously—unbeknownst to both—lovers to the same master/mentor. The wryness of this segment opens up the slippery nature of not only emotional relationships, but also the vacillating commitment to one method or another that every artistic career undergoes. The point, for such, is to “capture” what’s happening when it’s happening.

Art partners (Eston Fung, Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Art partners (Eston Fung, Ashley Chang) (photo: Elizabeth Green)

Chen’s play catches its audience up in what is often called “the problematic” of art itself in its double jeopardy of being “tried” simultaneously in the not dissimilar but not identical courts of fact and fiction, or art and actuality. As a stimulating and entertaining treatment of the conflation, Caught, in this sharp enactment at the Yale Cabaret, catches its moment off-guard.

 

Caught
By Christopher Chen
Directed by Lynda Paul

Assistant Director: Francesca Fernandez McKenzie; Set Designer: Joo Kim; Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth Antunano and Sophia Choi; Lighting Designer: Caroline Ortiz; Sound Designer: Fan Zhang; Projections Designer: Adam O’Brien; Stage Manager: Paula R. Clarkson; Technical Directors: Harry Beauregard and Michael Hsu; Producer: Kathy Li

Cast: Ashley Chang, Anna Crivelli, Eston Fung, Elizabeth Harnett, Steven Lee Johnson

Yale Cabaret
October 6-8, 2016

You Say You Want a Revolution

Review of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Yale Cabaret

Billed as a play not “well behaved,” Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. at Yale Cabaret, as directed by Jessica Rizzo with a cast of 12, behaves like a series of skits upon a theme: to revolutionize use of language and situational expectations. Each skit features a confrontation, in which characters—all, whether male or female, played here by women (with one exception)—address, more or less indirectly, a free-floating concept. The concept, we might say, is the unnamed elephant in the room, hovering like the array of pneumatic animals and toys that makes up the set. The elephant can be variously named—sexism, feminism, gender bias—but none of the terms do the amorphous creature full justice. And therein lies both frustration and courage.

The cast of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

The cast of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

It takes courage to articulate what’s at stake in one’s dissatisfaction, and the problem of trying to compel understanding in others invites frustration. Birch’s dialogues run along lines that could be painfully raw if not for a certain manic undertone that most of the performers share. That’s not to say that all strike the same note, but rather than an overall tone of baring and sharing drives the show forward until it more or less explodes, then subsides in a kind of post-orgasmic clarity and depression.

The tone of a suppressed hilarity rising to the surface begins with the show’s amazing opening dialogue in which Nientara Anderson as, ostensibly, a man, and Mara Valderrama Guerra attempt to articulate the better-left-unspoken language of sex. And therein lies their problem. How do males and females think about sex, what vocabulary is accepted, permitted, arousing, disgusting, and so on? Like good sex, one assumes, it’s all a matter of intuition. Yeah, but. The dialogue plays out with increasing fervor until Anderson is cowering and broken and Guerra blissful in her self-absorption. You can only hope the pair work it out somehow.

Asu Erden, Flo Low (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

Asu Erden, Flo Low (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

In the scenes that follow, two or three speakers try to find some common ground for the sake of communication, and Birch is very keen at showing how people having trouble communicating communicates in a big way. There’s Ariel Sibert who is trying to graciously—and anxiously—articulate her problems with Franci Virgili asking her to be his wife (she’ll become “chattel” or a means to lower his income tax), using a very wry analogy; there’s Asu Erden trying, not so graciously and not at all anxiously, to articulate to her supervisor, Flo Low, why she just doesn’t want to work on Mondays and can’t see a “work bar” as a “real thing”; there’s Ashley Chang and Emily Reeder as vigilant supermarket employees who try to be understanding while nearly going postal at Shadi Ghaheri as a woman who seems to have been masturbating with watermelons in an aisle of the store (Birch likes to keep references to watermelons, potatoes, bluebells, and cheese circulating through the text); and there’s Aneesha Kudtarkar as a mother and grandmother who denies she gave birth or has any descendants while Anderson, as her increasingly distraught offspring, tries to get inside her head while dealing with a daughter (Jiyeon Kim) who can’t seem to function. The open-ended terms in which these scenes can be played and interpreted is much the point. Here, the series begins comical and gets increasingly tense and dysfunctional as we go.

Nientara Anderson (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

Nientara Anderson (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

The explosion of the entire cast beating on the inflatables while various mini scenarios get sounded—beginning with Guerra stating both proudly and plaintively that porn never arouses her—plays like a psychiatric session that encourages abusing toys as some kind of compensation or release. It’s a satisfying anarchic free-for-all, well choreographed though not well behaved.

Jiyeon Kim, Ariel Sibert (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

Jiyeon Kim, Ariel Sibert (Photo: Elizabeth Green)

At various times in the show, projections of Mao-like slogans blare across the background to exhort changing the terms of work or sex or procreation. Between some of the scenes, composer Kim adds some vocalizing and, during the supermarket scene, a musical track accompanies the prone woman’s rant about trying to be wet and open so as not to be “invaded,” about reducing the border between her body and the world. The music becomes a striking presence, then subsides, leaving Chang to venture “I don’t know what happens now.”

Chang gets the last word at the end of the play as well, speaking up as at least four of the other women begin to plan a feminine utopia. Her comment sounds a deeply pessimistic note that seems to follow on Sibert’s musing that “the thought”—revolution, one supposes—is not enough. Which may be a way of anticipating the criticism that sounding off in plays may not really change anything, whether in the relations between the sexes or in the relations of production or of reproduction, or of viewer to viewed.

The play’s title seems to suggest as much with those definite full-stops. Revolt, followed by revolt again. Repeat as needed.

 

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
By Alice Birch
Directed by Jessica Rizzo

Composer: Jiyeon Kim; Dramaturg: Ilinca Todorut; Set Designer: An-Lin Dauber; Costume Designer: Mika Eubanks; Lighting Designer: Samuel Chan Kwan Chi; Sound Designer: Christopher Ross-Ewart; Projections Designer: Asad Pervaiz; Stage Manager: Alexandra Cadena; Producers: Rachel Shuey and Caitlin Crombleholme

Cast: Nientara Anderson, Ashley Chang, Asu Erden, Shadi Ghaheri, Mara Valderrama Guerra, Jeremy O. Harris, Jiyeon Kim, Aneesha Kudtarkar, Flo Low, Emily Reeder, Ariel Sibert, Franci Virgili

Yale Cabaret
September 22-24, 2016