An attempt at an extravagant theatrical tour de force that bombs isn’t the best way for a new artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater and dean of the Yale School of Drama to introduce himself. But such is the case with Bill Rauch and Tracy Young’s unfortunate “Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella,” the overreaching theater piece newcomer James Bundy has chosen to launch his first season as Yale Rep’s fourth a.d.
Originally conceived by Rauch in his senior year at Harvard in 1984 and produced in Los Angeles in 1998 by the Cornerstone Theater Co. (of which Rauch is a.d.) and the Actors’ Gang Theater (of which Young was a member), this Tower of Babel combination of Euripides’ “Medea,” Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” has never outgrown its collegiate beginnings. (Cut to 50 minutes it might be fun at, say, the Yale Cabaret.)
Its only hope for a successful production would be if it had a bottomless budget and was staged by Max Reinhardt, Flo Ziegfeld and Peter Brook with an all-star cast. Such is not the case at Yale’s University Theater, though money obviously has been spent on the production.
Fortunately, there is at least the glimmer of a silver lining, in the form of the performances of two members of the 27-member cast. They are Stephen Pelinski as Macbeth and Christopher Liam Moore as Lady Macbeth. Pelinski, a longtime member of the Guthrie Theater’s acting company, plays his leading role straight and with panache, even when joining in the singing and dancing of some of the songs from “Cinderella.” And Moore, a founding member of the Cornerstone Theater Co., is a remarkably convincing Lady Macbeth, a role that has undone many an actress. He wears a flowing red wig and gown in the first act and then, in the deconstructed second act, performs the sleepwalking scene as a male actor wearing black jeans and T-shirt.
Basically, the entire cast of “Medea” is female and the entire cast of “Macbeth” is male, with one or two exceptions. For instance, April Ortiz plays Cinderella’s nasty stepmother and Lady Macduff (at least I think she does; it isn’t always easy to tell who’s who and what’s what). When all three plays are going full-tilt simultaneously, it’s simply impossible to understand much of what any one person is singing or orating (head mikes do more harm than good). And too many of the performances are nowhere near skillful enough.
Rauch and Young have combined the plays and musical to “celebrate theater as a medium, explore how themes and stories persist across cultures and centuries and unleash the shared rhythms of three of the most popular Western theatrical movements (Greek tragedy, Elizabethan drama and American musical).” But the result ends up, to quote “Macbeth,” signifying nothing — the second act is little short of insupportable.
There are a few moments of theatrical imagination that pay off, but they are precious few. Even the use of a trapped stage and a platform that raises Medea, Macbeth and Cinderella above stage level from time to time and allows for a pumpkin to be transformed into a coach isn’t as spectacular is it might be.
Rachel Hauck has designed a vast, towering black multilevel set with ramps and stairs and a pair of high-backed crimson thrones on an upper balcony. David Zinn’s costumes range from blatantly gaudy for Cinderella’s stepmother and ugly sisters to earthy Scottish for “Macbeth” and ancient Greek for “Medea.” The music, by Rodgers & Hammerstein and Shishir Kurup (for “Medea”) is sometimes recorded, sometimes played by three off-stage musicians. Sabrina Peck’s choreography is somewhat basic.
Clearly a lot of time and effort has been poured into “Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella,” many rehearsal hours having been essential just to ensure the large cast doesn’t bump into one another or trip on the set. But the endless end result is sadly disheartening.
The second play Bundy has scheduled for his first Rep season is Kia Corthron’s “Breath, Boom,” Oct. 25-Nov. 16, directed by Michael John Garces. May he have better luck with it.