Yale Cabaret builds community with original comedy ‘Penis Inspection Day’
With an original comedy written by a local Connecticut playwright, Yale Cabaret brings together artists from across the University and the community.
Courtesy of Yale Cabaret
This weekend, the Yale Cabaret’s Company of Cab 54 will present “Penis Inspection Day” –– an original comedy written by local Connecticut playwright Matthew DeCostanza.
“Penis Inspection Day” is set at a British boarding school in the early 20th century and follows the story of a group of bullies who seize an opportunity to take a new student named Lafcadio under their wing and convince him that an event called penis inspection day is coming up. The show explores the coming-of-age topics of being an individual within an institution, dealing with authority, growing up and fitting into an adult world.
“It might not be an autobiographical story, but it’s sort of a spiritual autobiography of my adolescence,” DeCostanza said. “When I was in boarding school myself, being quite unhappy and quite imaginative turned out to be an interesting combination, which served as my creative inspiration for the play.”
DeCostanza wrote the script around six years ago, when he was in his early 20s, a time when he was still close to the experience of being an adolescent in a boarding school and grappling with “strong, chaotic emotions” regarding authority and individuality, he said. The play’s heightened style, influenced by Shakespeare, Wilde, Moliere and Brecht, is a tribute to DeCostanza’s younger self who found comfort and felt “at home” in the worlds of those dramaturgs.
“Penis Inspection Day” was originally proposed by Stephen Marks DRA ’22 and Meg Powers DRA ’22, DeCostanza’s friends, during the first round of Cabaret’s call for proposals.
“One of Cabaret’s primary values is building community, so we were very excited to work on this particular show,” said Sarah Cain DRA ’22, the play’s artistic director. “When we can make our community larger and include more people outside of the School of Drama or even Yale, I think that’s always moving.”
Along with featuring the work of a Connecticut playwright, this show is notable for the involvement of undergraduate students from five different residential colleges. Because of the pandemic-related changes to the Drama School’s production calendar, several productions are taking place at once and actor availability is more limited than usual. To adapt to the situation, the play’s team decided to cast undergraduate students as well. For example, Bradley Nowacek ’23 was referred to the play’s auditions by a teaching fellow in his “Acting Shakespeare” class. Cain said that the choice to cast undergraduates might have come out as “accidental” but it “definitely was a happy accident.”
At the beginning of October, DeCostanza and the Cabaret team casted the roles and moved onto the rehearsal process, which lasted around three weeks.
“There’s a particular joy in this challenge of doing something in so little time,” Nowacek said. “Also, you can sense everyone’s excitement to work on the show in person, to finally get back into a costume and to perform under the stage lights, which is something we couldn’t do for the past 18 months.”
While the team still has to abide by University health guidelines such as mandatory masking of actors and audience members, they were relaxed to a certain extent for the Cabaret shows. For instance, the performers need not keep a 12-foot distance from the audience, as is the case for undergraduate productions, and can act in close proximity to the viewers. According to Nowacek, this creates a “very intimate space” and allows for the performers to make a special connection with the audience.
The Cabaret was also recently approved to open the audience to the vaccinated general public, making “Penis Inspection Day” the first show to welcome back a larger community outside of Yale into the space since the start of the pandemic.
As a result of this creative collaboration of artists from across the University and the community, Cab staged a comedy play that also tackles challenging coming-of-age issues and examines what it is like to live inside of institutions.
“When I was writing the play, it felt like an intuitive, almost automatic process, while staging it now feels like a collaboration with my younger self and an incredibly talented Cab team,” DeCostanza said. “The play highlights the tension between the individual’s uniqueness and the inevitable necessity to join society, so I hope that some will find it relatable. But it is also a comedy, and I hope it will make people laugh.”
The performances will take place at 217 Park St. on Oct. 28 at 8 p.m., Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. and Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets for the play must be reserved online via the Cabaret website.