The show started before you walked inside. As actor and co-director of the Control Group Charles Gariepy ’09, with a waiter’s tray in his hand, asked the audience members walking up to 229 Dwight Street if they had reservations, cast members started walking out of the FOOT house into the backyard.

First were girls with sullen faces and dark lipstick. They wore heels and tights, and flaunted their legs as they lounged about on the broken furniture strewn about the backyard.

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“Got a little treat for me?” Gariepy asked one of them. She took out a pack of Camel cigarettes and handed one to him before smoking herself.

Two singers with cockney accents came from opposite the house behind the wooden fence singing “Wonderful World.” Gariepy tried to shoo them away.

Technically the show had not even started. It was Valentine’s Day night at the Control Group’s “Love, MALADIES’ and Other Spots of Time,” an unconventional performance that incorporated the audience into the show, gave each guest wine and was performed in the basement of an off-campus house. Also, it was based entirely on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Inside the ‘Ragged Claw’

The show was supposed to start at 10 p.m. It was 10:10 p.m, and it hadn’t started. A few minutes later, Gariepy invited the audience (including this reporter), down into the basement that had been transformed into “The Ragged Claw Café” — a name borrowed from a line in “Prufrock.” There, the audience was asked to take a seat at a table in the dark and dingy basement. All audience members must be seated at the table, a voice demanded.

Gariepy walked around the table pouring wine.

Two actors sat at the table among audience members. One of the actors seated in the center began to speak.

“Let us go then you and I,” Tully McLoughlin ’11, who played the role of J. Alfred Prufrock, began. Save for introductions by the singers (Cory Finley ’11 and Jeremy Lloyd ’12), essentially all the play’s dialogue came from the poem. Even the songs composed by Lloyd incorporated lines from “Prufrock.”

The two girls sitting outside, Cordelia Istel ’10 and Timmia Hearn Feldman ’12, were called the Hecklers. During the performance, they cackled at Prufrock. Other characters included a man wearing a number of neckties called Tie Man (Avery Faller ’11), a man standing behind a bar called the Eternal Footman (Adam Horowitz ’09) and a Magic Lantern (Gariepy), who performed a sensuous dance wearing a sparkling unitard with a lampshade over his head. As the man danced, the Prufrock character turned to the audience and said: “And I have known the arms already, known them all –.”

The show ended with the words: “Thank you for joining us,” and the audience filed out, still gathering their thoughts about their experience in the basement.

“I’m not sure how to react to it,” Thomas Meyer ’11 said, standing in the backyard filled with un-raked leaves and cigarette butts.

In the eyes of Gariepy and Horowitz, audience reactions have focused on the experience of a production different from the usual fare at Yale.

“It’s just introducing the way in which you can put bodies into a space and perform with them, and the ambiguity as to which the audience was part of the performance itself gave people a newer sense of what theater was — what performance was,” Gariepy said. “A lot of people came away saying they didn’t know whether or not they could interact with the characters. They didn’t know what their placement was, and I think for them it was a paradigm shift.”

Actors like Istel and Lloyd said they relished the experience as being something outside the norm.

“It’s just so much fun,” Istel said. “It’s just like playing around in a basement.”

Breaking with convention

Gariepy, a former editorials editor for the News, and co-director Horowitz said they are not sure when the Control Group was formed.

“It’s before our time,” Gariepy said, the Sunday after the show, at the Kasbah Garden Cafe. “But not very many years before us.”

“It was started on the principle that Yale theater was not satisfying a certain niche of performance that treated performance in and of itself different from conventional theater,” Gariepy continued.

Horowitz added that despite the initial mission statement, what happens in the Control Group changes from year to year based on the group’s composition.

At the beginning of the year, the co-directors who spent a lot of time training seven new members as six Control Group seniors graduated and two underclassmen stopped participating since last year, Gariepy said. Whether or not they have a piece to work on, the Control Group rehearses twice a week. During their rehearsals, they explore physical methods of theater, including the SITI Company’s Viewpoints and Suzuki training.

At Yale, Horowitz works mainly with the Control Group. Gariepy, meanwhile, has been involved in other, more traditional, theatrical productions. In April 2008, Gariepy was in a production of “Salome,” put on as a senior project, and he has been in other performances on campus. Gariepy pointed out that Horowitz has worked over summers with theater groups in Poland, Denmark and Peru and is involved with the World Performance Project.

Last semester, the Control Group performed a piece called “Mirandas by Night” involving a parade of performers on stilts wearing masks and orange dresses walking about campus. While they had been thinking about the concept for a month, they actually put the show together in one week, Gariepy said.

And it was only about two weeks ago that “Love, Maladies” came together, Gariepy and Horowitz said. It originated from the idea that they wanted to do something in the basement of the FOOT house and something on Valentine’s day. So, to make this idea a reality, they asked ensemble members to bring in love poems. Horowitz himself brought in “Prufrock.”

Originally, they were going to integrate other poems, including Shakespearean sonnets, Allen Ginsberg poems and haikus, with “Prufrock.” But they ultimately let Eliot’s words stand alone.

Remarked Gariepy: “We were working with such a highly modernist text already that it was already in parts and pieces for us.”