There’s plenty to celebrate at the Yale Repertory Theatre right now. They have just opened the world premiere of an exciting new play by one of the country’s foremost contemporary playwrights AND included in the cast is one of the country’s great character actors who has been absent from Connecticut stages for far too long. The play is “The Plot”. The playwright is Will Eno. And that great actor is Harris Yulin. Let’s count our blessings.
The plot of “The Plot” appears to be fairly mainstream especially when you consider it is from the same author who gave us the grandly esoteric plays, “Thom Pain” and “The Realistic Joneses” (which had a brilliant premiere at Yale in 2012). Set in a small country graveyard with a ramshackle gazebo and faded statuary, “The Plot” finds the elderly Righty Morse (Mr. Yulin) taking in the cemetery surroundings when his wife, Joanne (Mia Katigbak), comes searching for him. Righty is showing signs of dementia and Joanne needs to keep him on a short lease. When he informs her he has purchased a headstone for himself and not one for her, their unusual relationship begins to reveal itself. We then discover that corporate hack Tim (Stephen Barker Turner, oozing bile), with his dedicated secretary/mistress Donna (Jennifer Mudge), have major development plans for the property that involves giving the seniors some quick go-away money. Not so fast.
The fifth character in the intermissionless play is the stoic Grey (Jimonn Cole) who serves as an impartial observer to how the game is eventually played out. The delicate intricacies of Eno’s story drives the viewer to conclude, “Ah, this is what the play is about!”, only to be stopped short a little later by a stunning piece of information that takes the drama in a whole different direction. Eno’s play may be about aging and our treatment of the elderly, but it is also a serious comedy about death. To that end we are informed twice during the evening by two separate characters that there are 14 dead people for every living one currently on earth.
Under the steady direction of Oliver Butler the performances are all wonderful beginning with Yulin’s whip-smart Righty, a character who continually defies expectations. The actor’s long and distinguished career, ranging from the classics and Shakespeare to his recent, Emmy worthy work on the Netflix series, “Ozark”, are testament to his longevity and talent. Katigbak’s unsentimental and plain-spoken Joanne is every inch his equal while Mudge is the poster child for women who have a knack for picking the wrong guy. Ultimately, however, her wounded vulnerability makes her truly endearing. Turner, obviously having a ball playing his vile character, is unexpectedly hilarious turning abject cynicism into an art form.
You can smell the moss on Sarah Karl’s skillfully rendered scenic design and Evan C. Anderson’s expert lighting includes a terrifying midnight thunder storm in the cemetery.
Some tightening is still needed in Eno’s script which seems to have two endings too many and the scene changes were awkward and lacked precision on opening night. Still, this is an impressive world premiere for Yale and another winner for a contemporary playwright whose promising career continues to expand.
“The Plot” continues at the Yale Rep through December 21. For ticket reservations or further information call: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of 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.