If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Yale Rep Unveils a World Premiere

A quartet of personable actors and impressive state-of-the-art scenery/projection design highlight “Elevada”, the new play currently on stage in a world premiere production at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Sheila Callaghan’s modern romance is certainly in good hands at the New Haven theatre and that includes its superb director, Jackson Gay (“These Paper Bullets!”). Now the playwright just has to get to work!

According to program notes, the term “elevada” is an element of dance found specifically in the tango where it is described as “a means of stepping high to minimize contact with the ground”. Used as a metaphor in Ms. Callaghan’s ambitious but ultimately confused romantic comedy, it could be said the play, itself, has not quite grounded itself into a working reality yet. The play concerns a pair of couples the primary one being Khalil (Alfredo Narciso) and Ramona (Laurel Casillo, terrific) who are fixed up by Khalil’s recovering addict roommate, Owen (a scene-stealing Greg Keller). Ramona is an exuberant life force who bowls over Khalil and also intimidates him a bit with her non-stop chatter flipping from topic to topic with barely a breath taken. She brings things to a sudden stop, however, when she reveals she has terminal cancer. Talk about your mood killers.

“Elevada” works best as a quirky romance, especially when Owen falls for Ramona’s protective older sister, June (an intense, funny Keira Naughton). But the playwright also wants to explore the invasion of technology into modern dating and the issues of identity that has Khalil planning to “sell” himself to a corporation. It is never quite clear how this is actually done, if it is real or what Khalil, if anything, would garner from such an arrangement. One assumes it would be financial but, again, as currently written the script seems deliberately ambiguous about his plan.

But there are some lovely and original things in “Elevada”, too. Director Jackson Gay has worked wonders with her cast who all bring distinct personalities and purpose to their roles even when the playwright has abandoned them. And working in conjunction with scenic and projection designers Kurtis Boetcher and Shawn Boyle, the numerous settings called for by the play are beautifully realized time and time again. I particularly loved the sequence that found Ramona travelling through the city via subway and ending up somewhere in the stratosphere. It was a perfectly created theatrical moment.

“Elevada” is still a work in progress, but Ms. Callaghan should be thrilled that she has such talented artists onstage and off at Yale working for her. It will be interesting to see how this intriguingly original but still floundering work will eventually develop. In its present rendering, it’s not quite ready for prime time. Note: This is the third play this season, after Hartford TheaterWorks’ “Dancing Lessons” and Ivoryton Playhouse’s woeful “Comedy Is Hard”, where a dance sequence has been inserted seemingly out of nowhere. That madness must now end with this play.

“Elevada” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through May 16. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original 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: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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