"dance of the holy ghosts: a play on memory"
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
“dance of the holy ghosts: a play on memory,” now at Yale Rep’s New Theater, is a tribute to one black family—and indeed to the black experience—as the family moves through three generations and five decades (from the 1950s to the present).
And, unfortunately, a tribute to confusion. Following the plot, if indeed there is a plot, is more difficult than following the moves in the play’s recurring chess game. What’s going on here? And who is that person? And at what age?
While contemporary playwrights are often fascinated with the techniques of flashbacks, they usually confine their efforts to two specific time frames—then and now. Not so with playwright Marcus Gardley, who moves his characters through numerous time frames at a dizzying pace.
It is like trying to gain a foothold on a whirling platform, as the viewer attempts to make sense of it all. To compound confusion, some actors play multiple roles while other others take one particular character through several decades of his life, but in no particular order.
The story deals with a musician, now aged, who had split from his wife many years ago. She could not deal with his frequent away-from-home gigs. She is left to raise the daughter he hardly knows. And when the daughter turns to him for help with the grandson, he grudgingly, awkwardly, agrees. It would seem to be the ultimate dysfunctional family, although when the daughter dies, there is some attempt at reconciliation.
So much for plot. But taken individually, many of the short staccato scenes are highly effective--and at times hilarious. This has much to do with the direction of Liz Diamond and her gifted cast. Diamond has set up the barest of stages, where the props—and players—create vivid images. For instance, at a hospital, Diamond sets up a background scene as wheelchairs, IVs, and patients move across rear of the stage in a slowly-moving montage effect. Bus scenes and schoolrooms come alive in a likewise manner. All of this is enhanced by the original music of Scott Davenport Richards which helps to create the sense of reverie.
As to cast, every one—Chuck Cooper, Brian Henry, Pascale Armand, La Tonya Borsay, Harriett D. Foy, and Paul J. Medford—give excellent performances, working as an ensemble and changing personae in a flash. Memorably comic moments are created with Henry as the little grandson and Armand as the bus driver who takes no nonsense. Cooper, as the ornery, difficult musician who is at the play’s core, is certainly noteworthy, though much of the dialogue is lost as he mumbles his lines.
In all, one wishes that Diamond’s considerable talent, and that of her cast, were put to different purposes.
-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 23, 2006