Friday, August 16, 2019

Eurydice (review)

Credit: Paul M. Rubenstein
Spoilers ahoy!

Mythology gives such fertile ground with which to shape our individual dreams.  Artists perhaps more than anyone do this constantly.  Playwright Sarah Ruhl for example took the Greek legend of the great singer Orpheus and retold it in a way both fresh yet familiar in her play Eurydice now playing at the CityGarage in Santa Monica.

Usually the focus remains squarely on Orpheus, greatest musician in the world, whose wife was murdered on her wedding day.  In grief, he made his way to the Underworld, and sang so beautifully that Hades, God and King of that realm, granted that he might lead his bride back to the world, on condition that he not look at her till both had returned to the land of the living.

Of course, like Lot's wife, he did look.  Just one moment too soon.

Credit: Paul M. Rubenstein
But what Ruhl does, and this wonderful cast does under the direction of Frederique Michel, is focus not upon Orpheus but what this story from Eurydice's point of view.  To emphasize this, the murderer is cut from the story altogether--instead the person responsible for Eurydice (Lindsay Plake) having an accident which leads to her death is none of than Death himself, or at least the Lord of the Underworld (Gifford Irvine)--a startlingly metamorphic character, of weird power and otherworldly motives.  For this is not a tale of someone trying and failing to win back his love, but rather about our relationship to death, to memory, to regret, and maybe even to the sweet oblivion of eternal sleep.

Interestingly, one of the pivotal characters proves to be Eurydice's father (Bo Roberts, in what is frankly my fave performance of his so far at this theatre) who died long ago, but whose hopes for his beloved child have kept him more active, more aware than most of the rest of the dead.  He welcomes her when she arrives, having lost so much of her memory in "the river."  Confused, she looks for her hotel room, and only very gradually starts to recall who this nice stranger might be.

Credit: Paul M. Rubenstein
All this is observed by three Stones (Marissa Dubois, Emily Asher Kellis, and Brandon Reed), who clearly do not approve (insomuch as they "feel" anything at all) of all these feelings, this talk, this dredging up of what was before. The fact these three inanimate objects work as characters speaks a lot about both script and performers.

So instead of watching Orpheus (Johanny Paulino) seek for some way to retrieve his wife, we share the weird journey she endures amongst the dead.

When in fact Orpheus makes his way to the Underworld, we find his music does not move anyone with its beauty.  Rather, the Stones scream in pain as he makes them feel.  More, he does not turn and look back at Eurydice in a moment of weakness at the last moment, but out of habit from the troubled nature of their relationship.  Life was not, after all, perfect any more than was their real love of one another.  No more than her father's seemingly infinite, sad patience with her.  Maybe that is what we can take away most from this dream-like story enacted on stage, that it is the nature of time and life to be tainted by regret.  Which makes death not something horrible in the end, not really. 

Credit: Paul M. Rubenstein
Or maybe it is horrible.  Just not as horrible as one thinks.  The river of forgetfulness is not a torture, but a release.  It can be, anyway.  If someone is ready, has reached that point.  And until then...?

That is the unanswered question.  Left up to you to answer for your own life, informed and perhaps haunted by tales such as this.

But let me say this--words alone by a playwright rarely haunt or move.  They are meant to be acted out, and this cast captures the eerie and quietly human voyage of these characters (except of course the four characters who are not human--the majority of the cast come to think on it).  City Garage can and often does perform outrageously stylized works.  They do these so very well.  But my favorites have always been when the simple life of the characters shine through, the decisions and consequences and experience of what is happening.  Eurydice counts as one of my favorites from this company, because even a Stone, even a God, still seem somehow human.  The humans meanwhile make me ache for them.  Especially the title character, due in large part to the actor who portrays her.

Eurydice plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm Sundays at 3pm until September 15, 2019 at the City Garage, Bergamot, T1 Space, 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Boeing Boeing (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I can remember as a teen hearing about this comedy, which was done at my local community theatre in Pensacola Florida.  That was in the 1970s.  Marc Camoletti's farce continues to find producers, which certainly indicates there's something there.  And there is.

Boeing Boeing takes place at the dawn of a new world, when international airflights were becoming commonplace, and in the wake of WWII the world was trying to relax, have a good time.  The Cold War or any number of serious historical events go unmentioned.  Instead, we are greeted with a farce.  One of the first things one notices about the set are six different doors in the same apartment.  Sure enough, all those doors will be opened and shut in a dizzying array of combinations before long. 

