George: The importance of honest evenings

What do you think a play called “A School for Greybeards or The Mourning Bride” could be about?

It could literally be about a school for people with beards that are grey. Or it could be a metaphor somehow. Or maybe it’s about a night college for retired pirates who have reclaimed their lives after heckling the seas for six decades and try to win the affection of a sad widow whose husband they murdered for doubloons?

Well, as it turns out, it is a late eighteenth century British play that chronicles the mishaps of four Dons, three Donnas, two maids, and a whole lotta miscommunication about who loves whom.

Which may, on the surface, not seem quite as fun as the play about retired pirates in night school (I imagine the scene in the Dead Poet’s Society where everyone starts ripping out the pages of the poetry books, but then it gets out of hand and the pirates just start plundering the entire classroom and school until it burns to the ground.). But this is a false assumption. The play is, in fact, quite fun and entertaining. Everyone loves a good ole fashioned misunderstanding. For instance, just this past week, many people misunderstood the phrase “Foam Party at Toad’s” as a foam party at Toad’s instead of reading it as “Normal Party at Toad’s Except Your Sweat Gets So Thick It Congeals And Then Everyone Rubs Themselves In It.”

But this past Wednesday in the hallowed halls of LC 101, this 18th century play was brought to life by a collection of undergrads, graduate students, professors and actors. May I introduce to you, then, the 14th annual staged reading of the Yale English Department as directed by Sir Murray Biggs (he may or may not be a Sir, this is unclear, although his British accent allows us to assume that he is either a king or a fraud, most likely both).

The idea is simple enough. From 5:15 to 6:30, a group of people read from a script, standing when they spoke, to an audience of students and New Haven community members. It pretty much operated like the James Franco Master’s Tea, except there was neither James Franco nor questions that involved the complexity of portraying the New Goblin.

What did happen, however, was something sort of magical and unexpected. I don’t mean to sound didactic, but there was something so honest there. There was no artifice in the performance. No barrier between you and them. It was all in the spirit of the community, an effort to just display something for you, to make you understand.

You know, because here it can make a person so tired to see so much “smart” stuff. Not that this show wasn’t smart, it was very smart, I know I will never be able to create the kind of smart funny as was in that play. But in the actual execution of the project, there was nothing that got in the way. Because sometimes shit just gets in the way of performing. Much like how my words are getting in the way of what I am trying to say right now, sometimes performances get in the way of what they are trying to communicate. That sounds stupid but it isn’t.

This reading was so earnest. The smorgasbord of people up there, my God. We had two undergraduates, Danielle Frimer and Brian Earp—both very talented and very soon appearing in “Carousel,” which you should see (I will plug their show for them as an apology for dragging their names through this article). There were two English graduate students, Sarah Mahurin and Christopher Grobe, who looked like a smarter Amy Adams and a less-stressed-out Joshua Jackson respectively. Christopher Miller, Lawrence Manley, Stefanie Markovits and Catherine Nicholson were the Yale professors at the event, all within the English department, but you could convince me they teach at a fashion school as their attire was so snappy. Lastly, there was Bruce Altman, a real live actor who has been in such films as “Glen Garry Glen Ross” and “Girl, Interrupted”.

So many good things. They put themselves out there so unapologetically and rocked it, even if it was outside of their comfort zone. Every time Lawrence Manley stood up, I thought I was going to die with delight. His horn-rimmed glasses seemed to twinkle with mayhem. And then the things Bruce Altman kept saying to poor maid Stefanie Markovits in her yellow apron and fluffy cap: “You traitorous arduous slut! You powderpuff! You hussie, you black-eyed rogue whom I will beat with a cane!” Who are these people? Why are they having so much fun? How can so much good come from such a collection of people merely reading words off a page? Bizarrely enough, it was more effective than some shows I have seen in real-people theaters (not that LC 101 isn’t a real-people theater, but it isn’t a real-people theater).

I just loved it. The honesty of the evening.

It’s just something to think about when we do things here. This total lack of facade, this passion that makes the teacher and the student feel like part of the same community.

DEAR GOD I AM BEING DIDACTIC. I AM SORRY.

Let’s pretend this article was about the James Franco Master’s Tea. I said something witty about that. Searing about pop culture and media obsession. We are slaves to the idea of the celebrity, why do we care about their lives, art is dead, etc.

Though, admittedly, he is a cutie.

Comments