Will Enol’s new play, premiering now at Yale, directed by Oliver Butler, is one of the most sophisticated and beautiful productions I have ever seen. I hurried home and began sending friends to see it ASAP. I’m suggesting that for you too. It has great relevance for persons dealing with aging, with dementia, with environment, with property rights, and even plain old Karma.
Take a minute and think of all the different uses and meanings that cross your mind when you hear the word, ‘PLOT.’ It can be a simple piece of ground, as in a garden plot. It might be an arrangement or plan for getting something in a shady or mysterious way, as in ‘the plot thickens.’ It can be the outline or synopsis of a story, or play, or novel. It can be a space within a larger portion of land designated for sacred memories, as in a ‘cemetery plot.’
Did you know that there are fourteen dead persons for every living person in our world? Generations of those who have gone before, with significant lives, stories, families. For a moment in Enol’s play, there is a fantasy projection of such a soul, long-ago-buried in a cemetery plot, reaching out for recognition and respect. Probably just a metaphor, although people do use forays into old cemeteries to reinforce the legacies we wish to retain in the present.
So, what’s the plot of “The Plot?” Joanne (the marvelous Mia Katigbak) comes looking for her husband, Righty (equally marvelous Harris Yulin), It’s dark. She’s carried a flashlight up a secluded trail on the mountain near their home. Righty is old and perhaps confused. He’s prone to wander off and visit a small park with an old graveyard, where he is now, lying in a pile of leaves on a cemetery plot. A plot, he explains, that he purchased, so he’d have a little place with his own identity attached where he could hang out in peace. He purchased the adjoining one too, for Joanne. Joanne, happy to have found him, is nevertheless not happy to know that he took the money they had saved towards another cemetery space, without her knowledge, and spent it here.
Exit Joanne and Righty. Enter a pompous Real Estate exec named Tim (Stephen Barker Turner) and his accommodating Admin Assistant, Donna (Jennifer Mudge) Tim has a whirl of plans. One is that he and Donna will get married as soon as he divorces his wife. Another is that he will buy the mountain they’re standing on and sell it to a developer who is already planning to turn it into industrial space. Tim already has the agreement sewed up, and he will be very rich when the deal closes. In the meantime, he’s yelling at Donna about why she cannot ever get him the exact Chinese food he wants… It only takes a moment to dislike Tim. His character is self-centered and abusive. A city engineer, or appraiser, Grey (Jimonn Cole), also is involved in the transaction with the old graveyard, and in helping Donna to sniff out any family claims to ownership of plots so that Tim can have clear title to the mountain top.
Several conversations follow. Joanne returns and has a heart to heart with Donna about how difficult is has been to keep Righty from wandering away without a tether. Grey, who is making a painting of the cemetery, talks with Righty about how much he, too, values the peaceful quiet of this place. Righty appears to be willing to sell his rights to the cemetery plot, and does scrawl a signature on a deed. Later Donna overhears a cell phone conversation that Righty is having with someone, and she realizes that Righty’s dementia is a ruse – part of a plot to deceive Joanne and others that he is disabled and needs special support. She threatens to tell Joanne if Righty doesn’t.
There are more twists and turns that help to make “The Plot” resolve quickly into a happy ending. Tim, who with one sentence has broken his deal with Donna, gets his come-uppance. Finding a unique salamander helps to create a new Conservation Commission, run by Grey and Donna, to manage the mountain. Joanne and Righty are happy with that. Their lives would almost be perfect, if Righty hadn’t recently suffered a stroke. Of course, we don’t know if it was a real one…
The set. Beautifully designed by Sara Karl, it includes moss and leaves and trees, portions of a low stone wall, and a gazebo prominently raised on stage left that provides a space for some significant gathering. Sound design and original music by Emily Duncan Wilson stretched from crickets, breaking the silence, to background road noise and storms to accompany excellent projections designed by Christopher Evans. Costumes (April M Hickman) were well designed and appropriate. Oliver Butler’s direction was perfectly precise. The balance between individual roles and the story lines created a real ensemble production.
Over a lifetime, you will have a chance to see this play again and again. Take advantage of every time it comes your way. It’s a masterpiece! Tickets and information at www.yalerep.org.
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reviews on Theatre December 9, 2019