“I have lost _ _ . I have broken _ _ . I regret _ _ . ”
Outside of the entrance to the Cabaret showing of “This.”, a bulletin board is covered in white strips of paper printed with these words. Audience members were to fill in the blanks. The responses posted on the board ranged from the expected (“I have lost $,” one said) to the quirky (“I have broken my tushy”) to the surprisingly sober (“I regret not calling the cops on her behalf”). But connecting all of the answers was a current of authenticity, a hint at all the stories people have that are just waiting to be uncovered and shared with the world.
The performance of “This.” reminds us of the same possibility of discovery. To create the show, Margot Bordelon DRA ’13, Mary Laws DRA ’14 and Alexandra Ripp DRA ’13 conducted in-person interviews with 40 people of the Yale and New Haven community. During the interview, they asked the subjects simple questions: “What have you lost?” “What kind of child were you?” These are questions so basic that we rarely think to ask them of the people around us. They are questions that bring us to the brink of finding something incredible when we finally do ask them.
“This.” is the result of asking them. To begin the show, a clip from a recording of a conducted interview is played, and we hear the polite small-talk before the real questions begin — a brief warm-up for the audience. The stories and memories themselves are performed onstage by a six-member cast. For most of the stories, one actor would play the role of the person telling the story, while the other five people would play the role of anything necessary to flesh out the details of the memory. From one scene to the next, the actors seamlessly transformed themselves into household pets, locomotives and childhood friends. They had no costume changes and no props except for two wooden chairs. Females acted out the roles of males and vice-versa. The creators stitched the script together from the transcribed responses, and most of the words were taken verbatim. We hear the natural rhythms of people’s speech: unrehearsed, spontaneous and unique. But the actors never once listened to the actual voice recordings and thus were left to interpret the transcriptions on their own. The result of all of this is a performance that, in one hour, achieves an unforgettable universality. The stories are taken from New Haven, but as the show unfolds, we easily forget that any of the experiences are confined to one place.
A few scenes depicting childhood memories felt hyperbolic — for example, the terror of a child in her room at night. But gradually we remember that it is sometimes the nature of memory to shift and exaggerate within our imagination. Some of the stories performed also let us see the gaps: forgotten advice from a grandmother who died, for instance. These remind us of how memories can also fade and slip away from us. The show’s creators arranged the stories in a way that let us see the common threads among them, and we wonder whether the randomness in life is as random as we believe. “This.” is not traditional storytelling, but it still has the powerful quality of narrative to transcend the divide between fact and fiction to capture something more extraordinary and more truthful.
“This.” is the kind of show that makes you look at the stranger sitting next to you a little differently. We see how life is funny and sad at the same time. “This.” is the reason we seek connections to people around us. “This.” reminds us that we are not alone.
“This.” is playing at the Yale Cabaret on Friday, Sept. 28 and Saturday, Sept. 29 at 8 and 11 p.m.