Man cannot live on camp alone, but this week, Yale Cabaret seems determined to try.
This weekend, the Yale Cabaret puts on a deliciously sardonic production of “Don’t Marry a Drunkard to Reform Him,” an awfully written 19th-century drama by the long-deceased (and hopefully longer-forgotten) H. Elliott McBride. It is a tale that is as full of ham-fisted didacticism as it is devoid of dramatic flair. Penned well before Prohibition, it tells the story of a family ruined by intemperance. With one-dimensional characters, unimaginative dialogue and an obvious yet none-too-convincing moral, “Don’t Marry a Drunkard” must have been painful to watch when it was first produced back in 1877.
The cast and crew, though, are perfectly aware that this text is nothing short of a dramatic disaster. Rather than play the drama with its original intent, the Cabaret’s production infuses the performance with an entertaining mix of self-mockery and hilarious overacting. The result is an uneven but mostly entertaining skewering of the sort of preachy, cut-rate drama that “Don’t Marry a Drunkard” represents.
Every line delivered, every action performed is mined for the greatest possible amount of irony. Solemn declarations of feminine solidarity are transformed into jarringly Sapphic exchanges; characters deliver impassioned sermons on temperance whilst swilling from hip flasks; frail 8-year-old girls are played by hulking, bearded men. The effect is closer to that of an improv performance or one of the Yale Children’s Theater’s “adult shows” than to a conventional play. The show even includes a bit of audience participation that is, amazingly, less bizarre in the Cabaret’s production than in its original dramatic context.
At the center of the play are two siblings left destitute by their drunkard of a father. These two — Frank and Dora Lake — formed what must have passed for a dramatic crux in the original. In this version, however, the two (played by Joseph Cermatori DRA ’08 and Jeff Rogers DRA ’07, respectively) deliver complimentary performances that are nothing short of uproarious. Starving, abandoned children have never been so much fun!
The production is not without its flaws. The cast sometimes delves needlessly into juvenilia in their pursuit of laughs, and the set, lighting and sound are not particularly well employed toward reinforcing the play’s self-conscious sense of humor. The major problem, though, is that the actors’ oh-so-ironic performances often become dramatically awkward. However, the cast is strong overall, and this last issue is more a shortcoming of the overall dramatic undertaking than of the actors themselves.
The entertainment value of ”Don’t Marry a Drunkard” is largely dependant on the audience’s tastes. This is a production to be enjoyed by people who heckle awful movies, mock matters of great import, and — most of all — appreciate the skewering of overbearing moralism. The play itself may be atrocious, but the production is admirable. If nothing else, the world may never again get a chance to see this dramatic debacle performed.