Yale Summer Cabaret Verano

Power Play

Review of The Conduct of Life, Yale Summer Cabaret

Dysfunction reigns in María Irene Fornés’ The Conduct of Life, continuing at the Yale Summer Cabaret tonight through Saturday, directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez. Fornés’ plays have a mysterious quality and a fascinating rhythm that works best in intimate settings, which makes the Cabaret a good place to see this provocative play.

Orlando (John Evans Reese) carrying Nena (Amandla Jahava) in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s production of María Irene Fornés’  The Conduct of Life  (Photos courtesy of Yale Summer Cabaret)

Orlando (John Evans Reese) carrying Nena (Amandla Jahava) in the Yale Summer Cabaret’s production of María Irene Fornés’ The Conduct of Life (Photos courtesy of Yale Summer Cabaret)

The dysfunction is political, not only the naked bid for power in an unnamed country ruled by a military dictatorship, but, more directly, domestic, in the sexual politics of the household where a lieutenant named Orlando (John Evans Reese) lords it over his well-intentioned wife Leticia (Juliana Martinez). They have a friend in fellow officer Alejo (Devin White) who tends to laugh appropriately at Orlando’s sallies, while retaining, perhaps, more soul than Orlando. And Leticia is attended by a maid, Olympia (Nefesh Cordero Pino), who seems to stand as an emblem of the simple folk and is both an accomplice of Orlando and a confidante to Leticia.

Olympia (Nefesh Cordero Pino), Leticia (Juliana Martinez)

Olympia (Nefesh Cordero Pino), Leticia (Juliana Martinez)

At first, the play might seem to offer a Chekhovian exploration of boredom, ambition and humiliation, but, importantly, there’s also Nena (Amandla Jahava), a young girl kidnapped by Orlando and held prisoner in a warehouse and later in the couple’s basement. The glimpses of rape and torture we get through Christopher Evans’ projections are harrowing, as if we were watching arty surveillance footage, but nothing we see quite equals in discomfort the sound of Jahava’s distraught whimpers and sobs. It’s unnerving.

Orlando, who opens the play doing calisthenics and giving himself motivational advice on how to climb higher among the brass, becomes an interrogator. In an early dialogue with Alejo, about a prisoner who died under questioning, Orlando prides himself on his brutal lack of sympathy. He seems the perfect man for the job, except perhaps too indifferent to outcomes. In other words, there are standards, even in dehumanizing tactics, and Orlando may be his own worst enemy. We get a fuller sense of his view of himself when we see him interact with poor, frightened Nena, a girl he picked up and forced himself on. It’s his need for her that drives Orlando, a passion for dominance that also dominates him.

Orlando (John Evans Reese), Alejo (Devin White)

Orlando (John Evans Reese), Alejo (Devin White)

The triangle between Orlando, Leticia and Nena is where Fornés’ interests lie, to let us see glimpses of darkly sadistic realizations of a family dynamic and to show us the powers that be and the powerless. In the latter view, Leticia is of interest as not quite either. She’s not the equal of Orlando, either politically or in terms of physical strength or cunning, nor is she as powerless as Nena is. An amazing scene late in the play comes when Nena and Olympia, who takes pity on the prisoner as well as showing a vicarious interest in her odd life, are at the table and are joined by Leticia, who asks “what are we talking about?” There sits wife, prisoner, and maid, and Fornés implies they might all easily be figures for the role of Woman in patriarchal society.

Leticia (Juliana Martinez)

Leticia (Juliana Martinez)

And yet, in director’s Ybañez hands, the play never veers into outright allegory or satire. The sure-handed naturalism of the approach is greatly abetted by the way these actors—all current students at the Yale School of Drama but for Jahava, a recent graduate—inhabit their roles.

As Orlando, John Evans Reese brings a boyishness to the role that completely suits the small-time tyrant. He’s impetuous, sensitive of his dignity, needy, and erratic. As Alejo, Devin White has a cheery cynicism but late in the play shows more character. Juliana Martinez’s Leticia is a minor dame who might like to be a grande dame, helping the poor and trying to avoid the implications of her lifestyle. She might be seen as vapid, but Martinez brings a sullen gravitas to Leticia that makes her intriguing. Nefesh Cordero Pino plays Olympia with the knowing earthiness of those who have no illusions about what is necessary to get along in the world of their social superiors. And Amandla Jahava’s Nena is the heart of the play: the child as Christ, a girl who has introjected the selflessness of the sacrificial victim willing to suffer for others. Her views come out, in Jahava’s wonderfully fresh performance, as not at all deluded or debased.

