Courtesy of Parsa Lofti, Staff Photographer

“Lords of the Saccharomyces,” a The Opposite of People (TOOP) production written and directed by senior Sarah Young, opens with a hyper Ph.D. student, Greg (senior Peter Carlile), exclaiming his excitement for the yeast genocide he is about to launch. The play goes on to chronicle how his enthusiasm for lab work gradually diminishes as his romantic life disintegrates due to, ironically, long hours of said work that yield little result — and does it creatively, while expertly engaging the viewers and inviting them to share in George’s pain.

Greg is your average twenty-something: just ambitious enough to not slack off, but not motivated enough from the get-go. Overqualified, he holds petty jobs like lab technician in hope that he will one day begin his own research. Despite how hard he works, however, his circumstances always seem unforgiving and his effort eventually proves to be futile. Mei (freshman Melanie Spall), Greg’s newly pregnant lab partner, channels her new maternity into compassion. However, it seems there is little she can do to help. The play ends with Greg attempting to meditate, while the yeast chorus, the subject of Greg’s experiment as well as his inner struggles, chants philosophical renderings in the background.

Oh, the yeasts! Gloriously impersonated by freshman Steven Winkelman and sophomore Evelyn Hernandez, they banter, argue and conjugate while pretending they are in love. Sometimes they beg to live, sometimes they long to die, but mostly they want to make beer and have a good time. That being said, they are also “pretty cultured peeps,” referencing Homer and Nazi Germany in their snappy rebuttals. It must be pointed out at this point that costume designer sophomore Kathryn Loveless pays scrupulous attention to detail: Winkelman’s nails are painted to match the color scheme of his outfit.

Some human characters fall flat by comparison. Spall brings her character’s blandness to life with a minimalistic style, punctuating her lines with affectless expressions. Tony (freshman Wojtek Sip), the occasionally avuncular tyrant that runs the lab and essentially Greg’s livelihood, serves as the plot device that keeps screwing Greg over. That, and a one-liner catapult, with quips like, “I don’t understand how someone came up with the idea to juice an apple. Orange juice makes sense, because when you eat an orange, it feels like you’re chewing juice. But apples are crunchy.”

However, “Lords of the Saccharomyces” is definitely more than jokes. It not only sheds light on the brutal reality of academia — “Grants can’t be taken for granted!” — but also speaks to a generational, Lena Durham-esque yearning for a place in the world. Throughout the play there is a sense of perpetual miscommunication, something so profound and universal but at the same time hopelessly syncopated, as if Greg has missed a crucial information  session on adulthood, and now simply cannot get with the program.

Tony, for the sake of increasing productivity, bans the use of gerunds in the lab, but the entire play is precisely gerunds. Tony is waiting for Greg’s data, Mei is expecting a baby, Greg is figuring out his life and the audience is waiting for a culminating

ll either resolve the dramatic conflict that never quite manages to enter reality, or deliver a coup de grâce that at least gives some closure. None of these expectations are met. The narrative trajectory simply ends where it ends, much like the characters; they simply “are” and keep “being” just that, while existential angst quietly multiplies in humanoid petri dishes.

Near the end of the play, Tony gives Greg a flier on counseling. Mei tries to gloss over it by saying it is a nice gesture, to which Greg bursts out, “If I were about to jump off the roof, do you think a gesture would stop me?” Lords of the Saccharomyces is indeed a gesture of timidity, of self-acknowledged vulnerabilities, of standing at the doorstep of adulthood, hesitantly extending one’s quivering fingertips to the doorbell, only to discover that it is a stone-cold dead end.

Which, oddly, works with this specific audience. Aren’t most of us, at the tender age of I-can-vote-but-can’t-buy-a-drink-so-essentially-I-owe-responsibility-to-society-but-can’t-be-responsible-for-myself, lost? Maybe no man is an island, but together we stand an archipelago of solitude, united by irresolvable alienation. Equally surreal is when the yeasts snap their fingers after a particularly witty line, a TOOP convention. Intentional or not, cross-referencing themselves definitely breaks the fourth wall, if it has not already been broken by a character so deeply grounded in real life and a conundrum encountered by many on a daily basis. And that, really, is all a play can ever ask from its audience — resonance and recognition.

Zheng is a member of the class of 2016.



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