“Are you mansplaining existentialism to me?” screams the character Ariel to her lover in “We Are All Here.”
Just as this question suggests, the Yale Cabaret’s first production of the season tackles feminism, sex and gender dynamics: worries that resonate with the audience’s daily frustrations. The actors take these shared frustrations, however, and translate them into an intelligible and charming play about love. A remix of Charles L. Mee’s comedy “Wintertime,” the production features a mix of dance and song.
Leaping on to the stage, Ariel and her lover Leon begin the play in what they believe is the privacy of an empty home. Soon after, they discover Leon’s mother and her lover as well as Leon’s father and his lover. Don’t worry, it’s an open relationship. Viewers are later introduced to four more characters: the family’s neighboring couple, an OB/GYN with a surprising romantic history and a deliveryman-turned-minister with a tendency for poignant interruptions.
Though it is at times difficult to remember so many names, the characters and their stories are so unusual and distinct from one another that it’s a challenge to forget their stories. Equally challenging is understanding certain conversations, like an analogy connecting the life of cicadas to the evolution of love.
Perhaps the most striking part of the production is the breadth of diversity of character; about half the cast members are people of color. Featuring a few heterosexual couples, one lesbian couple and one gay couple, the play seeks to universalize, rather than particularize, these sentiments and tribulations. Artistic Director of the Cabaret Leora Morris DRA ’16 said she and her fellow artistic directors were drawn to the original play because of Mee’s commitment to character diversity — and this diversity is in line with Cabaret’s mission for this season. The artistic directors hope the Cabaret functions as a safe space for people of all backgrounds.
The diversity appears in various ways throughout the work; for instance, costumes depict a variety of classes and cultures. With a video screen on the back wall, the play jumps from storyline to soliloquy to song. Somehow, though, it works. The disparate storylines don’t feel thrown together — in part because the costume and set changes happen while the viewer is entranced by a powerful monologue or dance number.
These dances, though sporadic, are a healthy chaos. It’s unclear whether they’ve been carefully rehearsed or if they’re the work of seasoned improvisers, but the mix of genre delights nonetheless. My favorite is the impersonation of first-rate ping-pong players, where the actors mime playing a game of table tennis with their lovers. Not only is it entertaining, it depicts love as a game of ping-pong more effectively than dialogue would have.
The innovative dance trend continues with the final number: After making a pact to never forget one another, the actors disrobe and launch into what seemed to be a carefully choreographed improv … if such a thing exists. The transition from a poignant moment to a salacious dance was both unexpected and, looking back, quite absurd. Though I was surprised (read: distracted?) by the characters’ disrobing, this only lasted a few seconds and appreciation soon took over.
Images or videos on the back wall complemented these dance routines, while the screen largely remained off during dialogue. I was left wondering about the purpose of this screen, as it did not appear to add a groundbreaking or particularly necessary element. I found myself trying to make sense of it throughout the production, perhaps working too hard to find meaning where an explicit one did not exist.
The production, which features a disappearance and death, honors a recently deceased friend of Director David Bruin DRA’16. In a recent interview, Bruin noted that the passing shaped his connection to the play. The disappearance of a character prompts the others to put their lives in perspective — Bruin had a similar feeling after the death of his friend.
For those of you who choose to see “We Are All Here” — and you all should — the show closes Saturday night. Unpredictable, hilarious and at times disheartening, the play challenges our notions of relationships and makes us ask, “What will we sacrifice for love?”