If you ask me…
by Tom Holehan
“BOSSA NOVA”, A WORLD PREMIERE AT YALE REP
“Bossa Nova”, the well-meaning, earnest but ultimately disappointing and confused drama at the Yale Repertory Theatre is yet another in a long line of new plays struggling to be a movie. The drama, making its world premiere in New Haven, is by Kirsten Greenidge.
A coming-of-age/memory play that is all too familiar, “Bossa Nova” is comprised of several short scenes shifting back and forth in time (the early 1980s and 1970s), covering a variety of locations all in one act without intermission. It’s a script that cries out for filming even though the talented designers at Yale (Ana M. Milosevic’s scenery and Laura J. Eckelman’s lighting are noteworthy) manage to move and create specific locales at a moment’s notice.
Greenidge’s play concerns the education of Dee Paradis (Francesca Choy-Kee), a young, upper-class African-American woman whose socially ambitious mother, Lady Paradis (a memorable Ella Joyce), has placed her in a prestigious Catholic boarding school. Flashbacks chronicle Dee’s journey as she is pulled in opposing directions not only by her mother but also her idolizing roommate (played broadly and with a bad Boston accent by Grace Mahoney) and a creepy professor (Tommy Schrider).
The white teacher, a jazz freak who worships black culture and tries to mold Dee into his own Zulu princess, may be the single-most annoying character I’ve seen in an American play in the last ten years. He is so grossly characterized – as written and played – that there is little reason for a bright woman like Dee to spend more than a few minutes in his company.
Still the plot must be served and the underlying themes of identity and self-discovery do prove potentially interesting here. Lady Paradis spends the bulk of the play at her dressing table applying countless salves and creams in an obvious attempt to lighten her skin while lecturing her daughter on the importance of assimilation. But themes eventually get lost within the inherent melodrama and the constant back and forth between time periods. When a soap operatic turn of events occurs late in the drama, it all seems like a bit too much laid on a bit too thickly. And if someone could explain the reasoning behind the sound of barking dogs used continually throughout the play, I’m willing to listen.
To his credit Evan Yionoulis has directed this busy work with a minimum of fuss and the two lead performances of Choy-Kee and Joyce are most admirable. The playwright, however, may want to stick around at Yale for their next production, a revival of August Wilson’s great drama, “The Piano Lesson”. A prime example of Playwriting 101 will be in session.
“Bossa Nova” continues at Yale Rep through December 18th. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.432.1234 or visit online at www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle 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.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on 12.15.10