War at Yealew Rep
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Don’t let the title throw you because “War” at Yale Repertory Theatre is not about faulty politicians or a protest against war. In fact, there is so much unexplained anger between the characters and abstract visions regarding: evolution of society, racial and family conflicts, methods of communication, misplaced values etc. etc. it’s hard to figure out what the main theme is, and what this young, black playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is trying to say. Even if you read your program notes beforehand, you won’t have the slightest hint where all this action is going until the end of Act Two, when a touching letter is translated from German. Had we started with the letter in Act 1, and worked backwards, perhaps the work might have made more sense and left us with some kind of an impact.
Act One begins with both humans and ape-like characters laughing at the audience. Like the musical “Cabaret,” we assume that this play is intended to be a reflection of ourselves. The set then reveals a woman in a hospital bed which is off to one side. She is in a coma. A black woman takes center stage. She represents the patient trying to communicate something while being guided in and out of reality by a group of apes. What is she trying to say, and why? Are the apes representative of how Black people may be viewed? Does she identify with them in some way? Do they represent human evolution from a primitive culture? Their reason for being is not made clear.
Somewhere along the line, it’s important to know that the German word, “mishlingkinder,” refers to mixed-children who were fathered by American, Black soldiers during World War II. This is important because these children and grandchildren are the main characters in the play. Supposedly, their cultural and genetic mix accounts for the angry attitudes of these offspring who have come to live in the United States. The question is posed, should these folks be considered as African Americans? However, how important is “identity” to a particular group of people and does it really matter to general audiences? The subject needs further development.
If the play is also about alienation, today, in most developed countries, all children are alienated from society. Even adults are so engrossed in an artificial world of mechanical toys, they have forgotten how to communicate. And so, they ignore the reality of world events, and family relationships. So what’s new?
In “War” there needs to be something more significant to touch us emotionally than just a letter from a dying matriarch. As the play stands this is still a “work in progress.” Lileana Blain-Cruz directs the hard-working cast of hooting apes and quarreling children. The off-centered sets, and the glass-caged scene, designed by Mariana Hernandez, are the eye-catching highlights of the production.
Plays to: Dec. 13 -- Tickets: 203-432-1234
This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre”