The buds of May: 2014 Carlotta Festival Plays Announced

Mary Laws
Kate Tarker
Kate Tarker
Hansol Jung
Hansol Jung

The Yale Rep has announced the slate for its ninth annual Carlotta Festival of New Plays, may 9-16 at the university’s Iseman Theater (1156 Chapel St., New Haven).

This is the festival of plays by the three graduating students in the playwriting program of the Yale School of Drama. They’re directed by, designed by, cast with and dramturged up by other YSD students.

These are full productions. The sets can be staggering. Previous Carlotta fests have featured a climbing wall, a roller rink, a bank of TV screens, cut-away multi-story houses…

As for content, two of Terrell Scott McCraney’s Brother/Sister plays were staged as Carlotta shows before being seen in New York and elsewhere. Amy Herzog, who now writes economical four-characters dramas such as Belleville and 400 Miles, had a cast of 20 (including over a dozen high schoolers, brought in from the Educational Center for the Arts magnet program) for her Carlotta show The Wendy Play.

The Carlotta Festival is named for Eugene O’Neill’s third wife Carlotta Monterey (1888-1970), who had stipulated that royalties from the sales of the print edition of Long Day’s Journey Into Night be used to support playwriting projects at Yale (where O’Neill’s archives are). When Richard Nelson was running the YSD playwriting program, the O’Neill royalties were cleverly funneled towards full productions of new student plays. Before the Carlotta Festival, playwriting students were afforded public reading of their scripts, with professional actors in New York. The festival expanded the audiences for, and student involvement in, these new plays dramatically.

Since the Carlotta Festival was founded nearly a decade ago, the Yale School of Drama has received gifts that have allowed it to make the production of new plays a major priority not just at the graduate school but at the Yale Repertory Theatre and beyond.


These are this year’s Carlottas:


Cardboard Piano by Hansol Jung, directed by Cole Lewis and performed by Melanie Field, Jonathan Majors, Julian Elijah Martinez and Shaunette Renée Wilson. Set Design by Set Design by Jungah Han. Costume Design by Steven Rotramel. Lighting Design by Joey Moro. Sound Design by Brian Hickey. Dramaturgy by Whitney Dibo. Stage Management by Will Rucker. Cardboard Piano is described in a Yale School of Drama press release thus: “Northeastern Africa on the eve of the millennium. The daughter of American missionaries and a local teenage girl steal into a darkened church to seal their love in a secret, makeshift wedding ceremony. But when the civil war encroaches on their union, they cannot escape its reach. Confronting the religious and cultural roots of intolerance, Cardboard Piano explores the human capacity for hatred, forgiveness, and love.” The show plays May 9 & 12 at 8 p.m., May 14 at 2 p.m. and May 15 at 8 p.m.

Bird Fire Fly by Mary Laws, directed by Katherine McGerr and performed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Celeste Arias, James Cusati-Moyer, Christopher Geary, Anne Katherine Hägg.. Set Design by Adrian Martinez Frausto. Costume Design by Grier Coleman. Lighting Design by Joey Moro. Sound Design by Steven Brush. Dramaturgy by David E. Bruin. Stage Management by Emily DeNardo. Performed by The description reads: “Under a tangle of branches, children play war games with birds. A boy waits in the shadows. Soldiers defend their country. Bird Fire Fly examines the transformation of fear into violence, the perpetuation of oppression, and the fight to be free.” Bird Fire Fly can be seen May 10 at 8 p.m., May 13 at 2 p.m., May 14 at 8 p.m. and May 16 at 2 p.m.

THUNDERBODIES by Kate Tarker, directed by Dustin Wills and performed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Celeste Arias, James Cusati-Moyer, Christopher Geary, Anne Katherine Hägg.. Set Design by Kurtis Boetcher. Costume Design by Montana Blanco. Lighting Design by Caitlin Smith Rapoport. Sound Design by Samuel Ferguson. Dramaturgy by Helen C. Jaksch. Stage Management by Shannon L. Gaughf. Here’s the description: “The war is finally over. General Michail proposes to Grotilde—so she skips ahead and plans the inevitable, but festive, divorce. Meanwhile, the weather is playing tricks on people, as is The President, and Grotilde’s son won’t accept the armistice. In this comedy of no manners, everyone is normible (both normal and terrible all at once).” THUNDERBODIES (yes, the title is in all caps—is that normible?) plays May 11 & 13 at 8 p.m., May 15 at 2 p.m. and May 16 at 8 p.m.

It can be frustrating to write about new plays—you’re stuck with descriptions other people have written, and it can hard to build up genuine anticipation and excitement with so many unknowns. But the Carlotta Festival is different. These students’ work is well known to regular attendees of the Yale School of Drama directing projects and the Yale Cabaret. Dustin Wills (director of THUNDERBODIES) was the artistic director of the 2013 Yale Summer Cabaret., and McGerr is a current co-artistic director of the Yale Cabaret (which ends its season in April so as to get out of the way of Carlotta). Some of the designers have already worked on Yale Rep shows. Directors Lewis, Wills and McGerr all did their directing thesis projects in the fall and winter (read my reviews of The Visit, Peter Pan and Hedda Gabler), and all were impressive. The playwrights have all done stuff at the Yale Cabaret this past season, though not as playwrights: Kate Tarker starred in Gabe Levey’s The Most Beautiful Thing in the World, Hansol Jung directed the Sarah Kane one-act Crave and Laws shaped the real-life stories culled from dozens of interviews into a script for This.

Cardboard Piano, Bird Fire Fly and THUNDERBODIES may be fresh and unproven, but there are plenty of reasons to get excited about these productions based on past efforts of those capable students involved in them.

Tickets to Carlotta shows are $20, $10 for students; info’s at or (203) 432-1234. The School of Drama also holds an industry weekend to serve as a showcase for these soon-to-graduate emerging artists.