Large Animal Games explores sex, love & self delusion; throw in bullfights &lingerie, too
Large Animal Games by Steve Yockey is at Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company through July 14 at Studio 101. It's always interesting to find out how a play lands on a Houston stage: One with lingerie and bull fights, even more so.
Yockey investigates sex, love, and self delusion as a group of friends navigate the treacherous and hilarious romantic road with the help of a lingerie salesman.
Mildred's artistic director Jennifer Decker has her reasons for selecting the Atlanta-born playwright. She also brought in Matt Huff fromAtlantato direct. Lyndsay Sweeney, who plays Rosie in Yockey's play, has no connection to Atlanta, but she worked with Huff before in Mildred's sensational production of Will Eno's The Flu Season.
It's always interesting to find out how a play lands on a Houston stage: One with lingerie and bull fights, even more so.
So read on for a three-pronged perspective on Large Animal Games.
Besides her job as artistic director, Decker is also the chief curator of plays at Mildred's. They're an eclectic bunch over there, with a history of producing plays not found anywhere else in town. In the past, the fledgling troupe has presented work from such renegades as Eno, Mac Wellman, Jen Lenkin, Naomi Wallace and Houston's own iconic scribe, John Harvey.
Decker is looking for a certain something, and she knows it when she reads it. Many plays go before her eyes before deciding the "what"; then there's the "when." Later, the "who" to direct and "who" to cast. A confluence of factors make a play actually happen. Yockey's Large Animal Games jumped off the page immediately as ideal Mildred material.
"I loved how clever it was. It examines relationships and how people figure out what they need from them by using metaphors of bullfighting and the challenge of killing large animals to represent lust and the thrill of the chase that many people need in order to get satisfaction," says Decker.
"At the same time, a very other-worldly lingerie salesman and his shop guide people in their relationships by finding what they want through fitting them with custom apparel designed to help them be who they truly are. The juxtaposition of lingerie and the killing of animals was intriguing."
Decker found the play before she found the right time to present it. "I had it on the backburner for over a year, waiting for the right place to produce it," she says. "It has never been done in Houston (and neither has this playwright), so it fit us perfectly."
The lowdown on Yockey
Huff and Yockey's careers have circled around each other for years now, although they have never actually worked together.
"Yockey's plays love to give voice those hidden desires lurking just below the surface of our skins and our egos. What happens when we attempt to live out those desires?"
"I was in grad school in Austin when he was developing his reputation in Atlanta, and then when I returned, Steve was in the MFA Playwriting Program at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Shortly after, he received a prestigious grant to be the Playwright-in-Residence at the Marin Theatre Company in California. He's been West Coast bound ever since," reports Huff. "Oddly enough, one of Mildred's company members pitched the play to Jennifer before I even became involved. Jennifer sent me several scripts, and when I saw Steve's name, I was like, 'Hey, I know that guy!'"
Huff took that as a sign that this was the play that he should direct for Mildred's.
"I'm very proud to introduce Yockey's work to Houston," he says. "Yockey's plays love to give voice those hidden desires lurking just below the surface of our skins and our egos. What happens when we attempt to live out those desires?"
Things never quite turn out they way we plan. So it goes in life and in Yockey's plays.
Huff explains the dilemma that Yockey sets forth in Large Animal Games. "Instead of getting what we originally wanted, we are often confronted with what we really need. Then, the question becomes, do we accept that? Do we embrace the opportunity to grow, to re-imagine ourselves and, perhaps, become a more authentic version of ourselves?"
The characters in many of Yockey's plays, as with Large Animal Games, face such a dilemma. "And, of course, when it comes to living out our fantasies and desires, humor always plays a role whether we like it or not and Yockey's plays are deliciously funny in this regard," adds Huff.
Finally, there are often elements of fantasy, mystery and magic present too. "It's Yockey's way of creating a physical reality for the unseen, psychic forces at work in our lives," says Huff.
The actor's perspective
Sweeney plays Rose, who she describes as a vivacious woman with an over the top quality. "She states the simple fact that 'we do the best we can with what we have.' Perhaps that is why she is willing to take such a crazy risk for love," says Sweeney. "She wants true love. The wonderful beauty about this play is that these characters are real and complicated. I can relate to these characters. I see a lot of myself in Rose. Then throw in an enchanting lingerie store."
"The wonderful beauty about this play is that these characters are real and complicated. I can relate to these characters."
Sweeney's chemistry with Huff was in full evidence in The Flu Season, by far Mildred's finest production. The director and actor bonded.
"Oh my, do I love me some Matt Huff," enthuses Sweeney. "He is an incredibly refreshing director, and I am so grateful that Jennifer was able to get him to come to Houston to direct this production. Matt has an uncanny way of encouraging you to explore your character and relationships to embarrassing lengths, but making you feel at ease throughout the process. He throws out challenges, yet goes on the journey with you, enjoying each moment of discovery just as you do."
Sweeney sums up exactly why Houston theater lovers should leave their chilled dwellings to come out and see this play. "Yockey is a young playwright with a unique vision and strong reputation on the East and West coasts. It's time Houston got to know him. We'll be hearing a lot more from him in the future I'm sure. Also, Large Animal Games is definitely an ensemble show, and given Mildred's dedication to fostering a company of actors, it's a terrific choice to showcase their work."
Oh, and one more thing, all three of them agree that this is one sexy play.