Chris Grobe ’05 found out on Tuesday that he is Bat Boy. “Mud” had its first rehearsal last night. Carolyn Wright ’03 has been working under deadline — she just finished “The Women of Oswald” on Tuesday. It’s an exciting but chaotic time for undergraduates involved in Yale’s sprawling theater world. At the moment, the fall season consists of little more than big plans, nerves, and enticing-looking schedules filled with the works of perennials like Edward Albee, Sam Shepard and Tony Kushner, as well as a few lesser-known playwrights — Alan Bennett and Maria Irene Fornes — and new material by students like Wright.
The elephant in the huge, messy room of Yale theater is, and always has been, the Dramat, also known as the Yale Dramatic Association. This season, the Dramat is tossing its usual tendency toward the worthy (but gloomy) in favor of a lighter tone. After the drawn-out debacle of last year’s production of Candide, the Dramat is hoping for better luck with this year’s musical, “Bat Boy.” Written by Brian Flemming and Keythe Farley, “Bat Boy” comes to Yale just months after the end of its critically acclaimed 2001 run. Off-Broadway. Stage manager Becca Kelly ’03 describes the show as a “rock and roll musical.”
“It’s kind of a twisted version of ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast,'” Kelly said.
Grobe, who described his title role as a “pleasant-surprise situation,” plays the Bat Boy, a tabloid-inspired pointy-eared half-boy, half-bat rescued from a cave by (mostly) well-meaning folks in a small West Virginia town.
“They try to turn him into an upstanding member of society,” said Kelly, “but meanwhile he’s killing cows.”
“Habeas Corpus,” which will be one of the Dramat’s experimental shows, was another surprise pick. The 1974 farce by English playwright Alan Bennett will be directed by Cecilia Morelli ’04 and produced by John Danilovich ’04 — both Brits, appropriately. Danilovich promises lots of “pervy doctors and pervy vicars” together with another staple of the British stage, class conflict.
“It’s 1974 England, and everything is going to the dogs and people are having sex and so on, so it’s a big romp,” Danilovich said. The Dramat’s machine seems to be running nicely — the cast has already had five rehearsals and the sets are designed. Still, it’s a rush.
“We’re having to go along at quite a clip,” Danilovich said.
The third Dramat production this fall, another experimental project, is “The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union,” by David Grieg, to be directed by Michael Lew ’03. Continuing the season’s trend, it’s a comedy with an edge that features a stroke victim.
Elsewhere, things are a bit more ad hoc. Every year, there’s a split — some shows are inspired by long-cherished scripts and half-remembered performances, while others, student-written plays and performances, are on their maiden trips from the typewriter (or computer) into the scary world of production.
“The Women of Oswald,” written and to be performed in part by Wright, is clearly in the second category. Her new play, in which a character dreams about the former lovers of a man, Oswald, with whom she is currently in an abusive relationship. Wright started writing in April but finished Tuesday, and the show could hardly be more personal. The show is based on conversations she’s had with friends about sex and relationships.
“I was hearing lots of frustration,” Wright said. The characters in her show were born in those conversations.
“These women don’t feel that they’re loved,” Wright said. “It’s just sex. It’s a struggle for all of them.”
Wright is preparing for a bit of struggle, too, now. After working on writing the show for months, she has now handed over the script to director Chris Wu ’05 and her fellow actors, who have yet to be chosen.
“There might be some nerves to deal with for the other actors, with having the playwright right with them,” Wright said. “It’s going to be pretty interesting, especially since it’s never been put on before.”
Emelie Gevalt ’03, first saw Terence McNally’s play “Master Class” in high school — it was in Boston, and Faye Dunaway was starring. It’s been a long time, but now Gevalt is performing the lead role herself as a senior project.
A classically trained singer, Gevalt was drawn to the piece both for its subject matter — a master class by opera great Maria Callas — and for its strong central female character.
“There’s some meat there behind the role,” she said.
Another senior project with a compelling female character is Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to be directed by Rachel Watson ’03.
“Come prepared to get drunk, sing, vomit, cry and lie on the floor feeling the bathroom tiles and winking incessantly,” read an email asking actresses to audition for the role of Honey.
“I’m a big fan of melodrama, as a medium and as a forum,” said Watson (fortunately).
A veteran director of Yale shows, including James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mr. Charlie,” Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” and “Orpheus Descending,” by Tennessee Williams, Watson was warned off the play.
“All I’m getting from everyone is ‘oh my God, that’s so ambitious,’ she said, sounding unfazed. “But hey, it’s school and we’re here to learn.”
Albee’s getting a lot of love from Yale this year. Colette Robert ’03 is doing another directing senior project with “Three Tall Women.” Robert looks forward to producing the show on a thrust stage and emphasizing the element of audience interaction that gives Albee’s play a surreal quality.
It is hard to find many trends in Yale theater. There are so many shows every fall that it is impossible to categorize or even list all of them. Among other notable productions are YaleDancer Alexis Carra’s ’03 direction of Maria Irene Fornes’ “Mud,” Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” to be directed by theater studies professor Toni Dorfman, veteran Yale director Deborah Kroplik’s ’03 production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” and Kimberly Swennen’s ’03 performance about “love, vulnerability and beauty,” entitled “Lady Vacating Basement.”
Break a leg, everyone.