Friday, October 14, 2016

CT Theater Review: Scenes from Court Life -- Yale Repertory

Jeff Biehl, Greg Keller (foreground); Angel Desai, Andrew Weems, T. Ryder Smith, Mary Shultz (background). Photo: Carol Rosegg

Scenes from Court Life, or the whipping boy and his prince
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
Yale Repertory
through Oct. 22

Politics Apparently Hasn't Changed All That Much
By Lauren Yarger
Politicians volley with each other over who should be in office and what future the country should take. Are we watching a snippet from one of the most watched debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? No. This political drama takes place on stage in a timely play by Sarah Ruhl commissioned by Yale Repertory (kicking off its 50th anniversary season) to examine the father/son dynasties of George H. and W Bush and Charles I and II.

A lot of this action takes place on the tennis court. George 41 (T. Ryder Smith) and the family -- George 43 (Greg Keller), Jeb Bush (Danny Wolohan), Barbara (Mary Schultz) play a doubles match while Laura (Angel Desai, who music directs and plays the harpsichord) detached, reads a book. While the match heats up on the court (Marina Draghici's set is designed with a net to keep some real volleys from landing in the audience), so does the competition between George and Jeb for the their parents' approval. Jeb is the apparent favorite, but George somehow seems to end up with all the breaks.  

Meanwhile, with a quick dress change (Draghici also designs the costumes) and by donning some period wigs, (Charles G. LaPointe, design), Keller and Wolohan transform into young Prince Charles and his Whipping Boy, Barnaby, in Stuart England. When the boy decides he wants to play tennis using gear of his father-the-king (a brilliant Smith), the Whipping Boy, as usual, takes the young prince's punishment, doled out by his tutor (Andrew Weems). The king has his own problems, however, and might lose his head to charges of treason. What's a king to do? He ponders while sitting on the royal throne -- the toilet that is -- while his comfort is attended to by a Groom of the Stool (Jeff Biehl, who metaphorically doubles as Karl Rove, adviser to the Bush clan.)

The relationship between the new king (following the death of Charles I) and his Whipping Boy changes from fond affection (there are implications that Charles has romantic feelings for Barnaby) to rivalry when the Whipping Boy falls for his sovereign's intended, Catherine of Braganza (Kernen Lugo, who also plays Jeb's wife, Columba). John R. Colley, Evelyn Giovine, Hudson Oznowicz and Arturo Soria complete the ensemble bringing this allegory to life (and it even includes a Donald Trump impersonation making the whole thing very timely).

Michael Raine choreographs, Rick Sordelet directs the fighting and Meggi Sweeney Smith provides Baroque expertise and choreography as Mark Wing-Davey directs Ruhl's campaign across centuries. The women don't figure much in the action (perhaps a commentary on the truth of that statement) but there are some funny one-liners from Barbara (nicely delivered by Schultz) and some insight from Laura who is the one charged with mopping up the blood following the war sanctioned by her husband (and that blood, by the way, has a nifty texture that lets it clean up quickly after spreading on the stage).

"I have a little theory about human evil—I call it my Judas theory," she says. "I figure that approximately one twelfth of the world—and of the disciples—are like Judas-- they want to destroy each other. And one twelfth or so wants to save other people. But the rest of us 10 out of 12 just wants to get by and tuck our children in at night. And these people with their bombs and their anger and their—Well. Things you can do when you feel like chopping off someone else’s head: Take a deep breath. Paint.  Dance. Read. Plant a garden. Call your mom."

It is entertaining and refreshing, but at two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission, it begins to feel like a personal essay stretched too long. The play did receive a 2016 Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, however.

Scenes from Court Life runs at Yale Rep's University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven through Oct. 22. Tickets are $12-$99: yalerep.org; 203-432-1234; Box Office, 1120 Chapel St.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design Stephen Strawbridge, Sound Design Shane Rettig, Projection Design Yana Bir├┐kova, Technical Director Kelly Rae Fayton, Dialect and Vocal Coaches Beth McGuire and Jane Guyer Fujita.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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