As many a Yale upperclassman will tell you, sometimes it takes a freshman to make you realize things are just fine. They’re eager, they’re emotional, they’re drunk and they’re not that hairy. Freshmen make us look back and remember a time when we actually cared to explore the area outside of that place where we poop, study, sleep and eat. When they come together in a theatrical setting, these eager-eyed former high school drama stars give us hope that the Dramat will have a pretty hefty arsenal to work with for the next few years.
Charles Morey’s “Laughing Stock,” under the fluid direction of Austin Trow ’12, presents a meta-theatrical, comedic vision of the fading world of summer-stock theater. The ensemble piece showcases a smorgasboard of actors — from the Golden Age blue-haired belle to the over-analytic method actor with edgy sideburns — converging to attempt a rotating season of rewritten classics and reevaluated farces. The play may not be poignant, and it may drag its feet as it wraps up the intertwined subplots toward the end of the second act — but there’s something about its unadulterated charm that makes us lock into its Freshman eyes, laugh and reflect on what theater means to us at a time when Broadway has dropped to its knees to please Hollywood.
The production’s simple technical requirements
work in its favor. With just the façade of a barn, an occasional bed, chair and coffin, the play functions as an intense character study with no competition between actor and set piece. Guiding the play is Alexander Oki ’12 as Gordon, a stiff yet endearing summer-stock artistic director with a booming baritone. Gordon’s dire efforts to revive a 67-year-old theater festival in New Hampshire intersect with an on-again-off-again relationship with a semi-standoffish production assistant (Chloe Sarbib ’12).
The growing sexual tension sets a precedent for a major theme Morey addresses, that of the longstanding theatrical tradition of DRAMACEST. Whereas Oki and Sarbib’s chemistry might benefit from a greasy L-Dub hookup, Kalyan Ray-Mazumder ’12 and Lily Lamb-Atkinson’s ’12 sensual wordplay as summer-stock leads Tyler and Mary shows great potential for future Dramat loving. It’s easy to imagine Ray-Mazumder taking inspiration from Tyler’s quest to find superfluous character motivation. I picture him pouncing on the flirtatious Lamb-Atkinson in his Vanderbilt bedroom, as she screams, “You are Tyler” in response to his question “Who am I?” But I can only say that because he went to my high school. Ray-Mazumder, Hey Mazumder!
Ray-Mazumder’s jaw-dropping ability to “morph” into a variety of characters and animals extends into all corners of the cast. Apparently, Trow saw in Michael Laskin’s performance as an 11-year-old in “The Full Monty” the ability to embody an old man. With slow, deliberate steps, Laskin crafts the impeccably adorable elderly theater buff Richfield, who reminisces about the days of Joe Papp in the Park with his wife Daisy (Danielle Tomson ’12).
Trow’s Hopper-esque portraits allow the immensely gifted Michael Knowles ’12 to step out in his role as the sell-out actor Jack, who plans to ditch theater for law. Knowles’ erratic breaks from an overall sly and understated demeanor draw the audience into his slick hairdo and chiseled jaw. Comfortable in his gait, Knowles manages to maintain his center, while some of his cast-mates struggle with stiff legs and arched backs. Knowles’ schoolboy charm gels wildly with Hunter Wolk ’12 as Vernon, a bitter fat-cat actor on his last legs.
“Laughing Stock” is an incredibly encouraging production in the same sense that getting with an attractive freshman can put you on a great path toward more adult hookups. Good things will come from the Freshman Dramat class as long as the board chooses plays to match the freshmen’s talents.
The show runs at the New Theater (1156 Chapel Street) tonight at 8p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.