The Blue Raccoon

Friday, September 19, 2008

Eurydice A Cure for the Clangorous Riot of Now
Mystery, poetry, and a philosophy of hats

Camille Corot, Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld, 1861, oil on canvas, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, via glass-o-water.

Bias admitted right here: as most of the billion-eyed audience by now knows, 16 years ago next month I attended the meeting before the meeting that inaugurated the Firehouse Theatre Project. That said, I want to tell you: go there and see Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice.

Leave it to the Greeks. They asked most of the fundamental questions which we in the West are still endeavoring to answer. The myth of Eurydice, re-interpreted by Ruhl, takes us out of the clangorous riot of now into a world of poetry, beauty, mystery and eternity -- and fatality.

Rusty Wilson's direction and the stage design of Phil Hayes build a reality that straddles the reality of wedding parties of the rich and famous and that of the Underworld that awaits all of them (and us, we in the audience, who are gazing over the lip and into the abyss).

The density of metaphors in the writing requires simultaneous fluidity and groundedness of the performers. Watching Laine Satterfield as Eurydice united in the Underworld with her dead Father, Joe Inscoe, is both sad and joyous, as one teaches the other about death, and life, and the past, as they are suspended in the limbo of their present.

Ruhl here is in surreal and absurd territory, and there's a whiff of Waiting For Godot. [The genius of the evening: Sarah Ruhl, Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times]

There are long periods of silence, in particular as we watch Her Father creating a "room" for his daughter using a cat's cradle arrangement of string. Firehouse audiences accustomed to the rat-tat-tat dialogue of the contemporary plays produced there may be surprised.

Eurydice arrives in the Underworld like a 1930s movie star (Laine here reminds of Carole Lombard and a little of Myrna Loy, too), but having drunk of Lethe, knows almost nothing about who she is or where she's arrived.

A stand-out moment of the show is Her Father recounting street directions to what is probably the house he grew up in, along the Mississippi River, and the sensual pleasure of rolling up his pants and wading into the water. In the hands of a lesser actor, this monologue would've seemed forced, but Inscoe invests his entire performance with a solid reality -- he believes in where he is.

I'm not sure that Ruhl knew what to do with Orpheus. He's not Elvis, but maybe Bono. Chris Hester invests him with earnestness and woolly-minded artistic distraction. He is, after all, the music that makes the young girls cry.

In the myths, the three-headed dog Cerberus guards the entrance to the Underworld. The hideousness of that creature turns mortals into stone. What Ruhl reimagines is a Chorus of Stones. Perhaps less expensive and complicated to create than the ferocious fanged and snake-tentacled beast, and for certain funnier, the Cockney-inflected trio provide us with access to the story, too.

An inspired choice for the Chorus of Stones are actors who are known on Richmond stages for lead parts and directing: Andrew Boothby, Jenny Hundley, and Lauren Leinhaas-Cook. The old adage that there are no small roles, just small actors, is given validation here. Sitting still, keeping a focus in a strange situation, is more of an acting challenge than center stage pyrotechnics. They're funny, ominous and weird.

Larry Cook's portrayal of the a bratty "Lord of the Underworld" takes me back to the sp0iled man-child fribble of Trelane (William Campbell) in an original Star Trek episode, "The Squire of Gothos."

Cook's daemonic Very Interesting Man is that kind of annoying party guest who, in the words of Karl Rove, shows up with the best looking woman and makes disparaging remarks about everybody else. Cook's characterization of the Man also reminded me of that amusing un-suave, faux sophisticate stalker that Christopher Walken played a few times on Saturday Night Live. I half-expected him to offer Eurydice "shahm-pahn-ya."

So this is not a riotous comedy -- though there are comedic elements. Eurydice is a quiet play, but not serene; it is romantic, but in the end, existential. You'll leave in a spell, and there'll be plenty to discuss afterward at some dim Fan restaurant, where we cluster in a booth, our bodies warm and tight side-by-side, relating how we experienced what we each of us interpreted the play to be "about." We're here now and able to so indulge ourselves. We won't be for long. An eternity of oblivion awaits.

Turn off your television. Don't check the Bloomberg ticker. There's nothing you can do about any of that. See this play, instead.

I'm going more than once.

Meanwhile, for amusement:

The Squire of Gothos...

The Continental...

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