Nena (Amandla Jahava), Olympia (Nefesh Cordero Pino)

Nena (Amandla Jahava), Olympia (Nefesh Cordero Pino)

The stage is a long marble-looking plinth stretching into a space near the Exit door that acts as the basement, foregrounding the couple’s house with a table and chairs and a phone-stand as minimal furnishings. The warehouse space is provided by videos so that we’re unaware of Nena’s predicament when they’re turned off, unlike other productions where the prisoner is visible throughout.

Told in short vignettes with blackouts, Fornés play maintains a somewhat arch tone toward the lives it asks us to contemplate. We don’t really settle in as we would with a more continuous structure, and that’s deliberate—to keep us guessing. The force of the situations propels the drama to its violent conclusion in this gripping play, but one senses that Fornés’ script would reward a slightly more quizzical rendering.

 

The Conduct of Life
By María Irene Fornés
Directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Scenic Designer: Stephanie Cohen; Costume Designer: Alicia J. Austin; Lighting Designer: Daphne Agosin Orellana; Sound Designer: Bailey Trierweiler; Projections Designer: Christopher Evans; Dramaturg: Sophie Greenspan; Stage Manager: Amanda Luke; Intimacy Consultant: Sam Tirrell

Ensemble: Nefesh Cordero Pino, Amandla Jahava, Juliana Martinez, John Evans Reese, Devin White

Yale Summer Cabaret
June 21-29, 2019

Conducting "The Conduct of Life"

Preview of The Conduct of Life, Yale Summer Cabaret

The second show of the Yale Summer Cabaret’s Verano season opens tonight. The Conduct of Life, written by María Irene Fornés, was first produced in 1985. Fornés, who died last year, was one of the foremost avant-garde U.S. playwrights of her time. Jecamiah M. Ybañez, a Co-Artistic Director of this year’s Summer Cabaret and a 2019 MFA of the Yale School of Drama, directs. For Ybañez, who admits being drawn to “gritty material,” one of the attractions of doing the play at this time comes from its poetic handling of political questions. 

As Ybañez sees it, we, as a culture, are “more educated, knowledgeable, and aware” than ever before. We have so much information easily available, but “the question becomes: how do we behave? How do we move forward—do we act on what we know or ignore it? How do we respond to the inequalities in our society?” Fornés play, as the title suggests, is about how we conduct our lives—whether we “blatantly or subversively” take action.

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Like Martin Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, which was Ybañez’s thesis show at YSD last winter, The Conduct of Life takes place in a “nondescript Latin American country under a military dictator.” At the time the play was written, the events of the play could be in “almost any of a number of Latin American countries,” Ybañez said. Indeed, Fornés’ play, in focusing on the domestic life of a couple whose husband, a military officer, is attempting to rise in political power, recalls a couple in Seven Spots where the brutality of military service during a civil war impacts a soldier’s relation to his wife. Fornés’ play more directly confronts “the obsession with power” on the part of a military man in a corrupt system, Ybañez said. Conduct depicts acts of violence “in a specific context,” where scenes of “child abduction, sexual assault, and interrogation” show the impact of abusive power on “othered bodies.” Ybañez mentioned the audience advisory on the Summer Cab’s website: “This production contains depictions of sexual violence, disturbing and explicit images and audio, coarse language, and simulated gunshots.”

For Ybañez, the attractions of the play are twofold. He sees the play as “a thriller” where “information is withheld.” The audience has to react to the imperfect evidence Fornés provides within a context of political unrest and violence. The typical element of the thriller—that secrets will come to light—is complicated by Fornés’ method. Fornés’ earliest influence as a dramatist was a production of Beckett’s En attendant Godot she saw in Paris. At the time she was a painter who had studied with the abstract theorist and artist Hans Hoffmann. In Conduct, Fornés uses an avant-garde form of nineteen vignettes, some too short to be considered individual scenes, where the narrative connections are not always clear, so that viewers must infer the particular connotations of what they see.

Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Jecamiah M. Ybañez

The play has a cast of five, all of whom have done memorable work at the term-time Cabaret. Orlando (John Evans Reese) is a ruthless man married to Letitia (Juliana Aiden Martínez), who speaks with some social conscience. Orlando’s friend, Alejo, is played by Devin White and Letitia’s maid, Olimpia, by Nefesh Cordero Pino (the only cast member also seen in Bakkhai, the season opener). Amandla Jahava, who graduated from YSD in May and worked on several projects at the Cabaret last season, returns to play Nena, a child Orlando has kidnapped. Outside the house in which the action takes place, Ybañez said, the government is trying to obtain absolute power over its people.

