September 15th, 2011 | WEEKEND

“SLAVES” at the Cabaret an ‘experiment in the experimental’

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Photo by Robert Peck.

“SLAVES” delivers, but what it delivers, no one is—or ever will be—completely sure. Drawing inspiration from techno, bovine lactation and the deepest wells of human nature (if there’s one), the Yale Cabaret’s fall season opening show will leave even the most open-minded wondering what they’ve just seen.

The play’s writer/director, Sunder Ganglani DRA ’12 said he was “trying to find a way to express feelings that couldn’t be articulated” as he conceived of “SLAVES,” a true experiment in the experimental. His desire comes through loud and clear from the get-go as two performers come on stage and immediately fail to express anything coherent like nobody’s business.

Two of the three actors involved in the show (Adina Verson DRA ’12 and Chris Henry DRA ’12) play the roles of non-human “vesicles” holding feelings that they can neither understand nor expel from themselves. To express this conundrum of trapped emotions, the duo mutters, speaks and shouts seemingly random lines (whattup toughest script ever) across the audience while simultaneously performing complex hand gestures and, on one occasion, lovingly cradling a turtle passed to them mid-line from backstage.

Though a clearly defined plot is something that “SLAVES” appears to have set on fire and thrown out the window long before production began, the performers themselves are a strong bunch. They say nothing that anyone can easily follow, but it’s on purpose so it’s O.K. Verson and Henry deliver their lines with a confidence, poise and subtlety that exudes skill, their creation only reinforced by the intimacy of the Cabaret’s grungy atmosphere.

Added to the salad is Jillian Taylor GRD ’12, playing a reasonably confused human being that interacts with the vesicles onstage. When the time comes, Taylor pulls tubing from beneath the layers of cloth of the vesicles and milks them; she drains fluid out of their bodies, absorbing their joys and feelings and love into herself in the most cathartic of lactations. Afterward, the satiated human exhausts in her newfound passions by breaking into a truly astounding dance routine that rounds out the show with gusto as the vesicles sing her praises. It is moving. It is well performed. There’s milk in it. And there is absolutely no way in hell that you will have any idea what’s going on at any point in the evening.

The experience may be equivalent to conversing with a theatrically inclined random word generator, which is to say, “SLAVES” is a must-see if there’s a contemporary performance fan in you. If not, switch the tonic for Red Bull.