The abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky once wrote about a painting that he tried to complete but could never start. By the time of his death, he had still failed to free it from his mind.
Or so the story goes in “Out of the Blue,” a striking and teetering work at the Yale Cabaret whose only two characters are billed as Blue and Yellow — colors Kandinsky felt were wonderful opposites. Yellow repels, while blue draws you in.
And so the play’s energy fittingly orbits an inward, almost twitchy, young painter named Blue played by Jack Moran DRA ’13. Moran embodies a kind of manic loneliness; when he speaks to his portrait model, Yellow (Jillian Taylor DRA ’12), his words project into the space between them, as if they are all falling short of her.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”590″ ]
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline el_id=”24692″ ]
When Blue repositions Yellow for a new sketch, their lips near and then draw away without touching — in any other play, the moment would have been hopelessly worn in. But here we forget that it even could have been a cliché.
Blue spends weeks sketching Yellow, whose frustration grows as Blue fails to put paint to canvas. But Blue can’t paint her because he’s chasing the same thing that Kandinsky had chased. And so the play appears to be aiming for something heavy: Uncovering the thought that Kandinsky failed to capture, and then portraying the space around it.
The ultimate irony, of course, is that at the end we realize why Kandinsky couldn’t paint his picture.
“I’ve discovered that it can’t be painted,” Blue says. “It can only be thought.”
The play’s simplicity is jolted apart by other whimsical scenes that seem wildly unrelated. One involves Yellow in a puffed-up space suit made out of white and brown trash bags, traversing the moon with an upside-down metal bowl on her head, adorned with Christmas lights. She teeters left to right on one leg, and overdramatically draws out the phrase, “At last, I have made contact!”
In these moments, Blue and Yellow shift into totally new personas, none of which feel as compelling as that lonely tension between artist and model — they just don’t seem quite as well thought out. When Blue seems to play a medieval Frenchman locked in a high tower, he inspects the stars with a telescope made of a rolled-up sheet of paper, and pronounces “attitude” in an off-kilter accent, like “ah-tee-tood.”
These moments stab the narrative and exit just as jarringly, but they’re meant to draw laughs. It’s not as if the whole cabaret isn’t fully aware of the viewer’s confusion. And yet these scenes leave the play oscillating between something artistically serious and a thrill ride. They weigh down on Blue’s strikingly ambitious goal as it exists in the mind.
Other moments are less jarring, but still feel wayward. There’s a soliloquy on caterpillars turning into moths in cocoons. (As Blue tells us, only moths come out of cocoons, not butterflies.) Here, Moran projects the lengthy self-absorbed speech into space, but still makes it compelling. For a moment, it’s easy to forget that he’s standing in a basement theater that only seats 30.
Still, Blue is most fascinating when he’s obsessed with his art, not himself. The longer Blue grapples with painting the unpaintable, the more we realize how urgent it is that he try anyway.
And so, by the time the play is over, it’s not clear how near we’ve come to putting a border on Kandinsky’s space. “Out of the Blue” comes close, but in the end, the audience ends up as lost as the characters.