Descending the stairs into the Yale Cabaret, one settles into a quiet performance space reflective of the New Haven night scene, hidden and imbued with a sense of charm. A lit kitchen island stands in the center dressed with 25 bottles of wine. Pans hang amidst iron skillets and exposed piping, lit left and right with spotlights by designer Jesse Belsky DRA ’09. Ten tables anoint the experience as a grad student-dominated crowd settles into a menu of steamed mussels, spicy chicken tips, grilled chorizo, short rib quesadillas, pan seared tilapia and vegetable lasagna. Yet, while the introduction to the cellar of 217 Park Street seems quite remarkable, it quickly becomes apparent that the Cabaret is not built for the large crowds it attracts. The Chef, Dana Loehn, has run out of food, as cheap dining plates are presented with sloppy dollops of chicken, yogurt, and tomatoes. The tea is fresh, but after fifteen minutes, the production has still not started, and the crowd has begun to grow restless.
Nonetheless, as the first spring show of the 40th anniversary season, “Bill Clinton Goes to the Bathroom, or It Might As Well Be Spring,” written and directed by Mattie Brickman DRA ’09, proves to be a delightful and comic interpretation of the displacement of the coast onto middle America. Casting a family from California as security seekers in a small house dominated by water bottles, condensed milk and thinned-out hummus, the play forces one to re-imagine one’s own family and a place in one’s fulfillment of ideals. Younger daughter Janie, Caitlin Clouthier DRA ’08, is disenchanted with her written cartoons, while older Laura, Aubyn Dayton Philabaum DRA ’08, struggles to make it as a dancer and actress despite a knee injury. Both extremely manipulative sisters fall into a game of eight counts, as if in vain desperation for expression amidst a deadened environment. Father Jack, Nick Carriere DRA ’08, whose pants extend high above his belly button, appears supportive and engaging, a background figure to the mother Barbara, Brooke Parks DRA ’08, whose mission is one of self and familial promotion to all ends. The disparity in talent is notable but even the shakier Brooke Parks, initially overacting with glassy eyes, calms into her part as Barbara by the second dimming of the lights.
And yet, as crisis and bickering ensue, a man in ear muffs arrives announcing Hillary Clinton 2008 has appeared and Bill Clinton must go to the bathroom — a bold Hillary has already been “one with nature” thirty minutes prior. “I don’t know what your politics are but this certainly should be treated as it is — a man in need of a toilet” is announced with perfect timing, and a series of star-struck moves impress the audience. At times the humor degrades into a game of tap ass, and one is disappointed by the later sudden dramatic interpretation of Clouthier, as she exposes the uncertainty and irony within the family’s situation. However, her strong comedic capability, carrying the Cabaret with the support of Carriere and Parks, continue to a strong closing met with much applause and little question as to the director’s politics and sensitivity.
Thus, with influences like Pinter, Saupard and “You Can’t Take It With You,” Mattie Brickman’s mature sense of language makes “Bill Clinton Goes to the Bathroom” a noteworthy opening to an anniversary season speaking to the politics and values of the American experience. In the spirit of forty years of student-run and -financed productions, the Yale Cabaret opens its doors in 2008 to twenty six shows ranging from “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed primarily toward an undergraduate audience, to “Sidewalk Opera,” a discussion with the street walkers of New Haven. With Thursday night talk backs and a history rich in insight and collaboration, the originality of their managing director, Jacob Padron DRA ’08, and artistic directors, Becca Wolf DRA ’09 and Erik Pearson DRA ’09, will hopefully prove a clear draw to the undergraduate crowd.