Yale Repertory Theatre
Yale Repertory Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere play, “Girls,” in a hyper-kinetic, flashy, yet, ultimately, baffling production. Based on “The Bacchae” by Euripides, playwright Branden Jacobs—Jenkins has updated the play to the present time and “Girls” actually features a rather big cast of nineteen performers, all of whom get at least a few moments to stand out during the show. And, visually, this production is something of a feast, with a lush, tropical setting, beautifully designed by Adam Rigg, and luxurious costumes provided by Montana Levi Blanco. Indeed, it is apparent that a great deal of time and money has gone into this show, and “Girls” is not without some pleasures.
Still, all of this lavishness doesn’t amount to a great deal, in the final analysis. In the large company of actors, only five of them actually have character names. The rest are simply characterized as “Girl.” This makes for a somewhat lopsided show, where one eventually stops caring (or even understanding) the people in this play and what is going on. “Girls” does coast by for awhile as a kind of fever dream, in which everyone onstage gets increasingly drunker and more drugged up, and the action gets crazier and crazier. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really make for a coherent show, so it is rather difficult to recommend “Girls” at Yale Repertory Theatre, although it is fully apparent that there is definite talent on display. It’s a shame that it all doesn’t add up to more.
The story of “Girls” (or, at least, what I could get out of it) is a tale of revenge, in which the first character we see, Deon (portrayed excellently by Nicholas L. Ashe), is carefully assembling the elements that will eventually get him the retribution that he craves. The other characters in the show, who actually have names, include a rather mixed-up mother (of “hyena blood”), named Gaga and played convincingly by Jeanine Serralles, who is on a continual search for her missing sisters; a white-haired grandfather named Dada (the estimable Tom Nelis); and the acting sheriff of the town, Ronnie, played by Haynes Thigpen, who does as much as he can with his limited role.
And then there is the character of Theo, who, except for the last few moments at the end of the show, is only “present” onstage through a video, which plays on a screen at the back of the set. Will Seefried portrays Theo, but it’s rather mystifying what to make of him, since he isn’t an actual participant in the action onstage. Just through the scenes that are shown on the video, Seefried is rather good in his part, but one wishes that he was more than just a figure on a screen through much of the show.
As mentioned, the rest of the cast members don’t actually have character names, though there are at least a few, especially the very funny Ayesha Jordan and Gabby Beans, whom one would like to get to know better. Alas, “Girls” is really more about the visuals and the hard-pounding dance music that is played throughout the production. On these counts, the show works, with psychedelic lighting design by Yi Zhao and expert sound design by Palmer Hefferan. The projection design is awesomely provided by David Bengali and the terrific hair and makeup design is by Cookie Jordan, whose work is often show-stopping.
Nevertheless, a play needs to be about much more than just the glitz and flash that “Girls” contains in abundance. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly do what they can to help guide this show, but the results are less than satisfying. There very well may be a good play under all the extravagance and atmosphere that has been conjured up for this production. But, if “Girls” at Yale Repertory Theatre is ever going to truly succeed, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and his team of artists need to provide a clearer and more involving story that contains characters one can genuinely care about. Without these crucial factors, “Girls” is just a heady, visually opulent, yet confusing evening of theatre.
“Girls” continues performances at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through October 26, 2019. For tickets and more information, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.
Photo: Nicholas L. Ashe and company
Photo by Joan Marcus