"Savage/Love & Tongues"
Summer Cabaret at Yale 2006, New Haven
In viewing “Savage/Love & Tongues” at Yale’s Summer Cabaret, one is reminded of the avant garde theater of earlier decades. A story line is conspicuously absent, but sound, poetry and movement all come together to create moods. Innovative and startling use is made of the actors’ bodies and of offbeat percussive instruments. Both pieces are decidedly intriguing and certainly give The Yale School of Drama’s gifted young students an opportunity to show off their skills. Yet this offering often feels like an acting class (albeit a gifted acting class) or a work-in-progress.
What are these two one-acters about? What is the raison d’etre? “Tongues,” the first piece, interweaves poetry with percussion. The players use everything from oven broiler pans to pitchforks to wine glasses, which create eerie sounds interspersing with spoken lines. The poems cover everything in the human existence--tackling death, illness, fear, loneliness.
The second piece, “Savage/Love,” specifically focuses on the fragility and difficulty of relationships. The theme binds together the piece’s fragmented moments, giving a more cohesive quality to the evening’s second act.
Both pieces of this 55-minute non-stop show were co-authored by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaiken, two giants of avant garde theater, and date back to the 1970s. In this Yale production director Nelson T. Eusebio III makes the authors’ material his own, but it is difficult to determine who is responsible for what. In any event Eusebio and company do justice to the material, handling it all with precision and professionalism. The four performers—Giovanni Adams, Brooke Parks, Sarah Pickett, and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart—are equal to the formidable task. In the sound-dominated first act, Adams and Pickett shine as drummers, but all four produce clean, sharp, eerie sounds that enhance the spoken word. In the second act, Stewart and Adams are the stronger dancers, but, again, all four rise to the task. Stewart is also listed as the choreographer, but, again, are these dance movements her inventions—or those of Eusebio or Chaiken or Shepard? In one brilliant moment, the performers are on all fours, emulating predatory jungle animals, as they hunt for mates. In another heart-breaking monologue, Adams describes the difficulty of expressing himself to others. (This poem may well relate to Chaiken’s own feelings after he had a stroke and was determined to continue in theater.)
In short, the troupe at the Cabaret are doing just what a young acting group should be doing—breaking away from safe conventional theater and reaching for its unknown possibilities.
-- Irene Backalenick
July 7, 2006