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THEATER REVIEW: ‘eurydice’

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Fresno City College’s production of “eurydice,” which continues through Saturday, is a stunning work of theater: handsomely mounted, decisively directed, gorgeously costumed, gracefully acted. It’s one of the must-see local theatrical events of the year.

From the production’s first moments as the house lights dim and a plaintive voice sings the lyrics “Don’t Let Me Go,” to the very last moment of the show, when a major character makes a heart-breaking last gesture before everything slides to black, the show casts an almost hypnotic spell on the audience. Director Chuck Erven has described the play as a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Cirque du Soleil. That’s an apt way to capture the mood he crafts: part fairy tale, part dream, in a brisk, intermissionless, 90-minute run time. It’s the kind of stage experience that resonates on more than just visual and auditory levels. It’s as if you can taste the crispness of this show, stroke its rich textures, smell its musty-yet-modern aromas.

I loved it.

The classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has been told in many ways. In playwright Sara Ruhl’s version, which opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2004, we float through a sort of timeless space that bridges modern sensibilities (there’s an actual elevator to the Underworld) and ancient classicism (this IS still a Greek myth, after all, with the stormy whims of the gods). Ruhl’s language is spare, elegant and eminently accessible. (At one point a character describes the background noise of the afterlife as if a tea kettle is boiling over but no one seems to care — just one of many lines that rattled me with their depth and clarity.) Guest scenic designer Matt Scarpino’s multilevel set mirrors the play’s language with its own spare, refined sensibility — a mostly open space dominated by a broad expanse of handsomely swirled floor, backed by an imposing wall affixed with small tiles that suggests the mosaic-decorated urban vibe of a New York City subway station.

It’s in this versatile space that the sad and compelling tale of the musician Orpheus (Jarod Caitlin) and Eurydice (Melissa Booey) unfolds, with the two of them first frolicking in the waves of the sea, then getting married, and then finally confronting her unfortunate demise and descent to the Underworld. The distraught Orpheus composes music so sad that even the Stones cry, and he finagles a deal with the Lord of the Underworld (Magnus Chhan): Orpheus can take Eurydice back with him to the land of the living, but if for any reason on their journey he looks back at her, she’ll stay forever.

One joy of this production is the way that the design of the show — the sumptuous set with its running water fountain, the layered-fussy Victorian splendor and high-water-pants humor of Debbi Shapazian’s costumes, the nuanced impact of Christopher R. Boltz’s lighting, the intensely vivid quality of Jeff Barrett’s sound design, the mood-enhancing original music by Nick Campbell and the Bluefields — all serves as a framework to elicit impressive peformances by student actors. The eight-person cast is uniformly strong, and I felt as if they reached even greater heights because of the precision and forward-momentum impact of the design.

Caitlin and Booey are riveting in their opening scene as they act out gooey, romantic love, and it’s interesting to see their relationship deepen and darken as the play progresses. Mike Harrison, as Eurydice’s father, gives an aching performance. Jon Hollis, as the Nasty Interesting Man, is deliciously malevolent, and Chhan’s Lord of the Underworld is yet another strong turn from this talented young City College actor.

Erven’s precise direction unfolds with moments of nearly crystalline physicality. Among the most impressive performances come the three actors who portray the Stones (Marcos Hammer, Jochebed Smith and Bridget Manders). Their modulated voices as they recite their choruslike commentary is a music all its own, and the physical choices they make — the way they hold their hands, their heads, seemingly even their noses — combine in a wonderfully witty and endearing way.

There are many surprises along the way that I don’t want to diminish. I’ll just say that the moment when Eurydice’s father builds her a room in the Underworld is absolutely transfixing. And while I don’t quite think that every creative choice in the production works — I wasn’t crazy about the projected images, for example, which I thought only cluttered the vibrant visuals — I appreciated the theatrical joy that seemed to infuse every minute.

What makes the whole experience even more notable — and worthy of a true gush — is the emotional impact. There’s a deep melancholy to “eurydice” that connected strongly with New York audiences in the aftermath of 9/11. There’s nothing tangible in the play that makes the leap to that tragedy, but I can see how a mourning audience could have that sort of communion with the material. For me, “eurydice” was much less specific — more about the bittersweet fleeting nature of life and the way that one small word or gesture can have great impact. This production seemed to hang with me as I left the theater — not like a dark shroud, but more like a light, refreshing mist. I felt blessed.

Responses to "THEATER REVIEW: ‘eurydice’"

Heather says:

That little ‘e’ bugs me.

Jennifer Franklin says:

Wow, nice review! I didn’t win the ticket giveaway, but I did buy tickets for tomorrow’s performance, which I am looking forward to very much after reading this review.

Nick Haas says:

I saw the saturday matinee performance and was thoroughly entertained. I also thought that the physicality of the stones were a highlight. With Jarod Caitlin’s powerfully tragic performance juxtaposed against Magnus Chhan’s highly comic one, this production was a delight. Kudos to Chuck Erven and his cast.

Amy Querin says:

I couldn’t be more swept away by the experience of this play. By the second movement, I am in that place- my favorite place- where the actors could quite possibly lead me anywhere, where no mistakes could be made, where I actually FEEL the experience immediately without having to reflect on it. But then there is the EXTRA gift of having so many of the rich lines/images just hanging in my head.

My favorite moment is standing on the book to “read”…. what a perfect picture of loss.

Another thing- I feel in the mood for this kind of theatre/emotional experience right now, and my sense is that I am not alone. What a joy to remember how theatre can help us flesh through our emotions with equal ambiguity and clarity. I feel resolved after the play. GO SEE THIS PRODUCTION!

