Sounds intriguing, no?
What, exactly, is “Booty Fire”? A hot new dance craze? The theme for this weekend’s party at DKE? An uncomfortable skin disease?
It is, in fact, the production currently playing at the Yale Cabaret
The show contains a series of short scenes written by Robert O’Hara, Eric Bogosian and Marsha Norman and concludes with a short play by Tony Kushner. The show, directed by Snehal Desai DRA ’08, promises to “dig deeply into issues of race, sexuality, gender, identity and class.” Oftentimes, however, the effect of Booty Fire’s promised deep digging is more alienating to the audience than endearing.
The show’s first scene is actually a blackout and a recorded cell phone conversation. Apparently, the latest gossip worthy of daytime minutes is mother-to-be-from-the-block’s plan to name her child “Genetalia.” Granted, the conversation is funny, but is not the most promising primer for an evening dealing with race, identity and class.
The rest of the vignettes deal with issues ranging from the importance of choosing the right audition monologue to the difficulty of falling in love with your wife’s brother. The scenes themselves seem to have a lot of heart in them, and in a wider context may be capable of truly moving an audience, but the abbreviated compilation at the Cabaret leaves little room for the audience to sympathize with the characters, and in turn, the actors sometimes fail to create people that we really want to care about
One scene, “Drinks and Desire,” is perhaps the most intense in subject matter, and yet the language of the scene alternates from short, pointed phrases that sound like they came out of a first-year acting exercise (“How many different actions can you express in the word ‘okay’?”) to incredibly blatant exchanges about gay sex that are horribly uncomfortable to watch. Even the two male actors in the scene seem slightly uncomfortable with what they are saying. They constantly fondle whatever props they can get their hands on — excuse the innuendo — to hold them back from truly committing to the scene.
In some instances, the performers do manage to make the best of their scenes with some poignant performances. Carrie van Deest DRA ’06 is excellent as a drunken bride with a serious case of pre-marital jitters, and Brian Henry DRA ’07 is wonderfully dynamic, especially in the concluding Kushner scene.
The technical elements are effective as well. The Cabaret is a flexible space that can be utilized in interesting ways. For Booty Fire, the stage is positioned in the center of the room, with the audience surrounding, making for aesthetically beautiful staging choices. Set designer Paul Gelinas DRA ’08 has created a stark set of nothing more than a few chairs flanked by rows of almost interrogational spotlights. The set and lighting create an appropriate ambiance for conversations and confessions of all kinds and gender persuasions.
The final installment of the evening, entitled “Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence” was characteristically Kushner, heavily steeped in the theme of being gay in the world today, but even Kushner’s meaty intellectual dialogue is cheapened in context with the other scenes. It seems more like an addendum meant to compensate for the previous lack of content than a conclusion that sums up the themes of the evening.
In fact, it is difficult see any thread that connects this cut-and-paste collage. Booty Fire seems to be conflicted between two different desires: attempting to seem edgy, shocking and funny; or revealing human truths. Too often the former smothers the latter, creating a series of vignettes that are amusing on their own, but as a whole fail to create a narrative with a real arc. Leaving the cabaret at the end of the evening, the audience is left with one thought about Booty Fire: It is difficult to connect. But then, perhaps that is what Booty Fire has been trying to say about love and desire after all.