KPBS AIRDATE: February 27, 2004
A reimagined myth meets a monster of mythic proportion on the campus of UCSD. In two provocative productions, the Department of Theatre takes a new look at old classics with two chilling visions of hell. In a reframed version of Orpheus and Eurydice, the Underworld may not be such a bad place. But Hades is in the heart of the demonic “Richard III.”
UCSD faculty member Jim Winker has adapted and directed “Richard” with an enticing, timely twist. The production is set in the 20th century, in an unnamed country. We’re holed up in underground Bunker, with a war going on up above. Ten actors from the State Theater are performing Shakespeare’s villainous drama, where a deformed manipulator charms and deceives his way to the English throne. Periodically, the action stops when bombs drop ‘overhead.’ Some of the players are visibly shaken. We all get a little jumpy, and the play feels creepily relevant, a cautionary tale about fear-mongering megalomania and the perils of insatiable hunger for power.
Winker’s adaptation and direction are masterful in their precision. The language is crystalline; the potentially confusing political allegiances are clarified. Scrawled on the busy black walls are silhouettes of the succession of English kings, behind the suspended bomb-shelter detritus, the stuff of survival. The costumes are a splendid hodgepodge of layered scraps and gear that look aptly ragged in this war-torn setting. The stellar ensemble played multiple roles with agility and acumen. As the humpbacked monster, David Ari is reptilian and riveting. An outstanding production, sadly too short-lived. But if you missed that one, there’s another myth next door. Rhode Island-based playwright Sarah Dart Ruhl’s modern take on the Greek and Roman myth, Orpheus and Eurydice.
Orpheus usually gets top billing, but Ruhl’s “Eurydice” spotlights the woman’s perspective. Though Orpheus is obsessed with his music, the young lovers decide to marry. When Eurydice wanders away from their wedding celebration, she’s drawn to a mysterious Man/Child who promises introductions to Interesting People, and by means of an elevator of rain, he brings her to the Underworld, where she meets up with her long-dead Dad. When Orpheus makes his laborious way down below to retrieve his wife, she’s not so sure she wants to leave. In a startling Freudian twist, she chooses her father over her husband. She chooses death over life. She seems satisfied, though she’s left with a nagging chorus of Stones and a pubescent, tricycle-riding Head of the dead. The play is replete with poetic, often enigmatic, language, imagery and existential angst. The design work is dazzling, but under the direction of guest artist Daniel Fish, the symbolism is often obscure and opaque. There’s an unsettling lack of heart here, and an unnerving view of the world — down below and up above.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.