In working with his cast, Ybañez has been concentrating on the rhythm and the tempo of the vignettes. Each has “a time signature,” he said, and it is necessary to “feel the shift” in a scene. Fornés eschews naturalistic dialogue, preferring to let characters speak in ways that suggest unspoken thoughts. Her theatrical palette includes Theater of the Absurd and the Brechtian effort to alienate audiences from naturalistic comforts for the sake of political effect. Her style and intentions are mercurial and make for challenging theater.

“There’s no neat tie-up,” Ybañez said of the play’s conclusion, but he stressed how the play suggests that even the powerless “have a certain agency,” and that even victims of unjust systems, Fornés indicates through Nena, must decide how “to live each day the best way possible.” The notion that even those who perpetrate criminal violence may be in pain is one that Fornés is able to bring to light through the tensions between her characters. In a time when we find polarized accusations of evil on each side of our political divides, Fornés’ play may have a resonance relevant to how we might conduct ourselves differently.

 

The Conduct of Life
By María Irene Fornés
Directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Yale Summer Cabaret Verano
June 21-29, 2019

For tickets and information regarding showtimes and dining, go here.

Sport for the Gods

Review of Bakkhai, Yale Summer Cabaret

The first show of Yale Summer Cabaret’s Verano season has come and gone. The Summer Cab’s Co-Artistic Director Danilo Gambini, with a cast of six female actors, delivered a sexy and scary and funny and unsettling version of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy Bakkhai as translated by preeminent poet Anne Carson. As a kickoff to the Summer Cab season one might say the play puts us on alert that theater’s seductions come at a peril. 

Dionysos (Sarah Lyddan) and the Bakkhai (top to bottom: Zoe Mann, Nefesh Cordero Pino, Anula Navlekar) (Photos courtesy of Danilo Gambini)

Dionysos (Sarah Lyddan) and the Bakkhai (top to bottom: Zoe Mann, Nefesh Cordero Pino, Anula Navlekar) (Photos courtesy of Danilo Gambini)

The play has the temerity to put the god—or is that pseudo-god?—Dionysos (Sarah Lyddan) onstage and lets him get quizzed and dismissed by Thebes’ king Pentheus (Eli Pauley, in the getup of a military dictator) with the kind of disdain a police chief might aim at a local troublemaker. And Dionysus does make trouble. The women of Thebes—Malia West, Nefesh Cordero Pino, Anula Navlekar and Zoe Mann as an aroused chorus in negligees—are only too ready to worship him and are clearly doing so in a tranced and decadent way. What’s a ruler burdened with maintaining order to do?

Pentheus (Eli Pauley), front; background: Teiresias (Anula Navlekar), Kadmos (Zoe Mann)

Pentheus (Eli Pauley), front; background: Teiresias (Anula Navlekar), Kadmos (Zoe Mann)

We might feel we are watching a comedy in which each side—law and order vs. libidinous license—is going to get a big comeuppance, especially when we see two old-timers, Kadmos (Mann) and Teiresias (Navlekar) jumping on the bandwagon, off to take part in the Bacchic rites in clownish drag. Kadmos is Dionysus’ grandfather. The story is that Semele, Kadmos’ daughter by the goddess Harmonia, was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a lightning bolt—which incinerated Semele, so that Zeus had to rescue the unborn child, sewing him into his own immortal thigh from which Dionysos was born. Born of Zeus via a female half-mortal and half-immortal, Dionysos has no doubts that he’s a true god. And yet. Carson’s translation maintains use of the term daimon or daemon (from which we get “demon”) for what Dionysos claims to be, and that invites all sorts of colorations—especially in our Christianized world—about half-man/half-god hybrids who shake up the status quo with secret rites.

Dionysos (Sarah Lyddan) with Bakkhai (Malia West, left; Eli Pauley, right)

Dionysos (Sarah Lyddan) with Bakkhai (Malia West, left; Eli Pauley, right)

In any case, demonic is exactly how Lyddan plays Dionysos, an androgynous figure with the eyes, ringed in black, of one who regularly imbibes hallucinogens and a voice of clearest diction that runs from guttural to angelic to searing. Her Dionysos is a trip and a treat and not to be trusted. And that’s where the tragic dimension comes in, in the midst of all the seductive humor and high spirits. Lyddan keeps so resolutely her eyes on the prize, so to speak, to let us know that Dionysos sees all our human hubbub as barely worth his notice. Love him, hate him—in any case, woe unto you. He’s malevolent to anyone who crosses him—which Pentheus’ mother, Agave (Semele’s older sister), did when she dismissed the claim that Zeus was her sister’s lover. So Pentheus has to follow suit—only to be beguiled by the idea of spying on those secret rites . . .

