The Yale Cabaret, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, prides itself on providing cutting edge theater, with an avant garde flavor, that pushes the envelope in a variety of directions across the finish line. Never meek or mild, the Yale Cabaret is, rather, bold and adventurous, going where few theater companies have ever gone before.
Now in its 44th season, this totally student run company from the Yale School of Drama, is off and running to the races. This past weekend they produced a hundred year old piece written by playwright Jacob Gordin for the Yiddish theater, that thrived for an immigrant population in New York City, at one time numbering twenty-two venues in the city alone. In honor of the Jewish holiday of Purim, the Yale Cabaret offered “The Yiddish King Lear.” On every table were a plate of tasty apricot hamentashen (triangular shaped cookies in honor of the villain of the day, Hamen, who met with defeat) from Westville Kosher Market in New Haven to celebrate the day.
This delightful tale featured a father (Bill DeMeritt) who offers his riches to his three daughters, only to have one, the youngest Taybele (Alex Trow), refuse his gifts. She protests she does not need presents as long as she has his love. He, of course, like his famous Shakespearian predecessor, calls her an ungrateful wretch and disowns her. He leaves the household to travel to the Promised Land of Israel, abandoning Taybele to her fate. When he returns five years later, blind, old and penniless, he finds the true meaning of life just in time, when his “worthless” daughter, now a doctor, is able to restore his sight, with the help of her new husband also a doctor, and make everything miraculously right with the world.
On opening night, a special contingent from Tower One Senior Housing attended, including one woman who had seen the original production in New York in Yiddish at least seven decades before. The Yale Cabaret’s imaginative production was directed by Whitney Dibo and adapted, assembled and created with exquisite care by Martha Kaufman and Lauren Dubowski. The attention to detail was remarkable.
Upcoming at the cabaret is “Basement Hades: Songs of the Underworld,” directed by Ethan Heard, on Wednesday, March 21 at 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., a retelling of the Orpheus myth. A musician must play, calling upon all the powers of his soul and heart, to convince the ferryman to take him across the river Styx.
“Funnyhouse of a Negro,” written by Adrienne Kennedy almost five decades ago, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, will play Thursday, March 29 at 8 .m. and Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. A young light skinned African-American woman struggles with her identity in what may be a never- ending nightmare.
Completing the season will be “Carnival/Invisible” created by Benjamin Fainstein on Thursday, April 12 at 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Like a circus side- show, it explores the personas and masks we put in place to transform ourselves and discover where we belong.
In addition to these intriguing theatrical offerings, the Yale Cabaret invites you to come early, at 6:30 p.m., for dinner, dessert and drinks. A recent menu had beet salad with goat cheese ($6), grilled swordfish with couscous and string beans ($17) and crepes with oranges and ginger ($5) among its many tasty treats, with Anna Belcher as executive chef. Your friendly waitress or waiter is likely to be a Yale School of Drama student.
For tickets ($15 for a single show, 6 show short pass $45, 9 show pass $65), call 203-432-1566 or online at www.yalecabaret.org. The cabaret is tucked down an alley at 217 Park Street, New Haven. Come early for dinner or for a glass of wine.
Extraordinary things are always in abundance at the Yale Cabaret. Be forewarned they can be probing and provocative as well as radical and racy, as in off-color, but always dramatically different.