If you have yet to take Love Actually off the shelf of romcom sacredness this holiday season (or maybe you’ve already watched it and worry about overindulging), try tuning in to the Yale Cabaret’s production of Bound to Burn this weekend. The narrative structure even seems familiar: smaller plot strands instead of one cohesive story. Each of the three couples featured, though, communicates a different aspect of those amorous emotions that almost cannot be conveyed by words — the ones, perhaps, that can only be expressed through body language. Throughout the performance, none of the couples utter a single word. For those Hugh Grant fans especially fond of his Prime Minister dance sequence, you can expect your choreography appetite to be satisfied — just in a mellower, hot-chocolate-y sort of way, until the pieces start to … you guessed it … burn your tongue a little.
Though the level of technique may perhaps not be So You Think You Can Dance level, overall the dancers succeed in conveying intense, enthralling emotions. At first, I wondered if the show had been properly titled. There was an adorable duo locking eyes, holding hands, looking lovingly at each other from across the stage. Not to mention the soundtrack setting that stage: The Civil Wars’ “Poison and Wine,” which I had never heard before, but is now likely to take a spot in my Top 25 Most Played list. This first pair, Elizabeth Mak DRA ’16 and David Clauson DRA ’16, complemented one another. Mak’s facial expressions especially carried me into the scene, even while the plot was difficult to understand.
Later in the program, we learn that Mak was “Valerie, the Breadwinner” and Clauson played “Tim, Her Husband.” In the theme of the show, however, an unlikely wordlessness in the normally theatrical Cabaret, I wonder if these “role” words enhanced the atmosphere, or if these explanations are instead excessive. The subtlety in Mak’s movement revealed more about her personal state of mind. The second couple in the triptych, Chasten Harmon DRA ’15 and Daniel Reece DRA ’14, continued this theme of miscommunication for me — until, once again, looking at the program’s cast list. Without reading it, I saw the two as classic examples of the jilted girl and flirtatious guy — as stereotypes, even.
Then, I read: “Jessica, A Free Spirit” and “Mark: Her Heart.” Was Mark (Reese) really her soul mate? If so, their opening pas-de-deux seemed a little too light-hearted, so to speak, slightly too playful to have transformed into a Jamie and Aurelia kind of love. I could maybe see Jessica jumping in a lake to save the opening chapters of Mark’s first novel, but I definitely can’t see Mark marching into her family restaurant or, you know, reciting Portuguese phrases on escalators. The third team, Steven Rotramel DRA ’15 and Rob Chikar ’14, had mastered the art of pantomime. Just as they may normally inflect certain lines of dialogue with more emphasis, then shift pianissimo, then scream, so they triumphed by illuminating the stage with emotional force, their bodies the only instruments they needed. Rotramel stood downstage, gazing up with an expression of immeasurable satisfaction and awe. It was, simply put, beautiful.
Of course, as some love stories do, the “never saw true beauty ‘till this night” uplift ultimately unraveled and singed. Remember in the most recent film adaptation of Les Miserables when some criticized Russell Crowe’s untrained voice? I thought his rawness even more emotionally charged than some of the “trained” voices of his comrades. Rotramel touched me in a similar way, though he clearly does have some dance background. As the couples’ pieces intertwined, he remained in the moment. Discovering later that he portrayed “Ryan, A Prostitute” opposite “Braden, His Hope” added another dimension to the story — but, as before, the power of their amorous arc glimmered through even in the absence of that information.
“Bound to Burn,” with all of the inevitability embedded in its title, does not culminate in a coming-together of all its characters, or in a sweet kiss in an airport waiting room. It’s just not that kind of show. Its tale of love ends with more ambiguity, more tears, some home and redemption and in the end, maybe more gulps of reality.