If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Fassbinder’s “13 Moons” Closes Yale Season
I think it was when the third nearly naked young man drenched in blood and carrying a human carcass with a cow’s head strolled leisurely across the Yale Repertory stage, that I noticed the first of a dozen or so theatergoers beat a hasty exit down the aisle. Everyone has their limits but thank heavens Yale Rep is not one of them. If not at Yale, where else would you witness such sights? The event is the world premiere adaptation of “In A Year With 13 Moons”, a new stage play based on the film by controversial German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The faint of heart are advised to seek out the Goodspeed Opera House.
Based on a (very) literal translation by Louisa Proske and adapted for the stage by actor Bill Camp and his long-time collaborator and director Robert Woodruff, “13 Moons” is a verbatim stage recreation of Fassbinder’s 1978 film. With some astonishing visual effects, projections, light and sound (the designers at Yale are nothing if not endlessly creative), Woodruff, Camp and their fearless company of artists have elected to tell the two hour tale (without intermission) about a pathetic transsexual’s final days on earth without reservations. Mr. Camp, channeling the brilliant performance of Volker Spengler from the film, is riveting as the sad and lonely Elvira whose decision to get a sex change turns out to have devastating consequences.
On her journey for love and acceptance, Elvira finds little, starting with the play’s very first scene where she is discovered in a park with some rough trade that nearly beats her to a bloody pulp. She finds solace with Red Zora (Monica Santana), a local prostitute and perhaps her only friend, who joins Elvira on a trip to an orphanage where her sad history is relayed from a nun (Joan MacIntosh, essaying a very long monologue) who helped raise her. Her primary journey, however, is to the corporate office of Anton Saitz (the memorable Christopher Innvar), a former brothel owner and the man responsible for Elvira’s sex change decision.
It’s difficult to be neutral about a theatre piece like “13 Moons”. It is so obviously an audience-divider you at times wonder to what group the play could possibly appeal. Woodruff also directed “Battle of Black and Dogs” for the Rep in 2011, a play I thoroughly loathed. If “13 Moons” finds me in a more forgiven mood, it’s probably because the source material is from a remarkable film director who managed to produce 40 movies (many of them classics) before his untimely death from a drug overdose at 37. I also admire the courage Woodruff and company has in going full-out with a difficult project. They are aided all the way by the technical geniuses at Yale including scenic and costume designer David Zinn, lighting designers Jennifer Tipton and Yi Zhao, projection designer Peter Nigrini and sound designer/composer Michael Attias whose live “scoring” of the play with musician Satoshi Takeishi establishes a bleak and effective atmosphere throughout.
Sometimes chilling, often tedious and always outlandish, “In A Year With 13 Moons” concludes the Yale Repertory Theatre’s generally outstanding season on a grim, visceral note. It continues in New Haven through May 18. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: email@example.com.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.