The songs the chorus sings—developed by the ensemble and sound designer/composer Liam Bellman-Sharpe—are ably abetted by the voices of Malia West, who also spellbinds as a Herdsman, and Zoe Mann. The set—by Lily Guerin—occupies a diagonal corner of the space, with grand pillars and black tiles and a section lit bloodred (Riva Fairhall, lighting) when Agave (a fierce Cordero Pino) arrives with her son’s head, which she herself tore from his body, thinking him—thanks to Dionysos—a lion-cub.

Agave (Nefesh Cordero Pino) with the head of Pentheus

Agave (Nefesh Cordero Pino) with the head of Pentheus

As with many Greek tragedies, there’s a somber “joke’s on you” quality to where we end up, if only because these plays were meant to demonstrate to the populace that the gods toy with us for their sport, so don’t get your hopes up about life ending well. A lesson that somewhere—in all the humanizing centuries since—we seem to have lost a clear sense of. Bakkhai is meant to put the fear back into theater.

And, ultimately, it does. Though I would’ve preferred a bit more breathless shock and awe in the Servant (Navlekar)’s delivery of what befell the hapless Pentheus, the image that stays with me is of Mann as grandfather Kadmos, bowed, rotund, particolored, with powdered face, tears streaming as he awakes from a dream, in which gods and mortals can be held to the same account, to the nightmare—called reality—in which only mortals suffer. Eventually, the ages would supply us with a god who suffers and dies for us . . . but that’s another story.

Bakkhai (Anula Navlekar, Nefesh Cordero Pino, Malia West)

Bakkhai (Anula Navlekar, Nefesh Cordero Pino, Malia West)


Bakkhai
By Euripides
A new translation by Anne Carson
Directed by Danilo Gambini

Scenic Designer: Lily Guerin; Costume Designer: Alicia J. Austin; Lighting Designer: Riva Fairhall; Sound Designer & Composer: Liam Bellman-Sharpe; Projections Designer: Christopher Evans; Dramaturg: Emily Sorensen; Stage Manager: Alexus Cone 

Ensemble: Nefesh Cordero Pino, Sarah Lyddan, Zoe Mann, Anula Navlekar, Eli Pauley, Malia West

Yale Summer Cabaret
June 6-15, 2019

The opening of the Yale Summer Cabaret’s next show, María Irene Fornés’ The Conduct of Life, directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez, has been postponed from tonight, June 20, to tomorrow night, June 21. Shows at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

The Theater God is Present

Preview of Bakkhai, Yale Summer Cabaret

Last summer, Danilo Gambini, the Co-Artistic Director of this year’s Yale Summer Cabaret, took a trip to Greece, a longstanding goal from the time of his study of mythology in college and his reading of all the Greek tragedies in 2009. As he sat in the theater of Dionysus in Athens, he began “crying compulsively.” He also had a nosebleed, which may have had to do with the atmosphere and the physical exertion of hiking. In any case, the event was for Gambini an epiphany, which might be an actual manifestation of the god, Dionysus, the guiding spirit of ancient Greek drama, there “where the craft and art” Gambini practices “was born.” Gambini says he “made a pact with Dionysus” that day, a “renewal of vows” as a theater director, that “at the next opportunity I would do a Greek tragedy.”

That opportunity is the opening show of the Yale Summer Cabaret’s Verano season. Euripides’ Bakkhai, in Anne Carson’s recent translation, opens June 6 and plays for sixteen performances through June 15.

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His choice of Bakkhai, Gambini said, comes from the fact that Euripides’ audacious play puts Dionysus himself on stage. The play has been getting a variety of revivals of late, including at Brooklyn Academy of Music last season, and Girls, a modern adaptation by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, will open the Yale Repertory Theatre’s next season. Gambini discussed the play’s message for our times with his cast and said the consensus was that “it was clear that the play is about women and female power and the suppressed voice of women finding a release.” He added that Pentheus, the king of Thebes in the play, says things that are “too familiar from Trump.” So, in a way we might say that the current attention to the play is the theatrical equivalent of the 2017 Women’s March in protest over Trump’s election. Gambini quoted a line in the play that describes the women “overjoyed by the sheer absence of men.” Gambini’s six-person cast is comprised of female actors.

For Gambini there’s a deliberate camp element in that choice, which he defines as “having fun with theater.” Pentheus and Dionysus, in Gambini’s staging, are played as “drag kings” by Eli Pauley and Sarah Lyddan respectively, a distancing effect that Gambini spoke of as a deliberate element of current theater’s approach to gender politics. The choice of gender in casting roles, he said, “explores how to tell the story from one side, or extreme, or the other.” He lets his actors have a lot of agency in how they choose to tell the story, including the music of the chorus which was worked out by the actors in ensemble with sound designer and composer Liam Bellman-Sharpe.

