Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't miss this show at ART

The (almost) glowing review below doesn't do justice to this production. The director, Randall Stewart, and scene designer, Michael Olich, have produced a dreamlike, balletic performance requiring synchronization, coordination and athleticism of the gifted cast. The result is a play like you haven't seen before in this venue. If there were any opening night problems, they are all solved.

Go early enough to study the panels in the lobby, originals of Windsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland,"
Artists Rep's "Eurydice" holds a fantastical family reunion
by Marty Hughley
The Oregonian Sunday September 21, 2008

It's a love story for the ages, each element delivering a powerful and enduring emotional resonance. The happy couple. The grand wedding on a bright day. The sudden tragedy of the bride's death. The grieving husband's mournful song. A love and a sadness so strong that they overcome death itself.

There's romantic paydirt everywhere in the mythical Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, and it's been interpreted many times in many ways. Sarah Ruhl's play "Eurydice," which opened at Artists Repertory Theatre on Friday, is the familiar tale read right to left, and in some ways upside-down as well.

Instead of focusing on Orpheus' famous attempt to rescue his wife from the underworld, the play meditates on her experiences there. It becomes a story not about life and will, but about death and acceptance.

And just as importantly, it becomes a story of another primary relationship -- not one that looks toward the future and the end, but one that looks back wistfully toward the beginning.

In other words, the crux of the action and the meaning isn't with Eurydice's husband but with her father. And between Ruhl's witty, poignant and poetic script and Artists Rep's fin de siecle fantasia of a production, the result is a moving meditation on the power of love and memory, nurturing and solace, and the connections and choices that define us.

In his program note, the director Randall Stuart makes a bold and fascinating assertion, that "the veil between this world and the next, between myth and one's own cellular memory, is the stuff that live theater can actually solve." Quite what he means by "solve" is hard to say, but he has created a compellingly strange vision of both sides of the River Styx.

Inspired by early beach amusement parks and Windsor McCay's early 20th-century comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland," the production designs evoke a blend of worn Victorian elegance, junk-store ingenuity and a now-antiqued futurism. Michael Olich's set is more effective functionally than aesthetically. But Sarah Gahagan's elaborate costumes and Alexandra Kuechler's funky props provide all the otherworldly texture you'll need.

Orpheus (Gilberto Martin del Campo, left) dresses for adventure, but the king of the underworld (Todd Van Voris) isn't just clowning around.

Some moments suggest that ambition outstretched the available cash and craft -- the oddly cheesy way that Eurydice's death is shown or the mourning song Orpheus sings in Hades, which sounds like the ungainly combo of the Gypsy Kings and a Michael Nymen-arranged choir. But overall, the production makes the Underworld seem like a very creepy/cool/funny/interesting place.

That's also because of the creatures who dwell there. Eurydice is often surrounded by a chorus of talking stones who scold her with the rules of the realm. Marjorie Tatum (gliding on roller skates hidden under a floor-length dress), Michael Mendelson and Jill Westerby invest them with a kind of puckish, peevish spirit, at once comic but unsettling.

Even more striking is Todd Van Voris (like Mendelson, a member of Artists Rep's new group of resident actors), whose mutable character is called simply A Nasty Interesting Man. Aboveground, he's an ingratiating dandy who lures Eurydice to her fatal accident; in the underworld, he's the king of the place, part goofy, bratty little boy, part lustful psycho. (Trying to convince Eurydice to marry him and forsake her musician husband, he tells her, "A song is two dead bodies rubbing under the covers to keep warm." How's that for seduction?) In voice and manner, it requires a little modernist symphony of sliding, shifting, clashing tones, and Van Voris is an unassuming maestro.

Oh, but what of those humans we might really relate to? Well, there's that father/daughter dynamic at the heart of things. Ruhl reportedly began the play partly as a way of making sense of her own father's passing, and there's a fitting tenderness here in the scenes between Eurydice, played by Jennifer Le Blanc, and the father, played by David Bodin. Bodin's measured, heartfelt performance gives the production its emotional footing, as he helps his daughter adjust to life among the dead, sharing his memories of language and family.

But that formerly central relationship between Orpheus and Eurydice? By the end, we don't care so much.

In part, that's because Ruhl isn't as adept at establishing their boundless love as she is at testing it. And in part it's that, on opening night at least, Le Blanc and Gilberto Martin del Campo (a charming enough Orpheus overall) start the play shouting, instead of cooing, through their courtship. They get off to a clumsy start with us, if not each other, and so many more interesting folks show up once she's dead, it only seems right she should stay that way.


Addendum: This just in from ART

The Eurydice costumes have some amazing stories behind them.
Eurydice's wedding dress is patterned after a rare 1920s "picture dress" that was donated to Artists Rep. The accompanying cloche hat she wears is the actual vintage hat that was donated with the dress.

The elaborate costumes for the Stones who greet Eurydice when she arrives in the Underworld feature remarkable detail. Costume designer Sarah Gahagan worked with the cast and director to create costumes that evoke elements of how the characters lived and died. Look for bobbins, thread, and singed fabric on the costume of Loud Stone, who died in a sewing factory fire. Small Stone's hair is standing on end because she died jumping from a bridge. Big Stone, strapped to his chair with a pick ax on his back, was a diamond miner addicted to his work, forsaking his family and well-being.

If you've seen this show already, you might want to come back to get a closer look at the detail and beauty of these costumes! When you come back a second time and bring a friend, your ticket is 50% off... and Season Subscribers get their ticket FREE when they return!

If you haven't seen this visually thrilling love story yet, you will certainly want to get a ticket soon! Eurydice runs until October 26, Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are still available by clicking here or by calling 503-241-1278.

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