Existential Crises and Tomfoolery at the Yale Cabaret

If you’re a Yale student, you’ve got to make your way to Yale Cabaret. For its most recent production, the basement black box was transformed into the interior of Elon Musk’s spaceship en route to nuke Mars, the set for Elon Musk and the Plan to Blow Up Mars, the Musical, created, composed, and directed by the imaginative mind of Liam Bellman-Sharpe, YSD ’20.

Elon Musk, played by the broad-shouldered, charismatic David Mitsch YSD ’21, recognizes that humanity has accepted Earth’s devastation because they have come to believe in Mars as a backup planet. In order to combat this, the comically crazed portrayal of Musk concludes that he must blow up Mars in order to save the world. He avoids to inform anyone of his plan—not even the crew of his ship. This crew’s desire to know what this trip entails leads to some obvious dissension. The show drips with absurdity and melodrama. Oh, and there’s lots of music, from traditional show-tunes to funky genre-bending raps. And Jeff Bezos, played by a woman in a bald cap, makes a cameo. 

In one strong moment, the captain of the spaceship, played by the excellent Nomè SiDone YSD ‘22, dressed as a 19th century whaling captain, sings on his responsibility as a leader and his quest for personal honor. Another moment, actress Maal Imani West , gives a speech set to ominous instrumental music on the dehumanizing spiral of late stage capitalism through the metaphor of cosmetic dentures. Terrifying projections of chomping teeth and skeletons taunt the audience as we hear how the perpetual need for higher profit margins eventually leads to the poisoning of our water to rot our teeth so that we have to buy more dentures. This scene hauntingly captures the inhumanity of what we have taken for granted. Here we see Bellman-Sharpe delve into the fluid possibilities of theater-making where he graciously invites the audience to use the full range of their imagination. While I enjoyed the two other musical interludes that ran adjacent to the main plot—one in which a woman signs a catchy bop and raps about slime mold and another in which the character Drag King sings about becoming a “daddy” because it is not ethical to be a father in the 21st century—were more distracting than illuminating. I look forward to future workshops and productions of this show that expand upon these two moments.

The real star of the show is a character by the name of Eyes, brought to life by the deeply captivating and focused performance of Madeline Seidman, YSD ’21. Eyes falls in love with the non-speaking and amorphous character “Antimatter”—a necessary ingredient to nuke Mars and safely return the ship back home—which has congealed into a humanoid. Eyes and Antimatter sing their love to one another in a gorgeous duet, which skillfully toes the line between genuineness and absurdity. I found myself simultaneously laughing at the parodied sentimentality while seemingly struck by the music. Eyes represents the core of this production’s message. She is a woman who is not phased. When Elon Musk announces a vote on whether to save the antimatter human or blow up Mars, she is the only member of the ship who votes to sacrifice her own life. For her, being a human is more than day-to-day survival: she has a commitment to the sanctity of being alive.

The expressed ridiculousness of the production, along with the music, proved effective and wildly entertaining in opening the audience’s eyes to serious and earnest undertones regarding the climate crisis, consolidation of wealth, and a pervasive attitude of nihilism. The work was effective in part due to the deep self-awareness of the show that allowed the audience to simultaneously mock and revel in the genre of musical. This is exactly the kind of work that the Cabaret produces, work of commited theater-makers exploring the full range of their artistic capabilities, pushing their medium and questioning audiences’ expectations. It’s a space that allows people to take risks and fail. Come to the Cab. Marvel at experimentation. Feel confounded by strangeness. Stand in wonder at the moments that speak to you. Find boundless potential in a small basement with a couple committed people trying to say something. 

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