Perfect? No. Immaculate, yes. “The Narcissus Collection” is a supremely polished work that showcases acting, set design, costuming and attention to detail in all aspects.
Written by Wang Meiyin ’02 and superbly directed by Jeffrey Little ’02, “Narcissus” interweaves a series of myths about doomed love — Jove and Juno, Venus and Adonis, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Atalanta and Hippomenes. The transitions between stories and settings (ancient and modern) are at first dizzying — especially given that the actors play multiple roles. But keeping them straight seems progressively less important — which is, of course, the point.
The acting is consistently exceptional. As Juno, Laurel Pinson ’02 is the comically frustrated alcoholic we all know she would be, with a cheating, lying, no-good (but well-meaning) husband Jove (Ben Marcovitz ’02). A perfect foil for Pinson, Marcovitz plays a great piece of meat. Portraying a series of beautiful boys — Jove, Adonis, Narcissus — he charms instantaneously with his sheepish deadpan and sharp comic timing.
Pinson and Marcovitz are the frantically funny highlight of the show. They make it absolutely clear that Jove and Juno cornered the market on one-named power couples with problems long before there was any Bill and Hillary. Although quite good itself, the chemistry between Eurydice (Pinson again) and Orpheus (Jackson Loo ’02) can’t compete.
The show gets some great mileage out of the convergence of ancient Greek and Yale attitudes toward cross-dressing. With fantastic costumes and an array of smirks, Isaac Laskin ’02 stole scenes as a pouty, predatory Hades.
The show isn’t perfect. It suffers from impenetrable, heavy-handed monologues by Narcissus (Graham Norris ’03) and the nymph Echo (Elizabeth Prestel ’02). Norris plays Narcissus as a (surprise!) self-obsessed writer type. It’s strange that author Wang mocks his aimless navel-gazing but still uses his breathless musings on “mirrors” and “reflections” to frame the show. Echo’s commentary, too, is fragmentary and confusing, though she does provide helpful background on the play’s mythology.
But despite this stream of commentary, the show keeps saving itself with its self-effacing humor. Near the end of the show, Echo moans along with Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” “For a minute there, I lost myself.” But more than just maudlin, it recalls an earlier scene that rips on “those Radiohead types.”
“Narcissus” pulls of a pretty amazing stunt. At the same time that it seems to carry weight of the world on its shoulders, it’s hysterically funny. For that — and for its universally excellent performances — it is exceptional.