The Yale Repertory Theatre concludes its 35th season with a three-week run of Dawn Powell’s 1928 play, Big Night, beginning Apr. 26. Directed by Stan Wojewodski, Jr. Big Night plays through May 19.
The original version of Big Night was titled The Party, and is described in production notes as a “domestic tragicomedy [that] casts a cool eye on the time-honored partnership between the art of advertising and the art of seduction.”
Playwright Powell, who was married to an advertising executive for 42 years, wrote more than 100 stories, 10 plays, 15 novels and various articles. Nicknamed “lady wit,” she came to New York to become a writer in 1918 and befriended Ernest Hemingway, e e cummings, Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre among other notables.
In Powell’s story, ad man Ed Bonney uses “good bootlegged liquor, fine food, [and] a Broadway singer to belt a couple of tunes” in his quest to win a client. Instead, Bonney finds himself in deep trouble after his wife “balks at being part of the ‘entertainment.’”
In a Yale School of Drama statement, artistic director Stan Wojewodski, Jr. described the show saying, "It is at once human and unsentimental—it is a testament to Powell's belief that, 'gaiety should be brave, it should have stout legs of truth, not a gelatine base of dreams and wishes.'" Powell’s work has enjoyed a decade of renewed attention and reissues, though most of her material was out of publication by the time of her death in 1965. Her novels include The Locusts Have No King, A Time to be Born, Angels on Toast, and The Wicked Pavilion. As a writer, financial prosperity eluded Powell, and despite her celebrated wealth of talented friends she never accumulated much commercial success. There were opportunities, of course, but the quick-witted writer chose carefully. Yale Rep’s production notes include one story of Powell turning down “an 18-week contract to write for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $2,000 a week, explaining to her sister, ‘I think if they'd offered me 50 cents or something I could have understood, I would have snapped it up. As it was it just annoyed me to think of having to lug all that money around.’”
Understanding Powell’s enduring sense of humor—and her choices in life—is aided by recognizing the difficult nature of her experience. In addition to a dodgy marriage, she had colon cancer, anemia, a teratoma attached to her heart, as well as the benefits and burdens involved with being the mother to an autistic son.
The cast of Big Night includes Matthew Mabe (Ed Bonney), Katie MacNichol (Myra Bonney), Jennifer Frankel (Vera Murphy), William Theodore Thompson II (Bob Tuttle), Graham Winton (Bill Fargo), Susan Marie Brecht (Lucille Fargo), Jay Patterson (Bert Jones), Frank Vlastnik (Chet Davies), Bess Wohl (Miss Zoom) and Anne Worden (Miss Zumph). Big Night’s design team comprises scenic designer Stuart Polasky, costume designer Tammy Elizabeth McBride, lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge, sound designer Mimi Epstein and dramaturgs Linda Bartholomai and Amy Rogoway. Kathleen Cogbill is the stage manager.
A free symposium honoring Dawn Powell will be held May 12 between the matinee and evening performances.
Tickets range from $20-$36. Discounted tickets are available for students, senior citizens, and groups. For more information, call the box office at (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
—By Murdoch McBride