On one level the plot in “The Plot,” Will Eno’s absorbing play having its world premiere at Yale Rep, is familiar: It’s the battle between people and corporations, between the individual and the collective, private vs. public sectors. Yet, just as the title has various meanings — a story’s incidents, a scheme, acreage, a grave – so does this work about life and death, about making a place for ourselves before succumbing to the inevitable.
Here we have Richard “Righty” Morse (Harris Yulin), a seeming Alzheimer’s sufferer, visiting the grave he bought for himself in “a small country graveyard.” But that six-foot parcel symbolically widens out to include not just a place for eternal rest but a home, a structure from which to contemplate a life’s meaning. “I just want somewhere,” says Righty, “one place that stays. So everybody doesn’t forget.”
In an existential universe described as “fatal,” where there are 14 dead people for every living one, the goal is “wanting to make a mark, to leave a sign.” As Samuel Beckett (one of Eno’s idols) wrote in “Waiting for Godot,” we are born “astride of a grave . . . lingeringly the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old.”
But Righty’s growing old peacefully is troublesome, burdening his impatient wife, Joanne (Mia Katigbak), who also worries about their precarious financial situation. Another threat is a smarmy developer, Tim (Stephen Barker Turner), an entrepreneur whose simplistic mantra is “the world is the world” and who wants to remove all graves in this country cemetery, used or unused, erasing history to make way for an industrial park.
Tim has a wife (unseen) and a mistress, Donna (Jennifer Mudge). Efficient, reasonable and ambitious, Donna’s job is to offer Righty and his suspicious wife a sweetend deal to get them to relinquish the grave site.
In the mix is Grey (Jimonn Cole), a young African-American from the historical commission, assigned to monitor disinterments and preserve as much history as possible. An idealist and environmentalist, Grey, like Righty, sees the bucolic beauty of the graveyard.
It’s Grey who identifies a warbling bird as a chickadee, among many other outdoor sounds. Emily Duncan Wilson’s sound design and original music create a deceptively realistic alignment with nature. Lighting designer Evan C. Anderson’s moody sunrises and sunsets play over Sarah Karl’s wonderful set with its decaying gazebo.
Though the evening consists of several scenes, and one stage wait is forever, Oliver Butler’s well- paced direction concentrates on the actors’ specificities, from Katigbak’s knowing Joanne, to Mudge’s frustrated Donna, Jimonn Cole’s humane Grey and Stephen Barker Turner’s gleefully villainous Tim. And then there’s Harris Yulin, brilliant as the yearning Righty.
“Life is getting rid of dead stuff to make room for living stuff,” says Tim. “The Plot” pulses with living stuff, knowing there’s “plenty of time for peace and quiet.”