Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eurydice -- ACT

September 5 – October 5, 2008

Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (based on a story that can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) is a passionate and lyrical homage to the love between a father and a daughter. Unlike the original story and most other retellings of it, Ruhl’s Eurydice does not focus the point of view on Eurydice’s lover, Orpheus. Instead, Eurydice herself is given center stage and her relationship with her already-dead father takes precedence over the love story between her and the musician, Orpheus.

Renata Friedman as Eurydice and Mark Chamberlin as Father. Photo: Chris Bennion.

Director Allison Narver’s staging takes precision to the next level. Her influences, especially in the choreography (Nick Garrison) of the hilarious but bizarre Stones (Tracy Hyland, Tim Hyland and Anne Allgood), are fantastically pinpointed. Clearly the choreography is not meant to be naturalistic; however, it fits perfectly into the world illustrated by the surrealistic design of set, lights, costume and sound. Matthew Smucker’s set dazzles the audience, as always, with its practicality and artfulness. It’s not everyday a designer is asked, for example, to make an elevator descend from the grid and rain inside itself while carrying a passenger; and he pulls it off handily. Working with a script that specifically calls for a set that will embody both the world of the dead and the living earth, sometimes simultaneously, is no small feat, and all designed aspects mesh with each other to bring this about. One of the most important of these is the sound design and composition. Chris Walker’s design creates sound that is almost palpable, that is played with by the actors as easily as if they actually held instruments. One of the first moments of the play—before any dialogue is spoken—is Orpheus plucking on part of the set, long strings held taut from the grid to the floor. Each string becomes musical, wringing echoing sound from the set itself.

Trick Danneker and Renata Friedman play Orpheus and Eurydice with all the exuberance and awkwardness of almost-children falling in love for the first time. Their physicality is not as polished as the other actors, which occasionally can strain their voices; both are most effective in their quieter moments of longing or deliberation. Danneker’s solo letter-writing to his dead wife is both desperate and triumphant in places; and Friedman’s growing re-connection to her father throughout the play is full of both hope and sadness. Mark Chamberlin as Eurydice’s father beautifully embodies these contradictions that are at the heart of Ruhl’s story, as the character who knows the most about his past and others. The problem of knowledge, of remembering and forgetting the people you love, is the central one of this play, and Chamberlin is an artful illustration of that.

Paul Morgan Stetler, usually an impressive comic actor, sometimes falls short in his dual roles as the Interesting Man and the Child. This is due to directorial choices, which end up conflating the characters rather than giving enough variety for Stetler to work within—for there certainly are times when both characters are specific and as creepy as they need to be.

Despite the occasional odd choice in direction, the production is overwhelmingly affecting, marrying Ruhl’s potent lyricism to gorgeous design and impressive acting to create a moving evening of theater.

Review by Lia Morgan and Nigel Andrews

(Also stay tuned for Seattle University’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play, opening November 13th at the Lee Center for the Arts.)

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