Sunday, June 03, 2007

Eurydice's Lament

"eurydice" at 2econd Stage Theatre, June 3, 2007

(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Sarah Ruhl follows her last play "Clean House" at Lincoln Center Theatre with this retelling of the Orpheus myth at 2econd Stage Theatre. (Spoiler alert - if there can be one about a Greek Myth).

With an eye for significant theatricality, but lacking a bit of the polish she achieved at Lincoln Center, the published premise is that this version will tell the tale from Eurydice's perspective. What we get is not quite as clear, with much of the perspective delivered from her father, who has been waiting for his daughter to join him in the underworld.

Director Les Waters, who has directed this play in other productions at Yale Repertory and Berkeley Repertory Theatres has retained many in the cast from both the Yale and Berkeley productions. The result is a mix of skills.

This Eurydice arrives in the Underworld as a traveler with suitcase in hand and umbrella opened, shielding her from the water of the river which washes away one's memory of life before (shown as a shower of water pouring over her as she exits an elevator). Greeted by three stones, Big Stone (Ramiz Monsef), Little Stone (Carla Harting) and Loud Stone (Gian-Murray Gianino), this truly Greek Chorus establishes that the language of the dead is silent and that all who enter the Underworld forget their lives above existing in peace and quiet for eternity. (Some folks need an extra dip, on occasion.)

She quickly starts to forget anyway, and is met by her father (Charles Shaw Robinson) whom she doesn't recognize. (Apparently he didn't get much of a dip in the river either.) He has continually written letters to her, but not being able to send them, he pastes them on the tiled walls creating a mosaic of sorts. Only one had gotten through. It was that letter, delivered by The Nasty and Interesting Man (Mark Zeisler) that lead to Eurydice's death as he lured her away from her wedding to give her the letter. The death sequence was a bit inelegant.

In the Underworld, she soon recognizes her father and longs for Orpheus to come find her and take her home. In an interesting bit of business, she asks where her "room" is and he creates one outlined in string using hooks in the floor and a hanging framework.

As Eurydice, Maria Dizzia seems limited by a role missing significant depth in the writing. This tone-deaf, rythm-less Eurydice wants to be more interesting than she is - reading books because they are "interesting" yet not really understanding Orpheus' (Joseph Parks) devotion to his music when she asks him repeatedly, "What are you thinking about?" to which he repeatedly responds, "Music." How does a musician as intense as Orpheus fall in love with someone who has no clue what motivates him?

As Orpheus, Joseph Parks has some wonderful moments, but they are few and far between. His heartbreak at losing Eurydice on their wedding day only grows as he manages to send her letters in the underworld. Once he finds his way down and convinces the Lord of the Underworld (Mark Zeisler) to let her return to him, he obediently takes up his task. I felt a little short-changed when Eurydice calls his name before they finish their journey, sabotaging her own return. That moment should have been one for him to indicate his grief at losing her for a second time. It also strikes a bitter chord when Orpheus dies in the end, hoping to join Eurydice but is dipped in the river (presumable Styx, though unnamed) and loses all memory from life.

Charles Shaw Robinson as the Father gives an uneven performance, coming across weak and unsure in his first scenes, but finding his footing once the relationship with Eurydice is reestablished. He has a touching moment as he says good-bye to her, sending her to follow Orpheus back to her life above. In his grief, he dips himself back in the river and loses his memory of her.

Scott Bradley's set is an interesting blue-green tiled creation, with no flat or plumb levels or angles and just enough water not to make the audience feel they should have worn swim fins. Russell Champa's lighting is a key to the successful theatricality in this production and serves well through most of the show. Meg Neville's costumes are an odd mix, from Dickensian England for the Stones' attire, to a blue and pink wedding dress for Eurydice. (I'm still trying to figure out what her goal was for Eurydice's pink suit worn during her time in the Underworld since it seemed to make no connection to any other character or style of dress.)

Director Les Waters has been involved with this play, now in its third production. I can't help but wonder if he's too close to see where shortfalls remain in the play and cast.

The production is an interesting work, but felt a bit like a workshop of a play that still needs some attention. The Orpheus tale should be heart-wrenching, but here we only get that Eurydice was confused about what she wanted, and only a little sad at the result. As she returns to the Underworld, she writes a letter to Orpheus that oddly reminded me of Eve's song "What Makes Me Love Him" from The Apple Tree, sweet but not tragic. Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphoses" from 2002 at Circle in the Square presented the Orpheus myth in her evening with much more interest and emotion.

Star-watch: Deborah Rush (Sara Blank: "Strangers With Candy") and Michael Emerson (Ben Linus - head bad guy of "the others") in the house.

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