Sunday, May 3, 2015

Theater Review: Elevada -- Yale Rep

Laurel Casillo in Elevada. Photo © Carol Rosegg, 2015.
Mastering the Difficult Steps to the Dance Between Relationships and Life
By Lauren Yarger
Rarely does a playwright get it this right.

The World Premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s Elevada at Yale Repertory is one of the freshest and most engrossing piece of theater I have enjoyed this season. The playwright manages to develop four very flawed characters who are so human – so us – that we can’t help but like them.

Callaghan (Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play and Roadkill Confidential) crafts her story, commission by Yale, so skillfully and thoroughly, that it seems impossible that only an hour has passed from curtain to intermission. A brief hour later, and the play is done, but we feel we have known these characters for years.

Ramona (Laurel Casillo) and Khalil (Alfredo Narciso) make their way through a very difficult first date – made even awkward awkward that Khalil was set up by his roommate Owen (Greg Keller) who forgot to tell him it was date. The awkward multi-millionaire social media superstar, is about to close a deal that will sell the rights to his own identity to a major corporation, thought he was interviewing Ramona for some PR help….

The two hit it off, however, and agree to a second date. There are some fairly big obstacles to overcomes, however, besides the fact that he is quiet and reserved and she is bubbly and spontaneous: Khalil’s odd corporate identity deal will mean that he has to cease being himself and virtually disappear from the real world; Ramona has cancer and it might be getting worse. So what kind of future can they really have?

Meanwhile, could Ramona be using her illness as an excuse to keep from having to get too involved – even with her sister, June (Keira Naughton), who takes time from her high-powered real estate job to help Ramona through treatments.

Eventually, Ramona and Khalil set up a barbeque so Owen and June can meet too. June is trying to erase the memory of a marriage gone bad and the not-too-distant loss of her mother to cancer and doesn’t know if she can deal with losing Ramona too. Owen (who provides most of the play’s comic relief), is a screenwriter who doesn’t seem to know how to write his own life’s script. He turns to drinking as a way to cope with being in rehab for his drug addiction. Let’s just say the evening doesn’t go as well as they all had hoped.

These people aren’t just stereotypes, however. They care about each other and Callaghan gives them strength and depth on which they are able to draw to find surprising solutions (and excellent performances across the board don’t hurt either.) Ramona and Khalil take pole dancing lessons, for example, and the stage is transformed into a hotspot. Tango lessons later give June and Ramona a place to bond and create a dance hall as additional dancers (Frankie Alicea, Luis Antonio, Evan Gambardella, Melissa Kaufman and Rebecca Maddy) join in choreography by Kyle Abraham and Kevin Williamson.

Fabulous projections by Shawn Boyle enhance the scenic design by Kurtis Boetcher. Through them, we experience Ramona’s CT Scan with her and her feeling of being engulfed by the universe. Director Jackson Gay’s skilled hand keeps us from drifting too far even though the script can cross the edge of reality. (Gay staged These Paper Bullets! and The
Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow at Yale Rep.)

Elevada was a finalist for the 2014 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The title, by the way, is a term from Tango dancing, where the feet don’t stay close to the floor – like these characters, trying to avoid planting their feet firmly in the messes they have created. We’ve all done that – or know someone who has – and that is what makes these characters so appealing. They are familiar and we are rooting for them.

Elevada plays through May 16 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $20-$98; (203) 432-1234, Box Office (1120 Chapel St.). Student, senior, and group rates are available.

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Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
October 2–24, 2015

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Directed by Margot Bordelon
November 27–December 19, 2015

World Premiere
By Jen Silverman
Directed by Jackson Gay
January 29–February 20, 2016

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March 25–April 16, 2016

Dianne Wiest in
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by James Bundy
April 29–May 21, 2016

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