“The Prisoner”

Yale Repertory Theatre


Yale Repertory Theatre is currently presenting the U.S. Premiere of the Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne play, “The Prisoner.”  Brook and Estienne are also responsible for the direction of the production, such as it is.  Running just a little over an hour, “The Prisoner” feels very slight, in the extreme, in spite of a fully professional staging.  With a cast of five good actors and a starkly presented production design, this show is ultimately of very little significance.  It is obvious that a great deal of time and effort have gone into the Yale Repertory Theatre production of “The Prisoner,” but the show doesn’t really add up to very much.

The lights are already up onstage, when the play begins, and the first actor one sees is the fine Hayley Carmichael, who serves as a sort of narrator of the piece, as well as an active participant in the play.  The plot of the show is essentially that a man named Mavuso (played by the charismatic Hiran Abeysekera) has killed someone and must serve time as a prisoner for his crimes.  At first, he is put in the prison, but, soon after, he is told to live on a hill facing the prison to atone for his sins.  Many years go by, as the audience watches Mavuso make the best of his circumstances.

I would be loath to give anymore of the story away, simply because “The Prisoner” is extremely short, and it seems to reach its conclusion, just as one thinks that the play will start to deepen.  The cast does its best with the material, and there are substantial contributions by Omar Silva and Herve Goffings and, especially, by Kalieaswari Srinivasan, as Mavuso’s sister Nadia.  The relationship between Mavuso and Nadia is of great importance in “The Prisoner” and helps to shape the play’s story.  Directors Brook and Estienne certainly have a first-class design team at their disposal, as well.

On a largely bare stage, scenic designer David Violi has placed a few notable set pieces to designate the various areas onstage.  The costume assistant, Alice Francois, has provided the cast with authentic looking costumes and the lighting design by Philippe Vialatte is very effective.  Unfortunately, all this effort seems pretty close to much ado about not very much.  The script makes different statements on race, family dynamics, culture, as well as revealing the plight of a prisoner and what he must suffer.  Still, there isn’t a whole lot to work with here, in terms of the script, rendering the production sadly unsatisfying.

“The Prisoner” has been seen in Paris and London, and, after the Yale Repertory run, will be presented at Theatre for a New Audience in New York.  Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne have created a mood piece that attempts to make a case for a prisoner’s redemption, which is definitely apparent in their production of “The Prisoner” at Yale Repertory Theatre.  But, despite the wholly effective cast and the palpable sense of time and place that is established in “The Prisoner,” the show is basically inconsequential.

“The Prisoner” continues performances at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through November 17, 2018.  For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.

Photo: Hiran Abeysekera

Photo by Joan Marcus

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