As I descended the stairs of the Cabaret for the debut of “Hold for Beauty,” I was already in a bad mood. Nothing could distract me from the fact that there was nacho cheese spilled on my pants, the wind was fucking freezing and it was almost Valentine’s Day and not one of my few encounters with the opposite sex could survive my pathetic, award-worthy social retardation. The xylophone-riddled techno music playing as I waited for the show to begin was not helping at all. And after reading the description on the playbill, I just couldn’t shake the image of a floating plastic grocery bag, a la “American Beauty.” But then a spotlight switched on, illuminating the pale man who sat on a stool in front of me, covered only by briefs. Cue the slow-motion striptease-in-retrograde, and it was obvious. I had judged the show too soon.
Conceived and directed by Frances Black DRA ’09, “Hold for Beauty” is an experimental piece that, by stripping down the most common and monotonous tasks to their core, asks the audience to realize the often-ignored splendor of the everyday. By forcing us to slow down and view run-of-the-mill things in a new light, Black helps us redefine the true meaning of beauty.
In one standout segment of the program, Donesh Olyaie DRA ’10 and “Jenna Bourgeois” sit on the stage, back to back, and just shave. The situation, in essence, is ordinary. Yet taken out of its bathroom background and put on the center of a long stage, the routine act of shaving seems completely different, even entertaining. And when Jamie Lidell’s soulful voice crooned “I’m so tired of repeating myself” as Olyaie ran the razor up his face once more, I skimmed the expressions of my fellow observers. I wasn’t the only one smiling.
What made “Hold for Beauty” more than just another piece of puzzling performance art was the show’s dedication to immersing the audience into the experience. At one point, the performers abandoned the room, and the light technician spent several minutes illuminating spotlights over different members of the small crowd. Together, we all turned our heads back and forth, following the light. We had become the show. I saw two old men in the corner table whispering excitedly to each other like teenagers. I saw a middle-aged woman giggle and shyly look away as she became the center of attention. Somehow, every person surrounding me seemed a little more beautiful under the spotlight.
When the show ended, the grandfatherly man sitting across the stage flashed me a smile as he got up. We both shared a little secret. We knew how gracious slicing a cabbage could look. We knew how slippers shuffling across the floor could create melody. And we knew how fun it would be to take a spatula of icing and spread it across our face. We had held for beauty. I truly recommend that all the students at Yale take a little time out of their busy weekends and do the same.
When I left the Cabaret, the wind was still being ornery. And when I passed the pink-and-hearts storefront of Laila Rowe, I was once again reminded of my uncanny ability to awkwardize everything. And as I sat down in the Stiles library, I saw that the nacho cheese had finally dried onto my jeans. But I’ll be damned if the unsteady clacking of my keyboard didn’t sound almost, well, beautiful.
“Hold for Beauty” plays at the Cabaret, 217 Park Street, tonight and tomorrow at 8p.m. and 11p.m.