Experimentation, breathless expectation and sweat dripping onto the littered stage floor. These are the ephemeral moments that make college theater worth it. And even if they don’t quite reach transcendence, Yale theater rarely suffers from a lack of effort.
The light glinting off the polished silverware crowning “The Metaphysics of Breakfast” marked the inauguration of last fall’s theater season.
Written, directed and produced by undergraduates, the one-act performance spent the summer at the New York Fringe Festival and returned triumphantly to New Haven’s own Off Broadway Theater in the fall. The play’s language was fresh and crisp, matching the bright, wide-eyed aesthetic ethos and acting style.
The season continued into the cooling months with similar gusto.
Complicated concepts overhauled the conventions of what makes a play worth experiencing and updated the classic stories of Caligula and Richard III. The energy and preparation that absolutely poured out of these productions transformed them from simple plays to veritable experiences.
“Caligula” and “Richard III,” along with “Henry IV,” showcased scene- and often show-stealing performances that bode well for the future of Yale drama. Although these performances were captivating, ensemble work told the story in other productions, including “Assassins,” the graduate production of “Attempts on her Life,” and the Yale Repertory’s “Safe in Hell.”
The pre-professional and professional offerings at the School of Drama and the Rep showcased directorial skill and conceptual originality with productions of modern works tackling contemporary issues. Providing alternatives to the more numerous undergraduate productions, these shows are often worth the few extra dollars.
Interactive adventures that tempted the audience to engage with theater in a unique and sometimes twisted fashion peppered the fall season. With a portion of the audience on the stage of the Saybrook Underbrook, actors in “Richard III” interacted with their new cast mates in the rhythm of the groundling production.
Dividing the audience into four sections and moving them to each of four vignettes playing simultaneously, “Fefu and her Friends” also played with the strictures of theatrical convention. Its feminist themes and all-female cast also added a fresh voice to the first half of the 2005-06 season.
The theatrical experience dressed itself in drag with “The Installation of Cruelty,” a living haunted house that required the audience to walk through its often gruesome, always disturbing exhibit. The piece’s Brechtian nature stretched the boundaries of the actors, forcing them to perform repetitious motions continuously for two hours. Their discipline and unaffected artificiality were novel and refreshing.
More traditional productions donned the avant-garde sash by choosing obscure and often inaccessible works by lesser-known playwrights.
Though the bevy of history and Group IV majors less literate than the “theater crowd” may shy away from risky choices for weekend entertainment because they aren’t Arthur Miller, this may be the only time to see obscure but often rewarding pieces of work. The unique environment created by the Dramat, Sudler funds and admittedly numerous performance spaces — though we may complain, it could be much worse — provides a ridiculous number of extraordinary and cheap theatrical opportunities.
The obscure masterwork battalion of Yale theater will march into 2006 headed by “The House of Yes” and “Mute Play.” Although this use of little-known works will continue to be a theme, the spring also promises to diversify the undergraduate offerings with some slightly more mainstream choices, including Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” and Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off.”
The originality of material and conceptual chutzpah of the fall will certainly linger into the spring, anchored by the eternally incisive Yale thespians. Always defying convention, constantly questioning, and infinitely desiring, Yale theater will continue to offer a tantalizing glimpse into the collective human experience through the love of the stage.