Simple, elegant, and spontaneous all at once, the “Theater of Desire” offers a venue for writers and performers alike to experiment with their craft in an open, nonjudgmental environment. It is the brainchild of theater studies professor Deborah Margolin — everyone calls her “Deb” — who conceived of “a space without a critic,” she said. The Theater, which runs on alternate Monday nights, is open to all Yale students. Accordingly, every night brings different surprises before different audiences.
“This is the theater that we do because we have to,” Margolin declared. “I maintain that it’s the only theater worth doing.”
This Monday, the Theater of Desire hosted a group of about 15 undergraduates for a two-hour lineup of skits, monologues and singalongs. With students coming and going sporadically, there was no fixed schedule of performances that was to be put on, making the atmosphere all the more fluid and dynamic. While students presented their work or asked other students to act out their scripts, people sat and watched attentively between bites into doughnuts and sips of coffee. After each performance, someone would stand up and present a new idea.
At the Theater of Desire, no acts are constrained. One student who was holding Robert Page’s “Greek Myths” in one hand asked Margolin to pick a number between one and 784. She chose 441, which, in the book, is the beginning of the story “The Reign of Orestes.” The student then chose people in the audience to act as Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes and Pylades. As he read the text of the myth in its entirety, students mimed the actions that were described. As more characters were introduced, he picked people out of the audience to join the cast. The remaining spectators laughed as they watched the actors struggle to come up with the proper gestures and movements.
Another act featured two students reading aloud from an email chain of a message titled “Froshow ’09,” an email that had been sent to those interested in working on the Dramat’s 2009 Freshman Show. As they mocked the emails of those who were now, presumably, their close friends, Margolin asked, “Is this ethical?” From there another round of laughter ensued.
Although she sat at the back for much of the night, Margolin’s energy and passion is what drives the entire operation. Long-haired and wild-eyed, Margolin’s warmth permeated the room as she greeted each newcomer with a hug and an offering of doughnuts. When it was time for the event to begin, Margolin called the boisterous crowd to attention with a shrill bird call.
Despite — or perhaps because — of the informal setting, there was never a lull in the Theater of Desire’s offerings. Performances ranged from a monologue on death to a farcical tale of babysitting gone awry. One particularly poignant scene featured “Romeo and Juliet: Divorced,” a play that one of the attendants had written when she was in high school.
“It was the first thing I wrote that I liked,” she said.
Such was the fearlessness showcased at the Theater of Desire. For two hours, the participants of the event boldly displayed their work, most of which had never been presented before an audience. Some ideas were brilliant, and others were just for pure amusement. Regardless of the substance of each endeavour, the audience of the Theater of Desire encouraged each other with equal spirit.
To conclude the night, one student suggested a karaoke singalong of “New York, New York.” As the remaining seven people linked arms and gathered around a single laptop, they belted out the song with all the fervor of a Broadway cast. They weren’t the best singers, nor did they even know all the lyrics — but maybe that’s the point. At the Theater of Desire, it really is up to you.