Bernard (Oscar Fleming) is an architect who lives in Paris.  As the play begins his American fiancee, American air hostess Gloria (Emilie Owen) eats breakfast with him before leaving on the next leg of her job.  As a rule, she can only spend three days a week here.  Berthe (Katrine Fenger), Bernard's maid, doesn't much like her--in part because she eats pancakes with ketchup.

Okay, she has a point.  Yeeeeecccchhh.

Soon, another American shows up--Bernard's college friend Robert (Matt Torczon), paying a surprise visit and honored to meet his pal's fiancee.  Before long, we and he learn the truth--namely that Bernard has three air hostess fiancees who each stay with him two days a week.  No, they don't know about each other and he focuses a lot of his energy on keeping it that way.

Naturally, this is all going to fall apart on stage.  Planes get turned back due to bad weather.  A shift in schedules or two, with first the German Gretchen (Theresa Philomena) then Italian Gabriella (Celine Rosalie Zoppe) ending up at the apartment at the same time!  Cue massive and increasingly frantic efforts by Robert and Bernard to somehow keep all these plates spinning in the air as the we the audience realize Gloria is bound to show up soon as well.


Now the thing about comedy--you laugh or you don't.  If you don't laugh, or at least smile a lot and sometimes chuckle, it does not work.  A good script is only part of the recipe, because without a director with a good eye for comedy it will fall flat.  Ditto for the cast sans the special sense of timing and slightly heightened attitude needed.  Director Betty Karlen clearly did two thirds of her job in selecting a charming, funny cast who gave us a very nice couple of hours of entertainment.

More, the comedy continues to prove its legs because it turns out to be more than just a collection of jokes.  Boeing Boeing is at heart about growing up, about the kind of frenzied energy the young can somehow sustain, versus the trouble that mounts as we seek to avoid responsibility.  Bernard tries to maintain a perfect balance, giving himself the maximum amount of fun with the least responsibility.  Well, that little plan falls apart eventually, as any adult would realize it must do.

Mind you, he gets off more than easy.  He dodged a bullet that might have left his personal life (of which he seems to have almost none) in ruins.  Robert on the other hand learns faster--offered an opportunity to have this kind of "fun" himself, he feels temptation but ultimately prefers love.

The result is a charming dance of zany mistakes and almost-disasters, sprinkled with a little bit of seemingly hard won (albeit actually fairly inexpensive) wisdom.

Boeing Boeing! plays until Sunday Aug. 4 at 7pm at the Dorie Theatre in the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038.



Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (Catchup Fringe Review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Contrary to all sorts of "common sense" you can quite practically put all sorts of spectacle onto the live stage.  Sea battles, exorcisms, poisonings, gunshots, sword fights, etc.  If you have the budget, dragons and falling chandeliers are not out of the question.

But who cares without the human connection, the power of the human soul coming to terms with itself via contact with another human soul?  Movies and video games cannot help but eclipse live theatre for spectacle.  It can almost never approach the power of an actual human presence.

Such is the power of John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and brought out so vividly in the production starring Martha Prosper and Rob Smith.  It starts in a bar and ends in a bed.  Along the way two lonely, hurting people run the gamut of guilt, rage, shame, joy and finally hope which flesh is heir to.  Like a drop of pure concentrated plutonium in its power, but in this case that drop contains undiluted Life.

A man and a woman, all by themselves.  To be fair, maybe others are visiting this bar, but we don't see them and honestly they don't matter.  Our story is their story--two people with secrets, secrets that cannot but emerge.  Secrets do that.  They leak out.  They bubble up under pressure.  We were mere thinking machines that would not happen, but humans have passion.  Or the capacity for it.  The need to feel something, like a thirst to be slaked.  What these two actors do is reveal the full range of those passions, wrapped up amid feelings of horror.  Yet also, they feel hope.

So the two hurting souls use each other like bandages, bleeding into each other and in the process letting a little bit of healing take place.

But then...oh, but then...one of them refuses to let go of that hope.  They had pretended for a time, wallowed in the joy of what this encounter might become.  In the morning, one of them does the most powerful thing they could do under the circumstances.  One of the two refuses to sink back into hopelessness, simply because it is expected, even "normal."  It should read as pure sentimentality.  A naive twist we should find unbelievable.  Yet these characters are well written, so specific in who they are and what they want and how they react to the world around them--and the cast of actors combine enough skill and talent to breathe them to such life--we believe it utterly.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea was part of the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival and I eagerly await the next shows done by these actors.