The opening scene of “pleasureD” includes a dildo and a potted plant. It is no surprise that at first glance, Yale Cabaret’s production of the week — a play about women exploring what delights them — may send the wrong signal, one of standard and gaudy vaudeville. Fortunately, by the end of its roughly hour-long runtime, “pleasureD” leaves little doubt that it is actually an envisioned and fun excursion, bursting at the seams with nerve and humor.
It begins loosely enough. The action, built around the bouncy performances of a trio of Yale School of Drama actresses who wished to remain anonymous, follows no clear chronology or plot. Instead, the characters start with an unintelligible song and continue through a few daily humdrums — including brushing teeth and folding clothes — before packages begin to arrive one by one for each of them.
But as “pleasureD” progresses, the three actresses showcase a certain knack for precision in their continuous performance. Rehearsed dance numbers crop up every few minutes, and even in a ballet rendition of a crap, close attention to the choreography and, more importantly, to the relationships among the actresses remains paramount. This supplies “pleasureD” with most of its humor⎯— the character dynamic resembles that of Larry, Curly and Moe, or more suitably and contemporarily, the female versions of Ed, Edd and Eddy.
However, the acting itself is second string to the much more alluring aspect of the play: interpreting and defining the multitude of symbols built within its framework. The most important among these images manifest themselves in the three packages the actresses receive in the second half of the play. But other than their literal significance, these items are open to representing anything: possibly freedom of emotion (cotton ball-filled chest), spiritual love (fog light), even sexual desire (handyman drill).
The images are presented in amusing, if not endearing, ways, stripped of their seriousness and cast into the stage lights as easy (but not uncomplicated) methods by which we derive pleasure. There is no denying that intense affection has the power to destroy, and sex to madden. But sock puppets making love to “Unchained Melody,” or a re-enactment of the famous beach scene in “From Here to Eternity,” simplify and comically highlight what otherwise are wild, carnal passions.
Of course, sound has a major role, running concurrent with the acting and the images. None of the actresses ever utters a line of true dialogue, and the play instead relies on physical movement and exterior noise —⎯like a simple bell that denotes a shift in action and mood, or a collection of songs ranging from hiphop to Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”
That being said, “pleasureD” is by no means easily definable, since it lends itself to widespread interpretation. And so “pleasureD” resembles, if anything, an experimental film or a piece of abstract art, devoid of straightforwardness or associational clarity. As such, this is not a play for everyone, and its most glaring drawback is that it is entirely hit-or-miss. But then again, this little concerns the play as a whole, which is thoroughly engrossed in its energetic subject matter.
For regardless of whether or not a viewer’s individual interpretations are correct, “pleasureD” is, at its heart, an over-the-top, ostentatious, extravagant celebration of everything gratifying in life. And isn’t life too splendid and unfathomable for either simple words or a single stage?
Our mute YSD actresses, at least, would certainly agree.