REVIEW: Eurydice

“This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house. The houses of your neighbors look dull and lacking in moonlight. But he is always going away from you. Inside his head there is always something more beautiful.” – Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice

 

Eurydice read like bundle of freely associating thoughts and tasted, on occasion, cloyingly maudlin. Nevertheless, I appreciated the relative lightheartedness of this rendition that held it distinct from the tragic tone of the original tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, and its refreshing perspective shift to that of a female protagonist. Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice not only rewrites but also seems to directly challenge the classic Greek myth; instead of being centered around the husband Orpheus’ (Kieran Westphal) epic journey to retrieve his wife Eurydice (Maggie Kuntz) from the depths of the Underworld, Ruhl centers the play around Eurydice’s personal experiences and the ultimate verdict she must make: returning to the living world with Orpheus or remaining in the Underworld with her father. In spotlighting her verdict, Ruhl allows Eurydice’s character the empowerment and dimensionality that the classic Greek myth denies her, whilst introducing themes beyond the frailties of human trust and spirit, such as the complexities and ephemeralities of memory, communication, language, and love.

Though the Rude Mechanicals‘ cast, direction, production, and design did an overall wonderfully impressive job in effectively conveying the refreshing eccentricities of Sarah Ruhl’s play, I couldn’t help but search for more within Ruhl’s dialogue and writing, which collaterally impaired the rhythm of the production. For some unperceived reason and for the entire duration of the production, I found myself either cringing at saccharine one-liners, snickering with the audience, or passively waiting for the closing of a scene. Though it’s plain to see that Ruhl intentionally chooses to structure Eurydice in a more painterly storytelling manner marked by freely associating motifs and ideas, I saw a disconnect between the intention of emotional release from the audience and certain syrupy moments in the production that occupied a disproportionate amount of stage time. It was during superfluously long scenes such as the Father unravelling the string ‘room’ he constructs for Eurydice that I felt the most passive in my viewing, and therefore disconnected from the emotions of defeat and hopelessness that the scene is meant to elicit.

Despite the slight awkwardness in timing and emotional translations, I enjoyed the red string motif present throughout the production. Intuitively, I interpret red string as a symbol of connection and of relationships impacted by fate – I thought that this motif translated especially well in the context of Ruhl’s Eurydice, in which the miscommunication and overall character differences between Eurydice and Orpheus are highlighted. This miscommunication and hesitance on Eurydice’s part is what ultimately causes Eurydice to call out and violate the rules Orpheus’ must follow in order to revive her. This scene appeared the most impassioned and dynamic to me; both Kuntz and Westphal beautifully portrayed the hesitancies and doubts both characters’ spirits were in turmoil with in the most artistic fashion. After expressively pushing and pulling with the string in a shifting, dance-like sequence, Eurydice eventually calls out to Orpheus, who turns back as the pent up tension from the mutual string-pulling comes to an abrupt climax and subsequently two simultaneous outbursts from each character. The cast’s various interactions with the red-string were notably artful and succeeded in showcasing the tension running through Eurydice and Orpheus’ strained marriage as well as the imperishable relationship between Eurydice and her Father.

PREVIEW: Eurydice

On November 2nd at 8 pm, and November 3rd at 2 pm in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the Rude Mechanicals will be presenting the tale of Eurydice through Sarah Ruhl’s contemporary lens. The show is a rendition of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – two star-crossed lovers who become tragically entrapped in a tale of trust, passion, and grief over the trials and tribulations of love. Orpheus, a skilled musician, finds himself on a journey to bring Eurydice, his wife, back from the underworld after her accidental departure from the living. What follows next is a series of trials that test both Orpheus’ faith and spirit and the frailties of the human condition that determine our behavior in the practice of love.

This event is both available for purchase and on the new Passport to the Arts voucher.

Tickets ($7 for students; $10 general)

PREVIEW: Merrily We Roll Along

Runyonland Productions, Ann Arbor’s new theater company, is bringing Sondheim’s iconic Merrily We Roll Along to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater as a staged concert production. The musical revolves around Franklin Shepard, starting with the peak of his songwriting career and moving backwards in time to show the big moments of his life and the choices he and his friends made that led to the present. Showtimes are February 28 and March 1 at 7:30 PM and tickets can be bought online at https://runyonland.ticketleap.com/merrily/.

REVIEW: Thus Spoke AnnArbor Fall 2018 Performance

I had been made extremely curious about this semester’s performance by “安娜说 / Thus spoke Ann Arbor” from viewing the gorgeously illustrated posters brightening up campus in the weeks leading up to the show.  While I had been aware of the group for several years now, I finally decided to attend their performance for the first time, and after seeing it I can confidently say that I couldn’t have made a better decision.  After arriving early to make sure to get seats near the front of Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, we were informed that it would be a full house, which hardly came as a surprise at that point due to the fact there was only a few empty seats in sight and the noise level had grown to a nonstop roar.

One of the elements I appreciated the most about the show was the choice to divide the performance up into three shorter plays. It gave many more of the club’s members time to shine in a leading role than if they had just done one play, and the group was also able to challenge themselves to perform three distinctly different styles of play, suiting different members individual strengths.

The first play was a comedic romp titled “黑暗中的喜剧 / Comedy in the Dark.”  The play used physical and situational comedy as characters unveiled hidden secrets in a darkened apartment after a freak power outage. The second play, “人质 / Hostage“ was the shortest of the three, and featured a very limited cast and set. Instead it was more figurative dark comedy to the first play’s quite literal one, with two thieves mistakenly taking a suicidal girl hostage in an attempt to escape the police hot on their trail, and the intense interplay that followed.  The third and last play was “立秋 / The Start of Autumn” set around a century ago in China.  This was by far the most serious of the lot, and told the story of several families internal drama as well a competition between tradition and newly adopted Western ideals.  

