Eurydice @ Westridge School

The play Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl is Westridge Theatre’s 2nd production of the 2012-13  Year of Women Playwrights season.  All 4 performances in the Black Box Theatre (11/29-30, 12/1-2) were well-attended by the Westridge community. It’s a complex tale of remembrance and letting go.  The story is based on the Greek mythical character Eurydice.  In the original myth, Eurydice is the wife of Orpheus who died tragically on her wedding day and Orpheus bargains with Hades to bring her back from the underworld.

Sarah Ruhl’s modern day re-telling of the myth introduces some twists and a new character — Eurydice’s deceased father.  Although he resides in the underworld, he has managed to “not forget” his mortal life.  The father becomes Eurydice’s emotional support as she transitions to her new existence. Meanwhile a Chorus of Stones reminds them that it against the rules to keep such attachments in the underworld. Eurydice’s father has broken the rules by remembering. In the end Eurydice must choose whether or not to follow Orpheus out of the underworld or to stay with her father in death.

It was wonderful to see such strong performances all around.  Each actor showed deep commitment to her role. Senior Simona Brooks embodied the graceful innocence of the lead character, especially when confronted by the Nasty Interesting Man, slickly played by Jade Cohen.  Emma Rothenberg held nothing back in her passionate portrayal of the bereaved groom Orpheus.  His fervent poetry contrasts the calm, narrative voice of Eurydice’s father, tenderly played by Madeleine Russell.  Both characters confound Eurydice as she must decide whether to stay or to go.   Riveting performances by Jessica Porter, Lara Edwards and Rebecca Shao provided the contextual framework and some comic relief as they shout their objections to the rule-breakers. “Being sad is not allowed. Act like a stone! “

The play was an ambitious undertaking for Westridge Theatre as it primarily works on an emotional level.  Outrageous make-up and Victorian costumes created shock value when the maleficent chorus of stones arrived on the stage.  The mood was supported by Mr. Stuffel’s cleverly crafted set which looked like the stark underground of an abandoned subway.  For those who may have experienced the death of a loved one, Eurydice taps into that memory and holds on.  For others it is a story of love and loss that unfolds in a dark grey room with exposed pipes and the drip, drip, drip of a place where nothing happens.



The Pasadena Playhouse’s Heiress is Elegant

Seeing The Heiress at the Pasadena Playhouse seemed like what a theater experience would have been like in the ages before television.  The actors draw the audience in –to the point where its collective gasps and sighs seem to become part of the play’s dialog. Richard Chamberlain at 78 was inspiring.  He has not lost either his looks or his acting ability with age and it was a pleasure to see such a master at his craft.

The play is set in New York City in the Mid 1800s.  It is about a sweet, shy young woman, the only child of a renown New York City physician, as she copes with the constant disapproval of her father and crippling social anxiety.  Her family is independently wealthy, which combined with her naïveté about men makes her extremely vulnerable to the attentions of a charismatic suitor.  She falls in love with him of course. From the set up of the plot you can imagine the rest of the story line — but don’t let that fool you.   It is a real treat to see such masterful performances, elegant staging in one of the most beautiful theatres in LA. The venue is so authentic you may feel surprised to find yourself in 2012 when you exit the theater.

You can enjoy the Heiress at the Pasadena Playhouse through May 20th.

Eternal Thou – The Internet and the Mind of Man

A few days ago I saw Eternal Thou at the Atwater Village Theatre and have not been able to stop

thinking about it.  The play offers some mind-blowing insights on the evolution of the Internet. The cast of five enact watershed moments in cyber history, such as the first remote computer to computer connection.  Through the actors’ nuanced and agile performances, elements of the Internet come alive and change the nature of everything.   There are so many significant thought strings to pull on — our concepts of connectivity, privacy, empowerment, regulation, and humanity are challenged as they are presented in a time-shifted dream-like sequence. The Atwater Village Theatre itself has a wonderfully creative vibe to it.  Part neighborhood garage, part bohemian cafe — it seemed a perfect place to step away from web surfing and look at the Internet in a different light.

Director and playwright Matthew McCray did a wonderful job capturing the existential mood.  The play’s title ties back to religious philosopher Martin Buber’s workI and Thou” which examines the nature of existence as relationship (i.e. to God and to each-other). Minimalist staging interwoven with projected media imagery puts us, the audience, in the ‘in-between’ place where we can observe and think about what is happening as humanity continues its merging with technology.   With today’s Internet ubiquity we are like the fish in the famous quote by media sage Marshall McLuhan:

“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.”

Fortunately we have creative minds like Matthew McCray and live theater to show us how we can still perceive our reality.  The show has been extended through May 6th!