There is humor in the play and Gambini finds that Anne Carson’s contemporary language helps the comedy land. Gambini described Carson’s writing as “visual,” a form of “concrete poetry that talks to me and inspires me in seeing the play’s spatial construction.” She writes, he said, “the way I stage.” For Gambini, an attraction of the Cabaret is that its intimate setting, without the usual separation of actors from audience, allows him to explore the kind of theater that is most meaningful to him. In his view, “text is a pretext to create an event” and the “audience is always seeing what they are seeing.” Which means that the idea of theater as an illusion of action happening elsewhere is dropped in favor of treating theater as an event at which both the cast and the audience are concurrently present.

Gambini sees Bakkhai as a play that questions a society’s beliefs, which includes religious faith and the status of the occult. The play was first produced late in Euripides’ career, and is “fully mature,” Gambini says. But with that maturity comes a definite interest in “how to transgress” further. Putting the god on the stage and having him argue for the vanities of the gods indicates, for some, Euripides’ cynicism toward religion, but also shows him addressing the very powerful social force of religious belief.

Danilo Gambini

Danilo Gambini

Gambini says that, originally, tragedy for the ancient Greeks was an “outlet—it enabled them to live what they didn’t want to live.” And he sees the same purpose provided by theater today, as well as TV and film. He stated that the etymology of the word “tragedy” derives from “chant of the goat,” which means that the poetry of tragedy was conceived as the song of the dying animal—a goat—sacrificed in religious ritual. While tragedy, Gambini said, “can be dark and even heartbreaking,” he sees the form as “voluptuous,” celebrating “joy and pleasure” in the physical body.

Greek tragedy, Gambini said, “survived because the plays keep speaking to our times.” The battle between an oppressive government—Pentheus often seems more a bureaucrat than a king—and a wildly inspired populist cult, and the status of faith in capricious gods versus a more reasoned ideal of humanity are themes that, it’s easy to see, have never ceased clashing in human society. At the Yale Summer Cabaret that drama plays out once again—with the added attraction of watching director Danilo Gambini fulfill his pact with Dionysus.

 

Euripides’ Bakkhai
Translated by Anne Carson
Directed by Danilo Gambini
Yale Summer Cabaret
June 6-15, 2019

For information about the season, season passes, individual tickets, the menu and dining reservations, go here.

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Recap of Yale Cabaret 51

Yale Cabaret Season 51 is now just a treasured memory, brought to mind again by my yearly recap of some highlights of what went down. All cordial thanks to the departing team of Co-Artistic Directors Molly FitzMaurice and Latiana “LT” Gourzong and Managing Director Armando Huipe for a lively season abetted by their welcoming presences.

Departing team 51: Armando Huipe, Molly FitzMaurice, Latiana “LT” Gourzong

Departing team 51: Armando Huipe, Molly FitzMaurice, Latiana “LT” Gourzong

In hitting the highlights, I cite my “top five” in each category in order of appearance—except my favorite, which comes last.

 The pre-existing plays I was most glad to see: (Cab 2) Fade by Tonya Saracho, directed by Kat Yen: a character study in the context of gender inequalities and upward mobility and claiming cultural kinship in the workplace; (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands) by Newton Moreno, translated by Elizabeth Jackson, directed by Danilo Gambini: a folkloric story of sexual identity and the true meaning of love and sacrifice; (Cab 10) School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play by Joceyln Bioh, directed by Christopher D. Betts: a lively treatment of the teen rivalry genre with many knowing details; (Cab 11) The Rules by Charles Mee, adapted by Dakota Stipp, Zachry J. Bailey, Alex Vermillion and Evan Hill, directed by Zachry J. Bailey: a quizzical upbraid of cultural and aesthetic norms and the tired conformities we live by; and . . . (Cab 1) The Purple Flower by Marita Bonner, directed by Aneesha Kudtarkar: a mythopoetic tale of racism as a curse of biblical proportions, requiring epic heroism.

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Plays from Yale School of Drama authors: (Cab 8) Taking Warsan Shire Out of Context on the Eve of the Great Storm by Christopher Gabriel Nuñez, directed by Oliva Plath: a futuristic tale, both ironic and vulnerable, about a coterie of brainiacs in a frozen waste, finding love; (Cab 13) Lenny’s Fast Food Kids Gang by Angie Bridgette Jones, directed by Alex Keegan: a very sharp and entertaining take on how “televised” our lives are, and how that undermines real connections; (Cab 15) Avital by Michael Breslin, with Amandla Jahava and Zoe Mann, directed by Michael Breslin: academic privilege is never usually this funny but it’s also, y’know, sad; (Cab 18) Alma by Benjamin Benne, directed by Cat Rodriguez: a reminder that equality in America is always a work in progress, requiring constant vigilance; and. . . (Cab 14) Novios by Arturo Luis Soria III, directed by Amandla Jahava and Sohina Sidhu: a workplace love story among immigrants from various points of origin, forging an Americas dream.

