When it begins with the story of Perseus, slayer of Medusa and unknowing fulfiller of bleak prophecies, Refuse The Hour presents itself as the kind of thing that will revel in narrative. A young William Kentridge and his father are on a train, itself barreling through space and time. His father has opened a book of mythologies — maybe Hamilton’s, maybe someone else’s — and begins to unwrap the story step by step, starting with the original prophecy from the Oracle of Apollo that Perseus, who is not yet born, will kill his father.
In a back room at the Yale University Art Gallery last year, a half-record, half-video looking machine — the proper name is actually an anamorphic projection, which is what happens when 35mm film is transferred to DVD, and meets a cold rolled steel table and cylinder — sprang up during the institution’s exhibition on Contemporary Art/South Africa. Over eight minutes, viewers saw ripples, lines and semi-human forms rise up out of the white, slow-spinning cinematographic ground, and take flight as another dizzying suite of images began.
When the fast-rising, Yale-educated playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury was casting about for material that grabbed her, she came across a record of one of the earliest genocides of the murderous 20th century: the extermination of the Herero tribe of Namibia by the occupying Germans around 1915.
Yet the conventional play she wrote was, by her own determination, awful.
Yet she didn’t give up. She turned that experience into a new play whose structure is a play within a play: a play about how difficult, impossible, mind-bending, and even hysterically funny it can be to write a play about race, culture, and genocide.
In the dark backroom of the English Markets Building, a play was being born. I ventured out to the theater on Chapel Street and was greeted there by a shadowy figure who led me inside. There, a developing set had been laid out for the New Haven Theater Company’s latest offering, Smudge. The play, which first played in New York in 2010, is a contemporary look at parenthood and its problems, with a rather unusual take.
Ashley Hamel stepped up to the mic, her ukelele pressed tightly to her torso. She smiled out into the audience, drawing cheers from the back of the cavernous room.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, addressing the crowd in a low, drawl-kissed voice. “We are the most powerful beings on this earth, with the power of insight, the power of love, the power of intuition, the power of insight, and the power of ... smell.”
The entrance to the large ceramics studio at the rear of Erector Square’s building 8 — where City Wide Open Studios held its final weekend — is shared with Bregamos Community Theater. Last weekend, the sound of Latin jazz drew me to “Imagine My Space,” a pop-up exhibit featuring the work of artist Michael Alan Roman. A photographer who is new to painting, Roman said he first picked up the brush less than a year ago and has been creating his ethereal, otherworldly landscapes since.
“I don’t know where they come from,” he said, “I pick up the brush and go.”
The Pulitzer-winning Disgraced raced to the top of the “most produced plays at regional theaters nationwide” list for this season after rousing successes in Chicago in 2012 and Broadway in 2014. The Long Wharf Theatre didn’t used to be part of the pack of theaters that produce the latest hot things — it was, and still is, in the rarified realm of regionals that frequently creates those new hot things that other theaters glom onto a year or two later.
But in recent Long Wharf seasons we’ve had Clybourne Park,Bad Jews,brownsville song (b-side for tray) and now Disgraced — and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The cast of Legends of the Forgotten Borough, a play written and directed by New Haven’s Sharece M. Sellem and produced at Bregamos Community Theater, returned home this week from a triumphant staging at the Atlanta Black Theater Festival (ABTF) Columbus Day weekend, garnering a gleaming Festival Favorite Award statuette for best supporting actor.
“Hello, would you like to change religions and have a free book written by Jesus?” Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) asked from center stage, his pressed white shirt glowing under a spotlight. He grinned widely at an imaginary couple through a similarly imaginary doorway, utterly chuffed with himself, until a voice came over the loudspeaker to tell him he’d done it wrong.