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“Elevada”

Yale Repertory Theatre

“Elevada,” Yale Repertory Theatre’s current production, is a hip and funny and refreshingly unconventional love story. As written by Sheila Callaghan, and sleekly staged by director Jackson Gay, “Elevada” embraces everything from chemotherapy to pole dancing to the latest technologies in social media as it details the unlikely tale of two young people in New York actually beginning a romance. One of the virtues of this show is that the four member cast is pretty wonderful, led by the adorable and touching Laurel Casillo and the equally talented Alfredo Narciso.

And while I had some trouble in the first act with the feeling that there were just too many short scenes, by the second half I was hooked, thanks to the acting and the desire to see exactly how this love story would turn out. “Elevada,” at the Yale Repertory Theatre is a work that is definitely worth checking out (especially in its super high-tech staging) and playwright Sheila Callaghan ranks as a writer to watch.

Not to give too many of the details of the play away, “Elevada” begins with the initial encounter between Ramona (Laurel Casillo) and Khalil (Alfredo Narciso), and anyone who’s ever been on an awkward first date will be able to relate to the two characters trying to make a connection. Here, in this first scene, and throughout the play, Sheila Callaghan displays a terrific ear for dialogue and, not just for what’s being said, but for what’s not being said, as well. In addition to the central couple of Ramona and Khalil, there are two other characters: Ramona’s micromanaging sister, June (played by the excellent Keira Naughton) and Khalil’s best friend and roommate, Owen (a very funny Greg Keller). As this play offers many surprises throughout (that I would hate to reveal, for they add much to the overall story), suffice it is to say that Ramona and Khalil, against a number of odds, attempt to form (and sustain) a romantic relationship.

As mentioned, “Elevada” contains a number of short scenes in Act I and, though many are interesting and illuminating, it almost seems that the playwright is jumping around too much, as if she almost didn’t want to focus on any one interaction between the various characters for too long. Happily, in the second half, the scenes are lengthier, and, at least for me, “Elevada” becomes that much more interesting. It’s almost as if the play moves from being a series of hors d’oeuvres to the main course.

It should be noted, however, that the actual scene changes are pretty nifty, with a mixture of techno music and projections (by projection designer Shawn Boyle, whose work is superb). And the show certainly looks great, with credit going to the terrific collaboration of scenic designer Kurtis Boetcher, costume designer Steven M. Rotramel, and lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, all under the wonderful and fluid direction of Jackson Gay.

But the real heart of “Elevada” is with its appealing quartet of characters. Laurel Casillo, reminding one of a young Swoosie Kurtz, is quite endearing as Ramona, with the charming Alfred Narciso making the perfect romantic suitor. Indeed, one can’t help but root for their relationship to work out. The scenes with Keira Naughton, as June, and Greg Keller, as Owen, add extra texture to the play, and both actors do fine work in their roles. The second act opening, with all four characters onstage at a barbeque is a real treat.

“Elevada,” by the way, refers to a dance move in tango dancing, which is introduced toward the end of the play. In a way, the back and forth interactions between Laurel Casillo’s Ramona and Alfredo Narciso’s Khalil can be looked as a kind of dance, of sorts, with one hoping that this couple will make all the right moves. And while I would have approved of a more literal and concrete conclusion to the play (not to be revealed here) than the more fanciful one playwright Sheila Callaghan ends “Elevada” with, ultimately this play does rivet one’s attention, with a number of unexpected rewards along the way.

“Elevada” continues performances at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through May 16, 2015. For tickets, please visit http://www.yalerep.org or call the box office at (203) 432-1234.

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