The artist Joseph Cornell (Ethan Slater) is sitting at a café table. A waitress (Kate Villa) enters and asks him what he wants to eat.
“What will I have?” The question seems to startle the young man. “I don’t know!”
“You’re not hungry?” she asks. He says nothing. “Well, then, I’ve got honey-colored seashells…” She rattles off a list of inedible objects.
“What will I do with these?” he asks, now visibly alarmed.
“Make a life,” she replies immediately. “Do you have a life?”
That’s when things begin to get strange.
Cornell used to make wooden boxes filled with pocket watches, coiled springs, maps of the stars, broken glass, and myriad bits of detritus of what we fondly and extravagantly imagine to be civilization.
Hotel Cassiopeia is a Cornell Box of a play, a 75 minute-long experimental work-in-progress and mash-up of an “open-source” play by the distinctively fertile Charles Mee. As you can imagine, nothing goes as you could imagine. Instead, we have one brilliant eccentric, Mee, inspiring another decidedly unconventional artist, Brendan Yukins
“The challenge of producing anything by Charles Mee is the esoterism attached to his name,” writes Yukins, a director and actor. “Mee challenges the perception of theater as entertainment…He uses dense language, confusing themes, and fantastical characters that make his work difficult to watch. Scenes will often dissolve into philosophical discussions.” Yukins rewrote the script, preserving most of Mee’s language but cutting the cast of 15 down to five and aiming also for “a more traditional, sequential plot.” Yukins, encouraged by his reading of Mee’s theories, borrowed liberally from other sources. “Just as Mee professes to ‘pillage’ other sources for his own inspiration,” Yukins contends, “we have pillaged Washington, D.C. for ours, also.”
While nothing about Hotel Cassiopeia is conventional – least of all its plot – there is a powerful story at its heart. It is about Joseph’s love for his disabled brother Robert, (Anthony Pape-Calabrese), a quadriplegic who is dying of cancer. His conversations with Robert seem like the beginning of wisdom, though they are frequently interrupted by two self-absorbed and languid young men (Eamon Boylan and Teis Jorgenson).
Eventually, though, there is no one left but Joseph and the waitress. He begs her to marry him. She wants to go out for tea. They dance back and forth: marriage – tea. Marriage – tea. Matters are left unresolved, just as they generally are in life.
This play is a perfect product of the Fringe Festival, expressing its edginess and openness to reinvention of culture. It’s original, offbeat, challenging, and uniformly well-performed by the talented young cast. It gets high marks for creativity, audacity and mature realization of a bold undertaking.
Written and directed by Brendan Yukins . Inspired by Charles Mee
Produced by The Stagepaint Actor’s Workshop
Reviewed by David Hoffman
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?