This weekend only, the Yale Cabaret presents a daring double bill entitled “Alter Egos: A One Wo/Man Show Festival.” On the one hand, “The Fallout of Pearl Harbor” constitutes a self-loathing autobiographical one-man show about a drug-addicted student’s stay at a mental institution; on the other hand, “Portraits Untitled” showcases four different characters as they navigate their lives in our increasingly complicated world. The former show represents the worst of life and, unfortunately, the worst of theater; the latter, the best of both.
“The Fallout of Pearl Harbor,” directed by Aja Naomi King DRA ’10, and written and dully performed on a bare stage by Ryan Lockwood DRA ’10, follows the actor-writer as he narrates his stay at a mental institution after suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and self-mutilation. The show presents the autobiography of a character who is self-indulgent, sexist, racist, misogynistic, anti-semitic and homophobic — until he discovers that he is gay, and reconsiders his views on the world. But we really don’t care for the character’s epiphany. As after he proceeds to demonstrate for a full hour that he is a self-pitying jerk, we rather wish that he winds up unhappy and lonely.
Despite this, the play is a somewhat relevant cultural critique of today’s America. Written as a celebration of the mundane, it is filled with observations about daily life and people’s little tics, and as such, it represents the increasingly performative aspect of our modern world: People here are not represented as full-fledged characters, but rather just as personalities, and a single physical gesture, acted out by Lockwood for each character he personifies, embodies their entire psyche. However sociologically interesting, the performance as a whole unfortunately lacks pathos and relatable themes, making for a lackluster show.
“Portraits Untitled” is everything that “Pearl Harbor” is not, much to my and to the audience’s delight. Conceptually, it is post-modernism embodied, as it discusses the nature of identity and touches on such themes as love, relationships and politics. Concretely, it is everything you could hope for in a piece of theater. It is a one-woman show, daringly directed by the incomparable Mike Leibenluft ’10, which presents characters — a Southern Republican, a Portuguese woman, a radio ingénue and an unnamed clown — as they “perform” the archetypes that they each represent.
“Portraits Untitled” defines good storytelling: universal themes expressed through unique cultural experiences. In a tour-de-force performance, the very talented Rachel Spencer DRA ’10 personifies the above characters with great sensitivity and an attention to behavior that will blow you away. Above all, the stand-out creative team of Spencer and Leibenluft addresses the very real dilemma of creating and representing identity in today’s world, and they do it with brio and class. The set, made of three empty frames, hearkens back to the question they pose in the Playbill, “What do you frame?”
I won’t reveal the ending to “Portraits,” but I can tell you it’s good. Very good. It wraps up this superb theatrical event with even deeper meaning and will leave you wondering, pondering and dreaming. What’s more, the show is absurdly hilarious. Go see it. I swear, you won’t regret it.
“Portraits Untitled” plays at the Yale Cabaret (217 Park St.) today at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 11 p.m. “The Fallout of Pearl Harbor” plays at the Cabaret today at 11 p.m. and tomorrow at 8 p.m.