The transitions from play to play were quick and painless, with crew members scurrying about to clear the relatively complex set up of the first play for the instead very minimal one of the second.  Considering how long the night was already, nearly reaching a full three hours, I appreciate the brevity in these areas.

The one drawback to the set up was that by the time the third play began most of the audience, myself included, seemed to be getting restless.  With no intermission, the last play with its distinct five chapters and several scenes basically revolving around intense discussions about banking and finance, I’m not proud to say that I was more than a little glazed over myself.  But the fact that the group did manage to hold the audience in rapt attention for the nearly two and a half hour run of the show is impressive in and of itself. 

Additionally, while there were undoubtedly a few intentionally humorous moments in the second two plays, especially the second one, because the audience had been primed to laugh in the over-the-top comedy of the first play, I noticed that the audience, myself included, began to burst into laughter even in otherwise inappropriate moments.  

While the group could have easily put on the play without adding subtitles on projections on either side of the stage for the very small percentage of the audience with less than fluent Mandarin, I appreciated the extra effort put in to make the performances accessible. As a member of that small percentage myself, I definitely found myself referring to to the subtitles frequently throughout the night, especially if a character was talking quietly and I was struggling to hear what they were saying in the first place.

That being said, with so much physical comedy getting the most laughs in the first play, and the more subtle acting in the second two, the experience was definitely better when ignoring the subtitles and instead focusing on all that activity on stage. The actors and actresses couldn’t have done a finer job, and I didn’t catch a single slip up as they all seemed to have prepared their lines to perfection. There was one humorous moment in the first play, however, when one of the sofas being used as props collapsed to the floor.  But like true professionals the actors and actresses continued undeterred, even finding time to prop the sofa back up, resulting in another wave of laughter. I was impressed by the professionalism of cast and crew alike, with the obvious hard work preparing for the show paying off.  I definitely plan on keeping an eye out for their performances in the future, and attending all that I can.

REVIEW: Sweet Charity

The music by Cy Coleman burst out of the pit of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater with grand flair and style. Dance hall hostess Charity made her way onto the stage, dancing her little dance with a sweet fashion that becomes characteristic of her personality throughout the 1960s musical appropriately named Sweet Charity.

Nevada Koenig portrayed that sweetness and purity in Charity beautifully with an unbridled and unlimited amount of excitement and belief in the greatness in people. With “big” dreams for her life, Charity’s aspirations can be viewed as naively sweet, which makes the heartbreak she experiences over and over that much more painful to watch.

Charity comes across film star Vittorio Vidal for a night to remember, and Blake Bojewski gave the audience a song to remember as his majestic voice floated through the air in his showstopping number, “Too Many Tomorrows.” As Charity laments about greatness and love, the fickle finger of fate finally falls in her favor during the hilarious elevator scene with Oscar, played by Lake Wilburn who captured the panic with excellent comedic acting and accurately showed Oscar’s personality as a timid guy stuck in his own head.

Sweet Charity is basically a romantic comedy musical with a small dance show in the middle of the first act. The dance number for “Rich Man’s Frug” was spectacular in every sense. It actually felt like a real dance show and I never wanted it to end. Again, the ensemble brought the energy to the stage as the Rhythm of Life Church, which indeed is a powerful beat.

While Charity may not have purity in the purest sense, she still possessed a purity that is rare in the world today: she believed in the best of people and in the best of the future, and that is a sweet purity that is hard to come by.

Overall, Sweet Charity was a wonderful production by the Department of Musical Theatre in every aspect, from the costumes to the pit orchestra to the set designs to the acting to the choreography to the singing. Though I am not a huge romcom fan, I enjoyed this musical and its message of pure bliss and hope greatly, particularly because of the phenomenal orchestra and cast that made Sweet Charity that much sweeter.

REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Two men con their way into the heart of women to get money and jewelry and great big stuff. The French Riviera has been brought to Michigan with Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

A2CT’s production included impressive props, set designs, and scene changes, with the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater providing vibrant color backgrounds. The French accents were sometimes hard to understand, and it was difficult hearing the lines over the pit at times. For the most part, the choreography was rather simple, but the vocal performance made up for it. The orchestra rocked the French jazz musical score that David Yazbek, who just won the Tony Award for The Band’s Visit, wrote, which stylistically added to the comedic vibe of the entire musical.

Dominic Seipenko dominated the stage as Freddy/Ruprecht, embodying the crass character greatly in his grand numbers “Great Big Stuff” and “All About Ruprecht.” He owned the role of the sleazy pupil in every moment. “Oklahoma” was stereotypically Southern, but it fit the comedic edge of the musical. Christine, portrayed by Hannah Sparrow, brings a glimmer of hope into the world with her beautiful performance of “Nothing is Too Wonderful to be True.” Though a microphone difficulty interrupted the reveal of the biggest scam in the musical, it was easy to figure out what happened (if you hadn’t called it already), and the ever-changing chemistry between the con artists onstage was certainly appealing.

Overall, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a fun show, and it looked like the cast had a fun time performing. The highlight was definitely Seipenko’s performance, who brought life to the stage and delivered his role perfectly. The audience seemed to love it, particularly among the older crowd, even receiving a couple standing ovations at the end. Now, I have to watch the 1988 comedy film to see where it all originated from.