If you decide to check out the Yale Cabaret’s “Future Oprah Lovesong,” you’ll witness an actress kneeling to catch the (fake?) semen spurting out of a male actor’s enormous sparkly-orange phallic appendage, while the semen-provider — who is dressed as Oprah — shouts at her to “Drink! Drink! Drink!,” gesturing wildly at the audience to join in the chant.
At some point, I’ll get to the ceramic ATM-sized vagina, which is stuck to an unassuming white door behind them.
“Lovesong” is a three-plays assault, a roaring stampede of energy that seeks to destroy anything you thought made sense on a stage. The rampage is intense and high-minded: in the opening play, a father and child with their backs to the audience scream at a space of cavernous blackness before them. Just above their heads, a faded blue entryway reads “FUTURE — Gone Out of Business.”
But in the second play, the artist who has sculpted the enormous vagina holds her arms out toward her creation while forming the sounds of single letters, causing Oprah to strap on the outlandishly phallic device and instruct the artist to, and I paraphrase, “find [her] own juice.”
It is here that the production wobbles under the weight of its own ambition. When the artist gets to her knees and her gaping mouth nears Oprah’s appendage, I felt like the director wanted us to be hugely afraid, beyond our surprise or disgust — as if the real outrage were that the artist on her knees could be us, unable to speak about what we’ve created.
But with shock value this obscene and brilliant, communicating a clear meaning gets about as tricky as handling fireworks. Even by the standards of avant-garde theater, I’m not sure the audience ever fully got its bearings. That could be the point, but then what do we make of the moment when the actor playing Oprah tells the artist, “It’s a game. Save yourself”? Is that for us? Can we save ourselves from a world bereft of true language and full of people craving sound bytes?
That’s an important question, and the play seemed littered with pieces of a solution. But I couldn’t quite fit any of them together.
It all tightens up at the end, though; it gets beautifully eerie. In the final play, a man and woman walk through the white door repeatedly. In each scene in the series, one of them waits for the other to enter. The two repeat the same couple of lines, but they are cut short — a phone rings, a buzzer sounds, a thunderstorm roars, and one of them is gone. With these same lines, we watch them break each other’s hearts, deal drugs to one another and dance together while saying their lines in Spanish.
In the evening’s most haunting moment, they abandon words and stare into each other’s eyes, gesturing deliberately without the need for the language the artist from the second play had so desperately sought. It is here that all the elements of “Lovesong” harmonize as one.
What can one feel about “Future Oprah Lovesong”? The piece throws its weight into creating a complex experience, and it succeeded wildly — I was moved, shocked, confused and on edge. I was in awe of what a stage could do.
But of course, aiming fireworks at the stars has its risks, and at select moments I wondered whether the play’s depth had lost some coherence for the sake of a series of brilliantly bright explosions.