A mere day or two after the end of Spring Break, Yale’s many libraries were filled to the brim. The campus bustled with papers, midterms and midnight runs to the buttery for that desperately needed caffeine buzz —- the Eli Academic Express stops for no one. If you are one of the many whose weary brains have simply ceased to function, then your best bet this weekend is to curl up on your couch. Really. But if you still have a few neurons firing, then feel free to head on down to the Saybrook Underbrook Theatre to see Lainie Fefferman ’04’s creation “Sacrifice.”
The performance piece may best be categorized as a multimedia melange: sound, dance and photography are woven together to present the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Dancers Michael Harkless and Jesus Chap-Malacara ’04 play the father and son, whose story is told by an accompanying voice-over by Fefferman herself reading from the Torah and Koran.
Despite the production’s slightly disjointed nature, it is, at the very least, extremely thought-provoking. Fefferman smartly begins the performance with an introduction in which she asks us to consider three questions: Who are our heroes? How do we learn from them? And what does that say about us? At a time when both global and national conflicts are of major concern, these are questions that we would do well to keep in mind. Moreover, the inherent gravity of these questions is enhanced by the director’s choice to present both the Torah and Koran versions of the Abraham story. Though similar in outcome, there are striking differences between the two versions which call into question our own definitions of “family” and “hero.”
The dancing in “Sacrifice” is also particularly noteworthy. Choreographer Lisa Gross ’04 does an excellent job of utilizing modern style and technique to differentiate between the Torah and Koran versions (the former bearing a distinctly angular appearance, in contrast to the rounder, wavelike motions found in the latter version). And hats off to Fefferman for the music, whose melodic complexity and stagnated rhythms provide a chilling backdrop for the dances. A unique combination of instruments (cello, clarinet and percussion comprise the entire orchestra) adds to the music’s striking quality. Fast-tempo scales and arpeggios on the vibraphone, specifically, help to add a fantastical, almost supernatural aspect. And soprano Amy Shimbo MUS ’05 and tenors Paul Berry MUS ’06 and Steve Rodgers MUS ’05 deliver a virtuosic performance of Fefferman’s masterful vocal score.
Considering the piece as a whole, however, there is something slightly off-kilter. Interludes, comprised of either slide-projected photography or religious chants, are interspersed throughout the piece. But these interludes often provide more interruption than intrigue. The story itself is both poignant and captivating: a loving father is asked to sacrifice his favorite son in order to show devotion to his creator. And the audience, immersed in the sweeping movements of the dancers and the changing rhythms of Fefferman’s haunting melodies, cannot help but feel an emotional connection. However, during the interludes, the dancers exit the stage, severing this connection.
Theatrical interludes may serve to build suspense or to heighten a viewer’s interest in the outcome of the story. But “Sacrifice” is not about plot line. If anything, many of the audience members are already familiar with the outcome of the biblical story. Rather, “Sacrifice” is about connecting with this story, about examining our own spirituality and how it affects our role in life. The interludes, therefore, are both distracting and disruptive. Our attention begins to wane, and it is difficult to regain focus when the visual aspects of the production reappear.
Part of the problem, however, is due not to the production but to the Underbrook space, itself. Unfortunately, the stage requires the orchestra to remain behind the audience, which only exacerbates the lack of visual stimulation during some of the interludes.
Nevertheless, if you haven’t yet collapsed onto your couch, don’t discount “Sacrifice” as a viable option for your weekend’s entertainment. Disruptive interludes aside, the production provides a refreshing alternative to those mindless shows constantly bombarding our televisions. Don’t want to relinquish your couch time? Well, think again. It just may be worth — come on, you knew it was coming — the sacrifice.