Viewers of Yale Cabaret’s “24 Hour Spooky Theatre” will be treated to tales of troubled Chinese families, Depression-era longing for a brutally killed father, and a night in the life of a pair of urban troublemakers. Indeed, the six 10-minute plays that comprise a Halloween-themed installment of 24-hour theater are of varied subject matter and style. Each playwright was required to incorporate the line “up shit’s creek,” use a jack-o-lantern as a prop, allude to a lagoon, and insert a line from “Hamlet.”
Each of the six playwrights had 12 hours to write his or her play. Jami O’Brien, producer of the show, said the playwrights were to write between the hours of 8 p.m. Friday night and 8 a.m. Saturday morning, to “make the playwrights exhausted, and to get that 3 a.m. feeling.” Subsequently, the cast and crew of each play were given two hours to memorize and rehearse. Unfortunately, the “3 a.m. feeling” is not necessarily conducive to composition of wisdom for the ages. Additionally, the minimal rehearsal time led to a higher-than-usual degree of technical fumbles, jumbled lines, and nervous giggles. As was indubitably the goal of the endeavor, the six resulting plays are quirky and cute. However, philosophers and stringent theatrical critics ought to skip this one.
The first of the six plays offers a brief look into a troubled urban family. Christmas, a bossy and scary older sister, and her sensitive younger brother Easter, cavort around a typical neighborhood on Halloween night. Christmas constantly berates Easter for his blind acceptance of their troubled family situation, for his lack of courage, and for his fey Wonder Woman costume. At one point, Christmas announces she is going to hire an assassin to kill Easter. She’s a frightening character; at one point, when Easter asks Christmas to “pinky swear” to seal an agreement, Christmas scoffs, “Pinky swear? I only make pacts in blood.” The play closes indecisively, with Christmas muttering that Easter is in serious trouble. Perhaps there was some symbolism with the names of the trick-or-treaters, but such significance, if it exists, is not easily accessible. Additionally, the play opens with Christmas picking up a random jack-o-lantern and the accompanying non-sequitur, “Alas, poor Yorick / I knew him well.” Such promotes the idea of the “checklist” manner in which requirements were fulfilled.
The second play is a little better than the first, if only because it manages to hint at deeper layers of meaning. The setting is the 1920s post-stock market crash; the cast is merely a pair of apparent siblings named Teddy and Tabby. Though the script shares the same checklist feel that was evident in the first play (replete with random mention of being high on ether at some lagoon), the play is smarter and seems less frivolous than the first. Also, the part of Teddy is superbly acted. Upon learning that he had “gotten lucky” under the influence with a girl from the aforementioned lagoon, Teddy gleefully exclaims “hot diggity!” in a distinctly “year-2003-imagining-of-ecstatic-1920s-college-student” manner. Teddy reveals that he is a former Yale student who, for the bulk of his bright college years, “drank quite a bit, romanced some local girls, wrote poetry.” Tabby is a woman, possibly Teddy’s sister, who aspires to be First Lady and to convince the world of the superiority of Shetland ponies as a means of transport over automobiles. The play turns out to be a sort of surrealistically- informed “Waiting for Godot.” It begins with the alliterative duo analyzing clues that their father is dead, ranging from “his head exploded” to “his brains were spewed across the sidewalk.” Teddy suggests “the end of days” has arrived.
The fifth play is the gem of the bunch. It consists merely of an elderly Chinese man sitting alone on a bench, reminiscing about his son’s childhood, his many years with his wife, and finally his deteriorated relationship with his dead mother. The play seems out of place in the company of less-serious pieces. The man divulges his life story in a stereotypical English-as-a-second-language cadence, rife with unconjugated verbs and absent articles. The man rhapsodizes on the American-ness of paying one’s mortgage and his desire to learn the tango so he can dance with his wife on a cruise ship to Hawaii. The writing is excellent; the protagonist’s frugality, strength of family ties, and emphasis on hard work are consistent with his demographic and portrayed beautifully. The man says he made his son play basketball when he was younger so he would grow taller. Since that didn’t work, the man says he bought his son shoes with hidden platforms. His son was insulted by the gesture and threw the shoes over a bridge. Such a touching story hardly feels like the “3 a.m. feeling” alluded to by O’Brien. Indeed, it’s not — this play was touching and poignant — attributes not necessarily shared by the five other plays.
When playwrights, or anybody, are asked to stay up at odd hours of the night under pressure to finish their compositions in less time than it takes to thoroughly marinate a piece of meat, the results are expected to be a bit hollow. Additionally, the less-than-seamless insertion of the required elements seems to hinder most of the plays rather than help them. Symbolism and subtlety are scant; non-sequiturs in the name of fulfilling the set “must mention” items are bountiful. Indeed, seeking enjoyable drama in this Halloween-themed assortment of 24-hour theatre is like picking king-size candy bars out of a mass of stale candy corn. Most was just so-so, but some was excellent.
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