Scenic Design: (Cab 1) The Purple Flower, Lily Guerin: the detritus of civilization framing two distinct worlds; (Cab 3) The Light Fantastic, Stephanie Bahniuk: a homey space grown creepy with uncanny happenings; (Cab 17) Fireflies, Anna Grigo: a kitchen aching with nostalgia; (Cab 18) Alma, Elsa GibsonBraden: a convincingly homey apartment, with kitchen; and . . . (Cab 14) Novios, Gerardo Díaz Sánchez: a restaurant kitchen as the center of the universe.

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Lighting Design: (Cab 3) The Light Fantastic, Emma Deane: effects for the sake of suspense and surprise; (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), Nic Vincent: poetic and impressive, suggesting the passing of time; (Cab 14) Novios, Nic Vincent: a range of moods in the same locale; (Cab 15) Avital, Ryan Seffinge: playfully creating a unique performance space; and . . . (Cab 17) Fireflies, Riva Fairhall: the light streaming across the kitchen late in the play nailed it for me.

Projection Design: (Cab 4) Untitled Ke$ha Project, Elena Tilli: fun on all fronts, a multi-media party; (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), Yaara Bar: a subtle and transcendent effect; (Cab 11) The Rules, Camilla Tassi & Elena Tilli: scenic, abstract, a visual tapestry; (Cab 15) Avital, Erin Sullivan & Matthias Neckermann: when life becomes a cartoon and a newsfeed; and . . . (Cab 17) Fireflies, Nicole E. Lang: the skyscapes to the side were effective, but when they came into the kitchen…

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Sound Design: (Cab 1) The Purple Flower, Liam Bellman-Sharpe, Emily Duncan Wilson: otherworldly and direct, enabling a protracted myth; (Cab 3) The Light Fantastic, Andrew Rovner: uncanny and surprising, enabling suspense; (Cab 4) Untitled Ke$ha Project, Megumi Katayama: propulsive and upbeat, enabling voice and dance; (Cab 17) Fireflies, Kathy Ruvuna: unsettling and dark, inspiring foreboding; and . . . (Cab 11) The Rules, Dakota Stipp: inventive, interactive, creating an inspired environment.

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Use of Music: (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), directed by Danilo Gambini: when Ilia Isorelýs Paulino sang “Eye on the Sparrow”; (Cab 7) It’s Not About My Mother, directed by Sam Tirrell: Stevie Nicks incarnate! and I was never much of a fan; (Cab 14) Novios, directed by Amandla Jahava and Sohina Sidhu: kitchen percussion, among other dance measures; (Cab 15) Avital, directed by Michael Breslin: from ABBA to Barbra and on; and . . . (Cab 4) Untitled Ke$ha Project, directed by Latiana “LT” Gourzong: I don’t know this music, gotta admit, but “Hymn” and “Tik Tok” worked, and I’d rather watch a dance-off than a karaoke contest…

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Original Music: (Cab 8) Taking Warsan Shire Out of Context on the Eve of the Great Storm, Aaron Levin, Composer: my favorite aspect of this oddly challenging play; (Cab 16) Exit Interview, Christopher Gabriel Núñez aka Anonymous (And.On.I.Must), Beats by The Brainius: a surprising range of moods, from aggressive to vulnerable to uplifting; (Cab 16) Untitled semi-improvised dance/music piece, Sarah Xiao and Liam Bellman-Sharpe: no, I don’t really know what it was aiming for, but I was fascinated the entire time; (Cab 16) UNAMUSED: a feminist musical fantasia…, Book, Music & Lyrics by Sam Linden: a cute feminist musical fantasia; and . . . (Cab 9) The Whale in the Hudson, Liam Bellman-Sharpe, Music Director; Brad McKnight, Music: an utterly charming use of music and song, in an epic kids’ mystery based on real life.

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Costumes: (Cab 1) The Purple Flower, Mika H. Eubanks: sometimes a character is in a hat, but it’s got to be the right hat; (Cab 4) Untitled Ke$ha Project, Yunzhu Zeng: fanciful, fun, and the robe “LT” wore was worthy a prize-fighter; (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), April M. Hickman: restrained, austere, and evocative of a range of places; (Cab 11) The Rules, April Hickman & Yunzhu Zeng: the transformation of Arthur was simply stunning; and . . . (Cab 17) Fireflies, Mika H. Eubanks, with hair by Earon Nealey: it’s rare to have costume changes like this in a Cab show, and all so appropriate.

