“This little light of mine: I’m gonna let it shine….”
Some folks wonder why Undermain Theater Company continues to utilize the shadowy, dank, low-ceiling basement beneath the surface of Main Street in Deep Ellum as its performance space. Perhaps these wise artists realize the unwieldy locale allows superior opportunity to shine enriching light on the psyches and souls of its audience. No matter. The audience turned out in force on November 22, opening night of Undermain’s current production of Eurydice by Pulitzer nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl and lingered long after the one act concluded, engaged in lively conversation inspired by the lyrical and ethereal production.
Addressing “the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice”, Ruhl plays fast and loose with the traditional story. She draws forth salient elements of the original while refocusing events from Eurydice’s perspective, placing the action in modern times to appeal to a wider range of theatregoers. (See abbreviated mythography below as gleaned from http://www.loggia.com/myth).
What results? A perfectly charming and earthy love story enveloped in a marvelous opportunity to explore the surreal connections between life and after-life. Anastasia Munoz as Eurydice and Jonathan Brooks as Orpheus create a realistic depiction of any young couple in love, playing and teasing, frustrating and annoying each other in varied human ways. But when Eurydice dies and “descends” to Hades via a rain-drenched creaky elevator (a fancifully effective stage visual concocted by the design team of Linda Noland and Steve Woods), the production reaches far beyond domestic interlude. Invention enlivens the stage.
A vibrant force enhancing and sometimes leading the production, powerfully integral to its overall effect, is the complex score created by Director/ Composer Bruce DuBose. There are two main musical pieces: Orpheus’ symphony for twelve instruments and the music Orpheus uses to storm the gates of Hades. For the former, DuBose used a garage band computer program, which takes samples of actual orchestral instruments and composes using a digital keyboard. The “symphony” resulting included bassoon, cello, viola, French horn, piccolo, violin, celesta, English horn, harp, bass, orchestral percussion and clarinet with a wild synthesizer filter added to make it slightly otherworldly. For the “Descent to Hades” melody, Dubose chose an ancient reed – flute, the Argul, an Egyptian instrument, which produces a mysterious sound by using two pipes carved out of sturdy reeds, and an Irish tin whistle. Modern staging and ancient chords weave the play comfortably across the eons, tying the archetypal myth to 21st century life in a beguiling, thought-provoking manner.
Strong performances abound. Humorous commentary by a whimsical Greek chorus of “talking stones” (Rhonda Boutte, Anthony L. Ramirez, and Richard Rollin) provides comic relief. Pathos and parental devotion ooze from Kent Williams as Eurydice’s father who has escaped the mind-numbing forgetfulness of the River Styx (the Mississippi in this play). Newton Pittman’s amoral, sensual Devil provides conflict and contrasts starkly with the ethereal Orpheus. He’s more of a Judeo-Christian arch-villain than pagan demon, Ruhl’s farthest creative stray from traditional myth telling.
Soar across time and space with Eurydice in support of creative performance art that dives far down into subterranean shadow to illuminate common aspects of anguish, love and mortality. It’s ample reason for a very bright light to shine consistently under this particular Main St. piazza. Shine, shine, shine….
Eurydice runs through December 13.
Tickets: 214-747-5515, with well-lit, attended, adjacent FREE parking.
Orpheus & Eurydice: Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. He was presented by his father with a Lyre and taught to play upon it, which he did to such perfection that nothing could withstand the charm of his music. Not only his fellow-mortals but wild beasts were softened by his strains, and gathering round him laid by their fierceness, and stood entranced with his lay. Nay, the very trees and rocks were sensible to the charm. The former crowded round him and the latter relaxed somewhat of their hardness, softened by his notes.
Eurydice, shortly after her marriage to Orpheus, while wandering with the nymphs, her companions, was seen by the shepherd Aristaeus, who was struck with her beauty and made advances to her. She fled, and in flying trod upon a snake in the grass, was bitten in the foot, and died. Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both gods and men, and finding it all unavailing resolved to seek his wife in the regions of the dead. Accompanying himself on the lyre, he sings, “I come to seek my wife, whose opening years the poisonous viper’s fang has brought to an untimely end. Love has led me here, Love, a god all-powerful with us who dwell on the earth, and, if old traditions say true, not less so here. I implore you by these abodes full of terror, these realms of silence and uncreated things, unite again the thread of Eurydice’s life.”