Well-Laid Plans

Well-Laid Plans

Everyone’s plotting in The Plot. The most obvious and nefarious plot belongs to Tim (Stephen Barker Turner), a developer who plans to turn a historic graveyard into a transfer station, and his “right-hand woman” and lover, Donna (Jennifer Mudge), who expects him to follow through not only on the project but also on leaving his wife for her.

But the play—a world premiere by Will Eno, on stage at Yale Repertory Theatre through December 21—actually opens on a different pair: the aging “Righty” Morse (Harris Yulin), who loves the graveyard so much he’s bought—what else?—a plot, and his wife, Joanne (Mia Katigbak, seen last season in Long Wharf Theatre’s A Doll’s House, Part 2), who’s worn out from worrying about him and his failing memory. It turns out Righty is plotting as well, as will be revealed in time. Joanne, too, has been plotting—looking forward to a future of leisure and travel that’s now unlikely due to financial woes and Righty’s health.

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Only Grey (Jimonn Cole), a landscape architect, seems to be without much desire to plot or scheme, mostly playing the role of calm observer. Grey lives in a space between black and white, between Tim and Donna’s mendacious development plan and Righty’s desire to simply lie down in the moss. As a professional, Grey is overseeing the removal of the graves for whatever will happen to this plot of land; as a person, he’s drawn to the beauty of the place and even paints it in his spare time. If he can be said to have a “plot,” it’s simply to “leave a mark, a gentle mark, some sign I lived.”

Light plays a crucial role in The Plot: headlights, flashlights, lightning, fireflies. The clever lighting and sound design of the play’s opening moment gives the impression of a car pulling up to the graveyard in the dark, headlights sweeping across a historic marker that reads “Briarwood Cemetery.” The sun rises and sets as day shifts to night, much like life itself. Life and death are the subject or subtext of many of these characters’ conversations.

Tim has a cynical take on this, a monologue in which he imagines “Anywho,” an ordinary person who lives and dies and is laid to rest “until someone comes along, me in this case, and says, ‘Hey, you know what, let’s move this shit and put something else here.’”

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Much later, when Joanne sits cross-legged on the plot Righty chose for his grave and echoes Tim’s recounting of Anywho’s life, she remembers particular ordinary moments in her own: “I’m holding on to someone big and falling asleep. I’m climbing a tree…” She seems to be landing on a poignant moment of closure—we live, and we die, and our bodies rest and decompose through the centuries that follow. I would have been satisfied if the play had ended there. But Eno still has some bows to tie, and the plot moves forward to a further resolution that’s a bit more clichéd and less satisfying.

Nevertheless, The Plot as a whole is refreshingly sincere and genuinely funny. Under Oliver Butler’s direction, nearly every line makes a perfect landing. Thematically, the script may overreach when it comes to the old “man versus nature” conflict, but its commentary on love and marriage, among other things, settles in quietly and lingers.

Eno’s characters are unique, their interactions unpredictable and fun to watch. Even Tim, with little to redeem him, avoids becoming the caricature of a villain. In the hands of actor Turner he’s quirky, funny and pitiable. Of all the characters, Donna is the one who eventually emerges as the play’s protagonist. She’s the only one who confronts her actions and becomes a new and improved version of herself. Yet her transformation is hardly the point of The Plot. Our own plots are what we’re left thinking about—the stories of our own short lives and what will be left of them as the sun rises and sets on our remains, whether they’re buried in a historic graveyard or cremated and locked in a storage unit like Tim’s mother’s.

“Here’s this little area, here, and here we all are, trying to find room for ourselves, trying to find our place in it,” Joanne says in the final scene, as they all converge on the plot of land that’s been at the center of their conflict. She might as well be speaking of the Earth itself. She might as well be speaking of us.

The Plot
Yale Repertory Theatre – 1120 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Showtimes through December 21
(203) 432-1234

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Photographed for Yale Repertory Theatre by Joan Marcus. Image 1 features Harris Yulin and Jennifer Mudge. Image 2 features Jimonn Cole and Yulin. Image 3 features Yulin and Mia Katigbak. Image 4 features Cole, Mudge and Stephen Barker Turner.

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