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Connecticut Theater

"The Mistakes Madeline Made”
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven

Has Yale Rep gone East Village? So it would seem, judging by the theater’s latest offering, “The Mistakes Madeline Made.” (The play’s title could appropriately be shortened to “Mistakes.”) It is the type of quirky, muddled show one might see off-off Broadway, where young audiences are apt to seek out shows with shock effect. Granted that Yale Rep, a theater closely allied to its drama school, should be daring, avant-garde and experimental. But, at the same time, its plays should combine experimentation with meaning and depth.

It’s hard to find depth or meaning in “Mistakes.” Playwright Elizabeth Merriweather has thrown together a piece which has one questioning, “What’s this all about?” Wandering through this maze, with its short cuts and dead-ends, a viewer is likely to give up the search. After a time it hardly seems worth the effort. It leaves one wondering why Merriweather has become a cult favorite, and why, judging by “Mistakes,” an earlier play (“Heddatron”) was singled out for an award.

The plot is elusive and only gradually does one realize that the nugget of a story is here. The young protagonist Edna works in the high-powered corporate world, judging by the surroundings, but she is actually employed by a family run like a corporation. Precision and efficiency are the watchwords. (It is Merriweather’s take on today’s materialistic values.) Edna holds imaginary conversations with her dead brother, who pops up in the office files. At the same time she struggles with her robotic boss, with a weirdo fellow worker, and with casual lovers. At the close, Edna gets hold of herself, and the play ends, surprisingly, on a pleasant, sentimental note.

As to the production itself, performances are exemplary, with Aubrey Dollar in the lead, and Colleen Werthmann as her uptight boss. Werthmann, in fact, is brilliant as the tightly-strung Beth, an automoton on the edge of disaster. Other competent actors contributing to the general nonsense are Patch Darragh, Michael Chernus, and David Jenkins. The set design also (courtesy of Maiko Chii) makes an impressive contribution, with an elegant contemporary office/showroom, complete with copier, water cooler, and shelves of household products.

Considerable skills have contributed to this production, but all to what purpose? One leaves the theater with a sense of frustration and annoyance. “The Mistakes Madeline Made” is hardly worthy of Yale Rep, an eminent theater of national standing.

-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 6, 2006

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