I confess that I have complained about the lack of comedy in the Yale Rep calendars over the past few years. I love a good drama as well as the next New Haven theatre-goer, but sometimes, you just want a good laugh.
When I heard that Twelfth Night was on the menu for this season. I thought, that was nice. I mean it IS a Shakespeare comedy, and we know the Rep can give good Shakespeare. But I also admit that I thought I would have to take my medicine along with my spoonful of sugar.
I was wrong.
The production was thrilling. It was fun. It was colorful. It was musical. It was clever. It was revelatory. AND it was AFROFUTURISTIC.
The Afrofuturistic movement had its origins in the 1950s. But it started to blossom in the late 1990s through the music of SunRa, and George Clinton (who gave a wonderful, FREE concert on the New Haven Green in 2015) But it came, absolutely to the forefront of conversation and artistic expression this past year, with the film Black Panther. The fact that this film won a SAG Award and was nominated for a Best Film Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards is a sure sign that this is a forceful and important artistic movement. And this gorgeous production celebrates that in many wonderful ways.
It is rare for students from the post graduate program of the Yale Drama School to be cast in Yale Rep productions. As a young woman in the 1970s, I remember seeing a production at the Rep and saw an actress EAT the stage in a Rep show. We all walked out of the theatre in something of a shock, frantically looking through our playbills, looking for her name. That woman was Meryl Streep. She was one of the few post-grad students who was cast in a Rep play (she also appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Frogs which played INSIDE the Yale swimming pool.) So, for students to be invited into the Yale Rep season is a huge honor, and a confirmation of faith in one’s talent by the powers that be.
It is not hyperbole to say that this production, in its entirely was as transformative for me. I often feel that New Haven audiences leap to their feet at EVERYTHING, but at this curtain call, I was propelled by a force over which I had no control. I absolutely leapt to my feet.
Viola, shipwrecked, and searching for her brother, was gorgeously played by third-year student, Moses Ingram. Shakespeare comes easily to this wonderful actress. When she falls in love with Orsino (and he, in love with her, although we feel the discomfort) she maintains an approach that is, at the same time tentative and overwhelming. Ms. Ingram is natural, genuine, and possesses a real quality, even in Shakespeare. I cannot wait to see what she does next.
Olivia, another woman who is completely independent and confident, was played by the stunning Tiffany Denise Hobbs. It is her image that we see on the scrim through the projections. The costumes of Mika H. Eubanks (ANOTHER M.F.A. candidate) somehow managed to give a strong and lovely wardrobe to a face that is, quite frankly, extraordinary.
Sir Toby, played by Chivas Michael (Royal Shakespeare Company, London; Public Theatre, New York; Guthrie Theatre, to name only a few) was much fun, adding a bit of slapstick and hilarity, along with a team of cohorts Including the utterly delightful Abukar Ali ( a third-year M.F.A candidate at Yale) and Raffeal A Sears, as Fabian.
Sebastian, played by Jakeem Dante Powell (another incredibly gifted Yale Drama student) was glorious! This is where the music and Shakespeare came together.
Ilia Isorelys Paulino , a second year student at Yale Drama. Was gorgeous as Maria. Funny, inviting, with GREAT timing; she was one of my fave performances of the night. This was simply, one of the BEST nights I have had in the theatre, in New Haven for a long time. Just go see it