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Acting Ensemble: (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), Abubakr Mohamed Ali, Rachel Kenney, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino: incredibly effective round-robin sequences and intense character studies; (Cab 10) School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play, Moses Ingram, Wilhemina Koomson, Kineta Kunutu, Gloria Majule, Alexandra Maurice, Vimbai Ushe, Adrienne Wells, Malia West: some are actors, some aren’t but this cast created a vivid dynamic, funny and mean and lovable; (Cab 13) Lenny’s Fast Food Kids Gang, Holiday, Daniel Liu, Bre Northrup, Julian Sanchez, Madeline Seidman, Malia West: a range of actors trying to figure out who they really are and were; (Cab 14) Novios, Nefesh Cordero Pino, Raul Díaz, Christopher Gabriel Nuñez, John Evans Reese, Gregory Saint Georges, Devin White, Jecamiah M. Ybañez: bilingual, multiracial, with a striking group energy and individual interactions; and . . . (Cab 3) The Light Fantastic: Stephen Cefalu, Jr., Noah Diaz, Gregory Saint Georges, Moses Ingram, Doireann Mac Mahon, Anula Navlekar, Adrienne Wells; a dream cast in a somewhat unmanageable tale of fate and second chances (kudos to director Molly FitzMaurice for bringing this to the Cab).

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Actors: (Cab 2) Fade, Dario Ladani Sánchez: a reserved working guy with something to hide and something to lose; (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), Abubakr Mohamed Ali: an elusive, mysterious figure, full of quiet charisma, and a priest out of his depth; (Cab 14) Novios, Jecamiah M. Ybañez: the loose cannon, a man of passion and talent making a big discovery; (Cab 17) Fireflies, Manu Kumasi: the nuances of a man of faith and progress who can still be a bully at home; and . . . (Cab 15) Avital, Michael Breslin: performance as provocation and seduction delivered with fragile irony, and funny as hell.

Michael Breslin in Avital, Yale Cabaret

Michael Breslin in Avital, Yale Cabaret

Actresses: (Cab 2) Fade, Juliana Aiden Martínez: a mercurial woman on the way up, and, in general, writers are not to be trusted; (Cab 7) It’s Not About My Mother, Amandla Jahava: holy fuck, whatever she’s got—figure out how to bottle and sell it! (Cab 10) School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play, Moses Ingram: you aren’t supposed to like her, but then you do; a performance that stayed with me; (Cab 18) Alma, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino: a powerful showcase as all the mothers everywhere, just trying to stay here; and . . . (Cab 1) The Purple Flower  and Fireflies (Cab 17), Ciara Monique McMillian: in the first, she was all the men; in the second, she was all woman, in both cases, memorable.

Ciara Monique McMillian in Fireflies, Yale Cabaret

Ciara Monique McMillian in Fireflies, Yale Cabaret

Directing: (Cab 1) The Purple Flower, Aneesha Kudtarkar: a varied cast played essentially by two actors in an amazing concert of types and archetypes; (Cab 5) Agreste (Drylands), Danilo Gambini: a bracingly rhythmic approach, full of portent; (Cab 10) School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play, Christopher D. Betts: a play about intergenerational group dynamics brought off with great ensemble work; (Cab 11) The Rules, Zachry J. Bailey: an offbeat highpoint of the season in its amorphous approach to theater; and . . . (Cab 14) Novios, Amandla Jahava & Sohina Sodhu: two third-year actors direct with great feeling a large cast at work, at love, and in strife with their place in life.

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For overall Productions:

Cab 1: A thoughtful and poetic play, unproduced and mostly forgotten, delivered with consummate skill as a challenging opening to Cabaret 51: The Purple Flower by Marita Bonner; conceived by Mika H. Eubanks and Aneesha Kudtarkar; directed by Aneesha Kudtarkar; Producer: Caitlin Crombleholme; Co-Dramaturgs: Christopher Audley Puglisi, Sophie Siegel-Warren; Stage Manager: Olivia Plath; Scenic Designer: Lily Guerin; Lighting Designer: Nicole E. Lang; Sound Designer: Liam Bellman-Sharpe, Emily Duncan Wilson; Costume Designer: Mika H. Eubanks; Movement Director: Leandro Zaneti; Technical Director: Alex McNamara;; Cast: Ciara Monique McMillian, Adrienne Wells, Devin White, Patrick Young

