The Boris Yeltsin Review

Boris Yeltsin

By Mickaël de Oliveira. Translator and dramaturg: Maria Ines Marques. Directed by Elizabeth Dinkova. Composer: Christopher Ross-Ewart. Scenic Designer: Claire DeLiso. Costume Designer: Haydee Zelideth. Lighting Designer: Andrew F. Griffin. Technical Director: Mitch Massaro. Stage Manager: Emely Zepeda. Producer: Charles O’Malley. Musicians: Lynda Paul (bassoon), André Redwood (percussion). Cast: Julian Elijah Martinez (Orestes), George Hampe (Agamemnon), Jesse Rasmussen (Clytemnestra), Shadi Ghaheri (Cassandra).

Through Dec. 5 at the Yale Cabaret, 217 Park St., New Haven. (203) 432-1567, www.yalecabaret.org.

This is a week where Long Wharf hosted the Fiasco Theatre’s six-person, single-set Measure for Measure and the Yale Rep world-premiered a five-person comical collegiate variation on Macbeth. So stripping down a Greek epic trilogy so it can be staged with four actors and two sets might not seem as impressive as it otherwise might.

What should astound about the Yale Cabaret’s U.S. premiere of a new English translation (by current Yale student Maria Ines Marques) of Mickaël de Oliveira’s political drama Boris Yeltsin is how natural, how full, how resonant the production is. A fitting form and content has been found. The taboo situations of the ancient, mythic plotline are freshly and credibly sensationalized for present-day audiences. The actors act the heck out of it.

Mickaël de Oliveira’s radical political update of The Oresteia (mainly its first play, Agamemnon, actually) works whether you know the original or not. It’s a parlor romance full of snappy banter. mood changes and breakdowns. The dialogue is fluid and cut through with pop culture references. The name in the script’s title is elusive: Boris Yeltsin is not a character in the drama, but the name perfectly represents a certain type of machismo, vanity, political power and warmongery that’s inherent in the drama.

The dialogue often plays like Noel Coward, but you’re never lulled into a melodramatic mood because there are frequent shocking bits, both verbal and physical, to remind you that you’re seeing a political metaphor. Boris Yeltsin hardly hits you over the head with its allegories and universal condemnations of certain power abuses. It works as a play on one level and a diatribe on another. There are no long declamations or stump-speech monologues such as you’d find in Eugene O’Neill or indeed in ancient Greek plays. The characters talk to each other, touch each other, bathe and emote together. The most distant figure is the soothsayer Cassandra. For most of the play she hovers in corners, or scrawls scene titles on the walls, but she is eventually humanized and brought into the main plot. The front end of the play is set around the bedroom and living room proclivities of Agamemon and Clytemnestra, played with austere upper-class sensuality by George Hampe and Jess Rasmussen. Then their son Orestes (Julian Elijah Martinez, athletic and attractive without pretending to be heroic) enters and becomes the center of the show. Evil happens, then is discussed. There’s an ending which seems abrupt at first but is likely to really grow on you simply because it’s so understated.

Also understated, yet very much in evidence and essential: violent, nudity, swearing, emotional abuse, sexual confessions and dysfunctional family frissons. It’s a total takedown of contemporary values and widely held political beliefs.

For such a strident bit of social criticism, Boris Yeltsin holds its punches and comes off as smartly subdued. It’s almost a mystical experience; you watch this epic unfold through a haze formed by the characters’ languor, indifferent attitudes and unflappability in the face of horrific revelations.

The Yale School of Drama is doing Ted Hughes’ poetic translation of The Oresteia later this month, and that will doubtless be a much different experience. Boris Yeltsin doesn’t want to awe you with the great power that gods and prophets possess. It wants to show you how human these gods are, how fallible and lustful and self-absorbed. This Oresteia does not orate; it arrests.

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