The Yale Cabaret's Fit for Fall, with an Ensemble Collection

A scene from This., the second show of the current Yale Cabaret season.

This year’s leadership of the Yale Cabaret got off to a remarkable, rapid-paced and radical start with a surehanded original adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s social satire The Fatal Eggs. Akilter and wacky yet keenly focused on its central message (don’t destroy the world with greed and impatience, please), The Fatal Eggs (directed by Dustin Wills, who co-wrought the script with Ilya Khodosh) was a signal of the sort of intense collaborations we can expect from the Yale Cabaret this season.

The Cabaret’s artistic director this year is Ethan Heard, assisted by Managing Director Jonathan Wemette, Associate Artistic Directors Benjamin Fainstein and Nicholas Hussong, Associate Managing Director Xaq Webb, Productioin Suypervisor Michael Harvey and “Cabaret Assistant” Emika Abe. The graphic designers responsible for the new program format—the programs folds out into a mini-poster for the show you’re seeing.

The first three of the fall semester’s nine shows have been fresh ensemble pieces with strong collaborative tendencies.

(I reviewed The Fatal Eggs for my weblog New Haven Theater Jerk, here.)

Last week’s show, This., a multi-voiced exploration of loss and grieving based on interviews with members of the Yale and New Haven communities, is reviewed here.

This weekend brings the previously announced rock star death trip Ain’t Gonna Make It, co-wrought by Nicholas Husson, Cole Lewis, Masha Tsimring and Lauren Dubowski. Ain’t Gonna Make It has five public performances, October 4 through 6, Thursday at 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at both 8 & 11 p.m.

Following a dark weekend Oct. 11-13, the next SIX Yale Cabaret shows, taking us through the remainder of the fall semester, are:

October 18-20: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. It’s a largely conceptual piece about isolation and oppression (though, as a Cabaret press release cautions, it “is NOT overtly political, and should not be portrayed as such”), performed by a different actor at each performance, with no rehearsal and no director. The script is contained in a sealed envelope onstage, and begins ““Okay. So I have opened the envelope. I’ve begun to read, and I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

October 25-27: Cowboy Mouth, a fractious two-character small-room romantic desecration beloved by 20somethings. Sam Shepard and Patti Smith co-wrote and co-starred in the play in 1971, and Smith discusses that original production in her acclaimed memoir Just Kids.

Nov. 1-3: The Cabaret is dark.

November 8-10: MilkMilkLemonade by Joshua Conkel, a young playwright from Washington State who has had success with this script Off Broadway yet maintains high regional-theater ideals. Interestingly, he blogged in February 2011 (responding to an insufferably smug death-of-culture essay by the Kennedy Center’s Michael Kaiser in the Huffington Post) that:

The next great playwrights aren't necessarily in Yale's MFA program right now. Sure, they might be. But you know what else? They're just as likely to be self-producing a play at The Brick. Or at Dixon Place. Or not even in New York at all.

So credit to both Conkel and the Cabaret for this collusion.

Playscripts, Inc., which publishes MilkMilkLemonade, describes the play thus:

Emory is an effeminate 11-year-old boy who lives on a farm with his chain smoking Nanna and his only friend, a depressed chicken about to be processed. Nanna wishes Emory would get his head out of the clouds, stop choreographing ribbon stick dance numbers, and be more like Elliot, the boy down the road with a penchant for burning things. But Emory and Elliot have a relationship -- just not one Nanna would expect or approve of. With absurd, poignant dialog and brutal characterizations, MilkMilkLemonade is a bitterly funny exploration of gender, sexuality, life, death, and the human body.

Nov. 15-17: The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco. The Yale Cabaret and its offshoot the Yale Summer Cabaret have a long familiarity with Ionesco. I’m pretty sure I saw there The Chairs at the Cabaret some years ago, but can’t find evidence of that. What’s clearer, if Ionesco’s vaunted absurdism and dark comedy can ever be described as clear, is that the Yale Summer Cabaret had conspicuous successes with the playwright’s The New Tenant in 2006 and Bald Soprano in 1998. Both of those shows also feature a lot of chairs.

November 22-24: The Cabaret is dark.

November 29 through December 1: Cat Club, created and performed by current School of Drama students Tim Hassler (who’s in the acting program) and Paul Lieber (who’s in the Projection Design program). Cat  Club is described in a press release as concerning “Two little kittens” (played by Hassler and Lieber) who “really like cooking, singing, and reflecting on the Buddhist concept of Mu (non-existence). Tune in to their hit TV show CAT CLUB, featuring a curious combination of humor and heart - the silly and the sublime.”

December 6-8: Dilemma. The fall semester finale is an interactive piece involving an ensemble cast and members of the audiences, reacting to the theater-game-like proposition that “a trolley is hurtling out of control.” The production was conceived by Michael Bateman, a Theater Management student at the School of Drama (though this is not the sort of management that title usually describes), and “created” by the cast as a whole.

The Yale Cabaret’s at 217 Park Street, New Haven. Performances are Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 & 11 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for students. A nine-ticket “flex pass” is available for $70 ($50 for students), making it the greatest theater bargain in the state, with some of the most adventurous programming.