Chase Michaels is nowhere to be found. For the first 10 minutes of the “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” written by Gabe Levey DRA ’14, Carol, an obsessive fan, scrambles around frantically looking for Michaels, the motivational speaker who is supposed to headline the show. She searches for him onstage, heads backstage, treads through the entire room and then walks outside, shouting his name. Following this maddening first “scene,” full of are-we-supposed-to-laugh? moments, she reappears on stage and dejectedly announces, “Chase Michaels isn’t here.”
The lights go down, and Carol starts Chase’s presentation in his place.
You should have seen it coming. The show’s program, plastered with images of Michaels smiling charmingly, contains quotes like “Look around; you’re already here!” allegedly from a book entitled “YOU Are the Only YOU in Your YOUniverse.” The Yale Cabaret website advertises Michaels as “one of the world’s most renowned motivational speakers.” But when you Google “Chase Michaels,” your first result will be the Facebook page of Chase Michaels, a male bodybuilder and pole dancer. The motivational speaker doesn’t exist, but now you wallow in disappointment and you fantasize about sitting in front of the pole dancer instead of the awkward girl shaking all over the stage.
Carol, played by Kate Tarker DRA ’14, does a terrible job presenting, which of course means that Tarker is doing her job phenomenally. Although the search drags on for a bit too long — a nearby audience member said, “We should’ve ordered more wine” — for the remainder of the show, Carol is wildly entertaining. She is insecure, fidgety, sweaty and incapable of carrying a proper conversation with the audience.
These moments of Carol-audience interaction are the show’s most hilarious. Midway through the show, Carol begins to engage the audience in what she believes to be Michaels’s “seventh?” step to self-improvement. Her PowerPoint arrives at a slide that reads “The Problem.” Unsure of how this relates to the previous slide, Carol turns to a woman in the middle of the audience and asks, “What’s your problem right now?”
“Republicans” the woman answers, sending the theatre into a minute-long fit of laughter and snaps of approval. Carol goes down the line, and other responses include “college students,” “airlines,” “politicians,” and “I’m worried that Chase Michaels will show up.” Take the last one how you will.
For the remainder of the show, Carol gradually gains confidence and is able to speak slightly more fluidly with the people sitting nearby. For every response that she gets, she bellows, “YES! GREAT! EXACTLY” Eventually, you and the rest of the audience find yourselves shouting praise alongside her and also — oddly — for her.
Although “Beautiful” is mostly a one-woman show, the irony is that it relies so heavily on interactions with and among audience members. This is also why the show succeeds. After you leave the Cabaret, you’ll feel like you were part of a team that consisted of Carol, the audience, the crew and any other people involved with the show. (In many instances, Carol speaks directly to Anita, the woman working the control booth.) Everyone watches the show together, applauds together, and most importantly, roots for Carol as she grows into her role as the “seminar leader.” At the end of the play, the audience literally shouts in approval as Carol shoots down one of her biggest and most surprising demons.
It’s probable that all of this raucous, jovial behavior had something to do with the casual set up of the Cabaret and its extensive list of alcoholic offerings. But the positive and overwhelming audience support is also definitely a result of Levey writing a truly unique theatre experience. When talking about the show, the word “motivational” is thrown around a lot, though that’s not the best descriptor. “Infectious” and “uplifting” are more accurate. If Carol did it, so can you.