NEW YORK – If you ever get a chance to catch a performance by the YAI Players’ Theater of Dreams, jump at the chance. It’s a small group of dynamic, bold, funny and talented actors, singers and dancers. Oh, and by the way, they’re developmentally disabled.
I say “by the way” because their talent, self-confidence and sense of humor is what defines their performance, not their disability.
Idris Alston, who resembles a young Paul Robeson – tall, muscular and powerful, with a joyful smile – stands head and shoulders above everyone else. At first I thought that applied to his performance skills, too. It turns out, though, as good as he is, other members of the cast are equally gifted.
The YAI Players was created at the urging of a staff member who had a professional career in theater. The Players rehearse several times a week and have formed partnerships with other groups, including the Berkeley Carroll School, whose students performed with them here March 15.
The YAI motto is “I have dreams” and it was clear from the outset that not much could stop them from realizing those dreams. Idris opened the program, “God Bless the Child,” with a reading of Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World,” which expresses a philosophy the YAI Players embrace.
Although every number was a delight, several stand out. One was Nicole’s (there were two Nicoles but, unfortunately, the program didn’t indicate which was which) rendition of Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Women.” It’s a toss-up who enjoyed it more, Nicole or the audience. The look of delight on her face as she looked directly into the audience and declared, “I’m a woman/Phenomenally/Phenomenal woman/That’s me,” was priceless.
“Hakuna Metata” from The Lion King involved the entire cast. Jeffrey Resnick as a lion cub showed a mischievous sense of humor. Short in stature but long on laughs and charisma, Jeffrey proved himself to be a real flirt who knows how to woo the women in the audience. A performer with a natural flair, he makes you chuckle just thinking about him – and laugh out loud watching his antics.
From start to finish “God Bless the Child” was funny, joyous and exhilarating. It would be even more exhilarating to see programs like this in cities across the country.
– Carolyn Rummel