“Imogen Says Nothing”
Yale Repertory Theatre
Yale Repertory Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere play, “Imogen Says Nothing,” an intriguing, yet somewhat bizarre and slightly overlong new work by Aditi Brennan Kapal. The genesis for the play is the fact that the character of Imogen in “Much Ado About Nothing” only appears in a few scenes and actually utters no lines. Playwright Kapal seizes upon this concept of why Shakespeare intended the character of Imogen to be silent and, in “Imogen Says Nothing,” Kapal actually gives Imogen a voice.
This fanciful conceit actually works quite well in this new play and the production is fortunate to have such a formidable and mesmerizing actress as Ashlie Atkinson play the title character. “Imogen Says Nothing” takes place in the 1600s, in London, when “Much Ado About Nothing” is being staged by an all-male ensemble. And, though “Imogen Says Nothing” sometimes ventures into murky waters (such as having the actors playing animals), this new play proves to be quite interesting and the Yale Repertory Theatre production is wise to keep Imogen, as embodied by Atkinson, central to the story.
Working with playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil, director Laurie Woolery creates a world populated by actors, putting on a production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” And while the entire cast is quite fine, the play really catches fire when Atkinson, as Imogen, takes the stage. As created by Kapil, Imogen only seems to speak when she absolutely has to, with many moments when she is silent. However, Atkinson is such a live wire onstage that, even at those times that her character is quiet, she remains riveting. This actress is like a force of nature in this play, possessing a strong stage presence and eyes that almost glow in their intensity.
This is not to say, however, that the other performers in the show don’t also get to make their mark. As the boozy character, John Heminges, Christopher Ryan Grant is often very funny and he is matched by the gifted Hubert Point-Du Jour, as Henry Condell. These characters are just two of the actors in the play who are putting on an all-male production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Also standing out are Christopher Geary as a temperamental star and Ricardo Davila as a tentative, yet eager new member of the acting company. Pointedly, both of these performers play the female roles in Shakespeare’s play. But, by the conclusion of the first act, and despite fears of being persecuted, Imogen has firmly become part of the acting troupe.
Unfortunately, in the lengthy second act, things in “Imogen Says Nothing” become increasingly strange. Not to give too much away, but a number of the actors also double as actual bears, and while the cast is still good, the plot of the show goes astray. Also hurting the second act is the fact that Ashlie Atkinson, as Imogen, is offstage for too long. Truth to tell, about 20 or 25 minutes could be shorn of the show and it’s also too bad that things onstage do ultimately become slightly unhinged.
Still, enough of “Imogen Say Nothing” works that one hopes that this play will have a future life. It should be noted that the physical production of the show is pretty sterling, with superlative work by scenic designer Clair Marie DeLiso and costume designer Haydee Zelideth. And director Laurie Woolery seems the ideal partner for the playwright’s revisionist take on Shakespeare, and women being allowed to appear onstage, even when it was forbidden.
And then there is Ashlie Atkinson, who, alone, makes “Imogen Says Nothing” significant, despite its flaws and overindulgences. Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil has found the perfect performer in Atkinson to play the title character, and, when this actress is center stage, she certainly commands attention. So, go see Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Imogen Says Nothing,” for the sheer fact that, although the play isn’t quite there yet, at its heart, it is a fascinating story that deserves to be told.
Performances of “Imogen Says Nothing” continue at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through February 11th. For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.
Photo: Ashlie Atkinson (center) and cast
Photo by Joan Marcus