Stephen Barker Turner, Jennifer Mudge, and Jimonn Cole in THE PLOT by Will Eno, directed by Oliver Butler, Yale Repertory Theatre, 2019. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Comic, Deceptive “The Plot” Premieres at Yale Rep

NEW HAVEN — There is something deeply personal about picking your own burial plot. There’s a sort of existential finality to it. It’s not like you will be alive to appreciate the beauty or the significance of the space. But there’s a peace that can come when you know that your time is short in the world and you’ll be placed somewhere that is important to you and significant to the people who will remember you.

This is the case for Righty — delicately played by esteemed veteran actor Harris Yulin (“The Hurricane,” “Scarface”) — who has purchased a burial plot in Will Eno’s new play “The Plot.” The play, directed by Oliver Butler, is making its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre through Dec. 21.

Righty, who apparently has Alzheimer’s disease, has purchased the plot, even though he has already purchased a burial plot elsewhere. His wife, Joanne (Mia Katigbak), is perplexed.

Things don’t get any better when ambitious businessman Tim, played by Stephen Barker Turner with a cartoonish level of self-absorbed obliviousness, looks to make a hefty profit from the cemetery. He intends to turn it into a train transfer station and to do so, needs to buy the burial plot from Righty and Joanne so that he can break ground.

“The Plot” is replete with deceit. Aside from Joanne, there is nary an honest soul on stage. Each character has ulterior motives and has their own selfish “plot” they want to carry out.

Jimonn Cole, Jennifer Mudge, and Stephen Barker Turner in The Plot by Will Eno, directed by Oliver Butler, Yale Repertory Theatre, 2019. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A self-entitled misogynist-capitalist stereotype, Tim is having an affair with his assistant, Donna (Jennifer Mudge), who is willing to do anything to coerce Righty and Joanne to sell the burial plot to make Tim happy and ensure their ongoing affair. It’s never explicitly said, but there is a lot of insinuation that she’s submitting to Tim for the sake of her own advancement.

Rounding out the cast is Grey (Jimonn Cole), a representative of the local historical commission, who is there to make sure that anything at the cemetery that needs protecting is preserved.

Eno is deceptive as well. He leads the audience initially to believe that “The Plot” is about the maltreatment of senior citizens, especially ones with dementia. Sure, it is a theme, but there are more in-depth topics that Eno is looking to explore including generational differences in male/female relationship dynamics, environmental conservation, and the discounting of people because of age or gender.

Though the story and its themes are strong, Eno’s weak point is in the dialogue. Tim tends to be little more than a cartoon villain, and some of the dialogue for Joanne feels labored. As much as he tries to get across to the audience that Donna is motivated, in her working and intimate relationship with Tim, by personal gain, it at times feels unbelievable.

The design for “The Plot” is fantastic. Sarah Karl’s scenic design of the small cemetery with the busted up shed and gazebo is richly detailed. Ornamented by Emily Duncan Wilson’s sound design and Evan C. Anderson’s lighting, the environment of “The Plot” feels fully realized and lived in. There is a brilliantly executed nightmare scene that had the theater rumbling with thunder and lighting; it was striking and gasp-inducing. The only thing missing was real salamanders roaming the stage.

For a world premiere, “The Plot” is pretty good. It will probably go through a few more revisions if it makes the journey from New Haven to New York, but for now, it is a strong start in the right direction.

Stage review
The Plot
Theater: Yale Repertory Theatre
Location: 1120 Chapel St., New Haven.
Production: Written by Will Eno; directed by Oliver Butler; scenic
design by Sarah Karl; costume design by April M. Hickman; lighting
design by Evan C. Anderson; sound design and original music by Emily Duncan Wilson; projection design by Christopher H. Evans; hair design by Cookie Jordan; dramaturg, Amy Boratko; technical direction by
Jonathan Jolly.
Show times: Through Dec. 21. Evening: Tuesday through Saturday
8 p.m. Matinee: Saturday 2 p.m. Tickets: $26 to $79. Available online
at www.yalerep.org, by phone at 203-432-1234, or at the box office.

Character…………………………………………Actor
Grey…………………………………………………………..Jimonn Cole
Joanne………………………………………………………Mia Katigbak
Donna……………………………………………………….Jennifer Mudge
Tim……………………………………………………….Stephen Barker Turner
Righty…………………………………………………………Harris Yulin
 

Tim Leininger is a contributing reviewer for the Journal Inquirer

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