Joyce’s swan song

You remember that first time you read anything by James Joyce and you had no idea what the hell he was trying to say, but somehow you just knew that it was profound? Yeah, this play isn’t quite like that. That is to say, Yale Cabaret’s latest play, “A Portrait of the Woman as a Young Artist,” does indeed leave you wildly confused, and the show does grasp at profundity — but it falls short.

“A Portrait” is a unique work written by Meg Miroshnik DRA ’11 as part of a “bake-off,” an assignment for which the students must create a play that incorporates a specific set of ideas: in this case Elizabeth Egolf’s “The Swan” and W.B. Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan.” Drawing from these works, as well as from James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” Miroshnik attempts to enliven a minor character in Joyce’s novel, a silent woman whom the narrator mentally transforms into a bird.

I guess James Joyce’s work and this show have a few similarities. They both suffer from severe internal conflict. Except Joyce uses this fierce inner fight to create compelling works of literary art. The innate struggle of “A Portrait” has more to do with the writer trying to shove every notable artistic and literary mention of swans into one play. All the swans don’t quite fit together. In the effort to fuse all these elements, the point of “A Portrait” becomes buried and overwhelmed by squawking creatures. However, the underlying message of the play is important. Though the woman is being stripped of the very essence of her being, she is able to reclaim herself and seek revenge on the man who destroyed her. Maybe Rihanna should see this play.

Despite the fact that I often had no idea what was going on, it was still clear that Da’Vine Joy Randolph DRA ’11 was nailing her part. For the majority of “A Portrait,” I was afraid she was going to beat me. As both Leda and Doctor Cygnus, Randolph’s voice is appropriately feisty and her eyes deranged. And until I heard the actress in her swan form, I had never believed such ungodly caws could come from such a pretty mouth.

Much of “A Portrait” may have been lost on me, but that does not detract from the fact that the play, in all of its befuddled glory, was interesting.

The Yale Cabaret is located at 217 Park St. “A Portrait of the Woman as a Young Artist” will run tonight and tomorrow at 8 and 11 p.m.

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