Yale Rep’s ‘Girls’ is a loud and wild production
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven: To say that I disliked the season opener of Yale Rep’s “Girls” is an understatement. Subtitled in parenthesis “After the Bacchae by Euripides” is important to note because parenthesis essentially indicates “not a part of” or “an additional piece of information to enhance meaning.” In the case of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play “Girls,” the parenthesis is crucial to understanding this wild musical. Had I not reread Euripides’ “Bacchae,” I would not have been able to piece together “Girls” on its own merit, which I can describe as fractured, ear pounding and blinding. Director Lileanan Blain-Cruz, a highly esteemed and award-winning director succeeded in accomplishing those three descriptions.
Mind you, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is the latest award-winning “hot” playwright so I was eager to see this show and excited about experiencing his work. As soon as I entered the theater, I was blown away by the gorgeous set. Adam Riggs’ pastoral design should receive five stars. It is a grand woodland complete with realistic trees and boulders on a raked stage. Palmer Hefferan’s sound design works especially well in the opening scenes with birds chirping and a mysterious sound that provoke the audience to listen closer. Occasional puffs of clouds also prompt the audience’s curiosity.
When Nicholas L. Ashe as Deon (Dionysus in “Bacchae”) enters the tranquil setting, the actor is at once mesmerizing as he tells Deon’s story of his return to this place. It is to seek revenge for his mother’s death. He was taken from her womb just before she died. Sent off to boarding schools by his father, he is an angry man. He is especially angry with his mother’s sisters. Actually, the plot at first sounds intriguing in this updated version, but eventually gets lost in Yale’s horrific, repetitious, pounding beat meant to allure women to the park-like location, to incite wild dancing, and to release stress and induce sexuality.
The playbill points out that while Euripides talked about the wild goings-on, Jacobs-Jenkins shows us these actions through the thoroughly uninhibited women, who are either hallucinating or high on the music and/or drugs. Indeed, many of the characters do insane things. For instance, one woman grabs a cow (a bunch of cow balloons come on stage) and she begins to breast feed it to return the favor of giving milk. Another wacky scene plays on two metaphors: cowherd and coward as well as lyin’s (lyings) and lions, goes on way too long and is just plain silly.
What makes the most sense is when the scene moves from the wanton park festival to the huge video screen scenario where Theo, played with a strong characterization by Will Seefried as an image hungry “kind of guy,” later dresses as a woman so convincingly that his own mother doesn’t recognize him and kills him (reminding me of son-killing mom in Euripides’ “Medea”). We can understand the words and story unfolding on the video (projection designed by David Bengali), which is being produced far downstage and visible to the audience.
The other time the play makes some sense is when individual women speak out. Certainly, Jeanine Serralles as Gaga is impressive as is the actor who goes on and on about a comfortable office chair. The last scene is absolutely horrific. It is about a mass shooting. Not only did it take me by surprise, but the shots were deafening and the strobe and red lights so bright it was like someone repeatedly flashing camera bulbs in your eyes.
The large cast also includes: Tom Nelis, Haynes Thigpen, Gabby Beans, Ayesha Jordan, Daniel Liu, Keren Lugo, Zoe Mann, Maia Mihanovich, Anula Navlekar, Jennifer Regan, Gregory Saint Georges, Julian Sanchez, Jackeline Torres Cortes, Adrienne Wells, Amelia Workman, and Jeena Yi.
To wrap this up, this is not Euripides at its best. However, if you can bear the overly loud, continually repetitive and hard beat of a non-song, the often silly actions, as well as a blasting last scene, then this play is for you. It plays through Oct. 26. Box office: 203-405-3855.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.