If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Yale Rep Premieres “Imogen Says Nothing”
I’ve posed the question before in this column: If not at Yale Rep, then where? I refer to the New Haven theatre’s history that, for better or worse, offers productions that you probably won’t see any place else or, in some cases, ever again. So it is with the Rep’s latest offering, “Imogen Says Nothing” by Aditi Brennan Kapil. When a play’s characters include roles for grown adults in bear costumes, you can be pretty sure that this is the definition of adventurous theatergoing.
Cheekily subtitled “The Annotated Life of Imogen of Messina, last sighted in the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing”, this world premiere production takes as its inspiration the little-known appearance of Imogen, the silent wife of Leonato in “Much Ado”. The role is cut in most productions today, but Kapil has used this arcane fact to develop a story that speaks to the power of art, personal identity and feminism, the feeling of displacement in the world and much more including, I think, the treatment of bears. The talented company of actors do take on the roles of our furry friends at points during the show, but it is Imogen, herself (an amazing Ashlie Atkinson), who remains the centerpiece of this strange, rambling and undeniably inventive new play.
Harboring some startling secrets, Imogen is adrift in the world until she happens upon a pair of Shakespearean actors (Christopher Ryan Grant and Hubert Point-Du Jour, both excellent) who strike up a friendship and get her the role of Imogen in their current production. The dour and unhappy Imogen is immediately taken with her silent stage appearance using the word “transformative” to describe the experience. She wants more but, in Shakespeare’s days, no women were allowed on stage. The play then goes off in several directions but to tell more will spoil the unique surprises (or bafflements!) that occur in this rowdy and ambitious historical drama.
Chief among the pleasures of “Imogen Says Nothing”, including Daisuke Tsuji who plays a weary William Shakespeare, is the dynamic performance of Miss Atkinson who is nothing less than a force of nature on stage. Making her lumbering entrance (costumed perfectly by Haydee Zelideth), Atkinson slumps her shoulder, pulls in her neck and rivets the viewer with her terrifying silence. You can’t take your eyes off her whenever she’s on stage and her stunning final appearance threatens to shake Yale’s rafters. Kapil has also given her a choice curtain line to end all curtain lines.
The multi-purpose scenic design by Claire Maria DeLiso is lit perfectly by David Weiner and there is vital sound and projection design contributions from Christopher Ross-Ewart and Yana Birykova. Laurie Woolery has directed this unwieldy work with an admirable sense of purpose. As is usually the case at Yale, a play like “Imogen Says Nothing” may not be for all tastes. But let’s at least give the New Haven landmark credit for continuing to take artistic risks time and time again.
“Imogen Says Nothing” continues at Yale Rep through February 11. For further information call the theatre 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.