It is rare to attend a dramatic production at Yale and see people leave before the end. But, at Thursday night’s production of “The Last of the Maple Leaves,” the audience dwindled by half at intermission. If you see the show — and manage to stay until the end — you may begin to understand why.
“The Last of the Maple Leaves” is an original piece of work written and directed by Alcindor Leadon ’17. The advertisement warns prospective viewers that “This production contains vulgar language, unpatriotic dialogue, and material relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.” The warning would seem to make an audience member cautious, but the content does not provoke the emotional upheaval its PR suggests. Rather, the play’s confusing structure and underdeveloped characters should give the viewer pause.
The play opens with a New York family leaving their city apartment for Ontario, Canada, after 9/11. Secluded in a cabin, 14-year-old Holy (Sean Sullivan ’17) wishes to embrace adulthood. Instead, he is constrained by his responsibilities for his 7-year-old brother, Saber (played by Jay Majumdar ’18), and his father’s apparent psychosis.
We learn that, before the play has begun, Holy’s father Ashton (played by Noah Konkus ’18) has had a vision in which he foresees the Twin Towers falling. Alongside his repeating visions, Ashton’s wide eyes, paranoia and drastic mood swings suggest that he may be suffering from some form of mental illness. But his character isn’t fleshed out enough for the audience to have any certainty about it. He dishes out harassing remarks one moment and endearing dialogue the next — a flat, one-dimensional and inexplicable character.
This is a shame, since Konkus is the most talented member of the cast. He best elucidated the overly complex plot with a performance that is nuanced throughout, even during his intense visions.
Some of the plot points seem dramatically age-inappropriate. Holy begins an illicit sexual relationship with an engaged 20-year-old woman (and then her fiancé). In one scene, Holy talks with his father about sex: a perfectly normal conversation between father and son.
But then we are reminded that Holy is 14 years old and his partner(s) engaged. It’s just a little awkward.
These awkward moments are made even more uncomfortable because the actors all look the same age (admittedly an unavoidable fact of college productions). When the ages of the characters are explicitly mentioned, the viewer experiences a moment of cognitive dissonance. While Majumdar tried to evoke the physicality and vocal tones of a young child, no six-foot-tall college-aged male can effectively play a seven-year-old.
The plot and performances aside, the writing does have moments of luster. An intimate moment between the father and Saber’s grandmother (Dana Smooke ’18) is a nuanced conversation about the right to parenthood. In this scene, Leadon’s writing demonstrates maturity, and the actors’ portrayal provides a rare moment of sincere compassion.
Saber’s distress over his mother’s recent death showed that Leadon’s good writing did not mesh with the characters he had created, nor with the plot he was trying to foster. Had the audience been able to witness Saber interact with, say, his late mother, Leadon’s powerful words would have translated better. In addition to Saber’s mother, the audience hears of a number of intriguing characters that never actually enter the small space of the Ontario cabin. These references to absent characters made it difficult to keep up with the multiple storylines, and left many questions unanswered.
More importantly, the show felt like a disservice to families who suffered losses in 9/11. The production used the attack on the Twin Towers as a dramatic crutch, at one moment inappropriately comparing it to the events of Hurricane Sandy.
Leadon clearly has potential as a writer. This show was not quite ready for its premiere, and was not suited to an undergraduate cast. But there is something to be respected in his ambition. There was nothing simple about the task he undertook, and the cast had to tackle complicated, difficult and brand-new material. Perhaps one day Leadon will make this production work. Unfortunately, it wasn’t this week.