If you ask me…

Millennial Angst in Yale’s “Birthday”

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

The venerable Yale Repertory Theatre is one of the last regional theatres in pandemic Connecticut to reopen its doors to the public and, with a truncated season, they have begun with Susan Soon He Stanton’s 2017 dramedy, “Today is My Birthday”.  This episodic little play that entertains in fits and starts deals with communication and Millennial angst in the form of its likable but self-absorbed heroine.

That heroine is Emily Chang (Jeena Yl), who finds herself back home in Hawaii after a failed relationship and journalism career in Manhattan.  We follow Emily’s attempts to understand and reconnect with her parents (divorcing after many years) as well as new love interests, married friends back home and a spotty job journey.  Like many contemporary playwrights, Ms. Stanton has really written a work that is more screenplay than stage play with its episodic structure employing over 50 breathless scenes in several different locations (Yale’s crew is kept very busy).  The play also takes place almost entirely on the telephone, live radio broadcasts, voice messages or intercom demonstrating contemporary life as it is currently lived by many.

Jenna Yl is a winning central presence here even while, as written, Emily is a bit of a pill.  That we tend to forgive her annoyances is credit to the actress and director Mina Morita who displays a mostly light touch and navigates scenes smoothly even as the play stretches towards the 2-hour mark with no intermission. The remaining cast members play several characters with quick costume and wig changes. Some are more successful than others especially Emily Kuroda playing Emily’s acerbic mother as well as a bossy receptionist and meek podcast host.  She’s a delight.  Atra Asdou also scores points as Emily’s frazzled married friend in New York and as the morose other half of a radio duo with the hilarious Chivas Michael.

Bridget Lindsay’s handsome scenic design takes up the entire stage and, with the exception of Emily’s small apartment setting, furniture pieces fly off and on in record time and to dizzying effect.  The biggest technical achievement, however, is the non-stop sound design by Noel Nichols and Uptown Works who capture with clarity and some humor every cell phone blip, text alert, answering machine message and radio station sound effect.

“Today is My Birthday” (and I do wish someone would explain that title to me) ultimately starts strong and funny and ends up merely exhausting and annoying by the time that final phone call has been answered.  It may not work in its current form for me, but I can still make a strong case that it would be far more at home on the silver screen.  Paging Jennifer Lopez!

“Today is My Birthday” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street in New Haven through February 19. For further information, visit: www.yalerep.org or call the theatre box office: 203.432.1234.  Patrons are required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination and photo I.D. at the door.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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