Falling into the ‘Abyss:’ A Must-See

Yummy.
Yummy. // Samantha Gardner

“Abyss”… How can I even begin to describe “Abyss?” “Abyss” is almost flawless. It has two Fendi purses and a silver Lexus.

Just kidding.

But what “Abyss” is is this semester’s most creative show — it has no script. Directed by Charlie Polinger ’13 and with music directed and conceptualized by Stephen Feigenbaum ’12 MUS ’13, the production features actors and musicians — some people holding both roles — and also an elaborate set which innovatively utilizes projections, shadows and light. Here, theater meets classical music: It’s like the YSO Halloween Show meets SIC InC. And a theater production. And a YD show. And James Franco’s masturbatory projections fantasies of 2011 — remember those?

In “Abyss,” a loving couple is suddenly torn apart when the girl (Gracie White ’16) is taken by the government without warning during the night from the man (Gabe Greenspan ’14). Through a journey at sea, encounters with cults and manipulation of drugs, “Abyss” tells the desperate, emotional story of his journey to find her.

At first glance, the plotline itself seems slightly trite (think “The Odyssey,” but with stilts) and most of the acting is slightly over the top. Yet these two elements are necessary for the same reason that all silent film acting is anything but subtle: The only way to tell a story without words is to make it as obvious as possible. Polinger was handed this difficult task — to direct a group of actors into telling a story with no script — and fully delivered.

That said, the acting of Greenspan and Charlotte McCurdy ’13 stole the show when they were on stage. Greenspan’s training in circus and acrobatics are evident; his lifts are gracefully and effortlessly executed. At one point, Greenspan’s character’s desperation to find the girl is so tangible that his character begins to cry — a heartbreaking lapse in the bravado and determination of the man’s persona. Greenspan’s honest, raw emotions were met with McCurdy’s deceptive acting — she played a boy for part of the show to escape sex slavery after being captured by drug lords. McCurdy, unlike other actors, speaks with her face rather than dramatic gestures, the look in her eyes tensing and relaxing to the swell of the orchestra.

But the depth in acting would be incomplete without the richness of sound in Feigenbaum’s music — a brilliantly composed score that brings the viewers through the elaborate show. In one scene, Feigenbaum’s compositions feature a heavy bass, pounding and loud as if amplifying the drug-laced blood beating through the hearts of the characters, who have gathered to inhale fumes from an oxygen mask. Fittingly, Feigenbaum plays a god during the scene — the musical mastermind behind the production. Feigenbaum’s keyboard provides the template upon which the other instruments paint a rich narrative. The acting, set, lighting and directing are excellent in their own right, but Feigenbaum’s score is the thread that brings them all together. Without his vision, “Abyss” would have not existed, and Yale owes him for bringing this refreshing show to our campus.

The entire production unfolds on one of the most delicately crafted sets on Yale’s campus: The staging of “Abyss” is nothing short of incredibly impressive. Producer Kathleen Addison ’14 and set designer Brian Dudkiewicz DRA ’14 picked and transformed a venue — an off-campus house — to create the perfect blend of creepy and dazzling. The stage is vast and black, painted with piping, complete with ribbons hanging from the ceiling on which actors such as White performed acrobatics.

Ultimately, it’s easy for many productions to look and feel the same at Yale. “Abyss” stands out, in part because of its content and unorthodox structure, but also because of the fantastic production value. This is the future of great theater. Combining the skills and talents of those behind the scenes with those on the stage is rarely as visible as it is this weekend at 278 Park St.

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