If you ask me…
By Tom Holehan
World Premiere Closes Yale Rep Season
The world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s fascinating new play, “The House That Will Not Stand”, ends the Yale Repertory Theatre’s strong season on a deliriously high note. Of all of Connecticut’s major regional theatres, the New Haven landmark has offered the most consistently satisfying roster of plays again this year.
Set in New Orleans in 1836, “The House That Will Not Stand” sheds light on little-known history about “free women of color” who lived well with great power while serving as mistresses of wealthy, married white men. The play’s central character, Beartrice, is one such woman whose “common law husband”, Lazare, has suddenly passed away under mysterious circumstances. Beartrice has three daughters from this relationship and she is anxious to secure them the life to which she is accustomed and that includes keeping her elegant home. Lazare’s legal wife, however, now poses a threat to Beartrice’s plans and this becomes the drama’s major conflict.
Plays that take their audiences into worlds not often explored are rare and “The House That Will Not Stand” is a prime example. Gardley’s writing is a gumbo stew that employs magical realism reminiscent of August Wilson’s best works and Southern Gothic humor that recalls the plays of Beth Henley. Throughout he has composed several monologues that take the form of arias; rich dialogue, both expressive and flavorful. The comedy also comes in unexpected places, sometimes ribald and sometimes quite moving.
Chief among the excellent cast is Lizan Mitchell as Beartrice, channeling Eartha Kitt in a fiery performance that is scary and funny in equal measure. Harriett D. Foy is also superb playing Makeda, a maid working to eventually get her freedom. In several exhilarating monologues of great depth, poignancy and humor, Foy dominates the stage with her fierce commitment to character. As the daughters, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Flor De Liz Perez and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart each create memorably individual characters given depth and variety in the writing and performances. Petronia Paley and Ray Reinhard (as the not-always-dead Lazare) complete this outstanding acting company.
There is marvelous detail in Antje Ellermann’s two-tiered set expressively lit by Russell H. Champa. The lush, gorgeous costuming is by Katherine O’Neill and gifted percussionist Jocelyn Pleasant adds immeasurably to the overall Creole tone of the piece. The play, itself, meanders a bit in the second act when Gardley seems to repeat himself and the thick accents may frustrate some viewers, but director Patricia McGregor keeps a steady grip throughout most of this gripping drama which holds the audience captivated up and until its devastating climax. This is the way theatre seasons should always end -- with a bang, not a whimper!
“The House That Will Not Stand” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through May 10. For ticket reservations call 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.