Cab 11: What do you do when the avant-garde becomes “classic” and then declassé: make new rules? An exhilarating production, “old school” Cab: The Rules by Charles Mee; adapted by Dakota Stipp, Zachry J. Bailey, Alex Vermillion, Evan Hill; directed by Zachry J. Bailey; Producers: Caitlin Crombleholme & Eliza Orleans; Dramaturgs: Evan Hill & Alex Vermillion; Stage Manager: Sam Tirrell; Scenic Designer: Sarah Karl; Lighting Designer: Evan Christian Anderson; Sound Designer & Composer: Dakota Stipp; Costume Designers: April Hickman & Yunzhu Zeng; Projection Designers: Camilla Tassi & Elena Tilli;; Technical Director: Mike VanAartsen; Cast: Robert Hart, David Mitsch, Adrienne Wells

Cab 14: Poetic, mysterious, and as vivid as real life, full of fun, tension, and passion—and it was only the first half!: Novios by Arturo Luis Soria III; directed by Amandla Jahava & Sohina Sidhu; Producer: Estefani Castro; Dramaturg: Nahuel Telleria; Stage Manager: Fabiola Feliciano-Batista; Choreographer & Intimacy Coach: Jake Ryan Lozano; Scenic Designer: Gerardo Díaz Sánchez; Costume Designer: Matthew Malone; Lighting Designer: Nic Vincent: Projection Designer: Sean Preston; Sound Designer: Andrew Rovner; Technical Director: Martin Montaner V.; Cast: Nefesh Cordero Pino, Raul Díaz, Christopher Gabriel Nuñez, John Evans Reese, Gregory Saint Georges, Devin White, Jecamiah M. Ybañez

Cab 17: The play itself is a bit overwrought in its dramatic arc—but the cast and crew upped the ante for Cab shows: Fireflies by Donja Love; directed by Christopher D. Betts; Producer: Dani Barlow; Dramaturg: Sophie Greenspan; Stage Manager: Zachry J. Bailey; Scenic Designer: Anna Grigo; Costume Designer: Mika H. Eubanks; Projection Designer: Nicole E. Lang; Sound Designer: Kathy Ruvuna; Lighting Designer: Riva Fairhall; Technical Directors: Chimmy Anne Gunn & Francesca DeCicco; Fight Choreographer: Michael Rossmy; Hair: Earon Nealey; Cast: Manu Kumasi, Ciara Monique McMillian

And…

Cab 5: Part folktale, part mystery play; a magisterially achieved story of transformation and the miracle of love—regardless of what kind of body it wears: Agreste (Drylands) by Newton Moreno, translated by Elizabeth Jackson; directed by Danilo Gambini; Producer: Jaime F. Totti; Dramaturg: Maria Inês Marques; Stage Manager: Cate Worthington; Set Designers: Alexander McCargar and Sarah Karl; Costume Designer: April M. Hickman; Lighting Designer: Nic Vincent; Sound Designer: Emily Duncan Wilson; Projections Designer: Yaara Bar; Technical Director: Martin Montaner V.; Cast: Abubakr Mohamed Ali, Rachel Kenney, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino

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Special honorary citations: Cabaret Heroes: working on three shows in a season at the Cab is not uncommon, so most of these have surpassed that number, and/or worked in varied positions: Ciara Monique McMillian appeared in three shows in lead roles; Amandla Jahava appeared in two shows, contributed content to one, and co-directed a third; Kat Yen directed two shows, providing sound design for one, and wrote and performed a third; Stephanie Bahniuk worked as a set designer for two shows, costume designer on a third, and co-conceived a fourth; April Hickman designed costumes for three shows and co-conceived a fourth she appeared in; Olivia Plath worked as stage manager on three shows and directed a fourth; Zachry J. Bailey worked as stage manager on three shows and directed and co-adapted a fourth; Liam Bellman-Sharpe was sound designer on two shows, music conductor on a third, and was co-conceiver, composer, and performer in a fourth; Adrienne Wells acted in four shows and provided a voice-over for a fifth; Mika H. Eubanks was costume designer on four shows and co-conceived two others, appearing in one.

The Yale Cabaret has entered its sixth decade, going strong! Great thanks and grateful acknowledgment to all who took part and who came out for the shows.

Next year’s team, for Yale Cabaret 52, are Co-Artistic Directors Zachry J. Bailey, Brendan Burton, Alex Vermillion, and Managing Director Jaime F. Totti; they’ll take over after the long-awaited return of the Yale Summer Cabaret, or “Verano,” with Co-Artistic Directors Danilo Gambini and Jecamiah M. Ybañez and Managing Director Estefani Castro, which will feature: Euripides’ Bakkhai, in Anne Carson’s translation, directed by Danilo Gambini, June 6-15; The Conduct of Life by María Irene Fornés, directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez, June 20-29; The Swallow and the Tomcat by Jorge Amado, adapted and directed by Danilo Gambini, July 18-27; and Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin by Emilio Rodriguez, directed by Jecamiah M. Ybañez, August 8-17.

Yale Cabaret
September 2018-April 2019