Lois Erven says:

Great review,would of love to have been there to see the performance.

Jon Hollis says:

Thank you everyone, especially Mr. Munro. I hope you all get to come see us perform either Tonight at 7:30 or tomorrow at 2:00 and 7:30.

Magnus says:

Thank you for taking the time to come out to see our production, Donald. We are all pleased that you enjoyed yourself. Thank you for urging people to go see our show. Tonight’s audience was a high of 285. Please keep it coming! We have two more. See everyone at the show! :)

Stephen says:

I went because of your review.

It was thrilling to see for many different reasons. First off, I want to note that Community College productions aren’t done for the benefit of the audience, but for the students, and what an amazing treat this is for the students there.

They’re likely too young to realize now the gifts they’ve been given with this show: A wonderful set of concepts provided and followed by a tight production team. A Fresno-done light design that utilyzed colors, none of them being amber and blue! The set was stunning in it’s usability, loveliness and how well it performed as another actor, fitting in all portions to the concept of the director.

Ah, those lights…that stage was painted so well, the nuance you mentioned being how amazingly these strong color and placement choices only added to the overall effect and theme.

And since it IS a Community College production done for the benefit of students, I’m willing to forgive the parts that didn’t fit (the puppet, the overuse of banal comedy for the ‘Lord of the Underworld,’ and the less-than acting abilities of these student-actors). To be fair, the actors did the best they could, clearly, but on a worldly scale they were, well…community college capable. (My one standout was the woman who played ‘Little Stone,’ – while all the stones were very very good, she stood out for me as the most natural and at-ease actress of the bunch).

The lights, the set, the concept, and that most amazingly touching moment you mentioned Donald, when the father built that house (I’ll be affected by that scene for the rest of my life), and the unique director’s choices (standing on the letter/later on the book), the projections (remember, it’s for the students, so adding multi-media is educational), the lyrical moments, the concept continuation of the costumes…all in all, an absolute treat for Fresno.

But when I walked out, I was reminded again why we score as the dumbest city in the nation. The comments by the blue-hairs (I went to the matinee) were abhorrent. They belong at F’in Roger Rockas giggling over Hairspray and the 19th edition of Annie, lit by blue/amber and fluffed to cheesy heights.

I love GCP for what it is, but folks, it ain’t art. Why? Art doesn’t sell in Fresno I’m told. Well, it shouldn’t, if the blue hairs today are what you’re basing your audience outreach. What FCC did was conceptual, fitting, and perfect for thier students, and 70% perfect for any deserving audience. The professionalism and quality was huge today, just huge (my lifetime in the theatre biz wants to offer MAJOR kudos to the stage manager at FCC).

So I apologize to the hard-working students and actors at FCC on behalf of the attendees this afternoon for their tepid applause and course comments afterwards. You worked really hard and did really well and should be very very proud of yourselves.

Thanks, Donald, for sending me vicariously to this production. While we don’t agree on the whole, I’m so very glad I went.

Jon Hollis says:

Once again I would like to thank everyone who came to see the show. I’m glad most of you enjoyed it and allowed us to perform for you. At the end of the day the reason we choose shows like Eurydice and work day and night for two months is for you the audience. We don’t believe in the status quo that says that just because we’re “community college actors” that we can’t a piece of art, that Sarah Ruhl so masterfully pieced together, and show Fresno that art is in fact alive in this wonderful town. We had some great audiences as well, each one reacting differently. It was really a treat to see where the audience was going to laugh or be completely silent. We do put these productions on for you because at the end of the day what good is it to just act for ourselves, that’s what acting class is for. The stage however is to affect the lives of the audience watching and hopefully leave you with some sort of new outlook on the world around you. And might I add the acting in this show really impressed me, to see where we came as a cast from day 1 to closing night was an amazing treat, and I really have to give kudos to my fellow actors for blowing me away, I guess those projected images were more educational than we could have ever imagined. In fact without them I probably would’ve forgotten that this play is in fact an art and that I don’t act for the hell of it, but I act for you. And if anyone else tells you other wise then they’re ignorant and truly don’t understand the passion that goes into this ART! Thank you Donald, I hope you enjoy Grasmere and I can’t wait to see your review on that one. I’m playing Samuel so please don’t take it easy on me ;)

Anonymous says:

I attended the show with a tentative attitude. Being a big fan of Sarah Ruhl’s writing, I was worried the show would be a disappointment and that the production would not do the beauty of the script justice.

I could not be more impressed.

It was an absolute delight. The balance of high and low comedy, of heartwrenching emotion and heartwarming sincerity, was tactfully conquered with exactly what Donald said– grace. It took great amounts of grace, awareness, and research for these knowledgable young actors to be able to remotely pull off such delicately written material. Undoubtedly, the students must be grateful for the production with which they were able to work with. I cannot imagine walking onto that stage, standing inside that raining elevator, and NOT knowing how lucky one must be to work with the caliber of this “community college.” I feel it must be noted:

A good performance is a good performance.

Art is art, no matter where it is, and to degrade a performance based on its venue, this one being a community college, is just as insulting and condescending as any “abhorrent” comment made by any “blue-hairs.” I’m sure the cast and crew of eurydice was grateful for their presence and would choose their tepid applause over patronizing comments tainting beautifully written and incredibly complimentary reviews any day. And in defense of GCP, just because Hairspray is catchy, fun, and a blockbuster, doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining social commentary on the racism and injustice of the 60s.

Another thing– I have seen Magnus Chhan in many productions and his role as Lord of the Underworld left me wondering the same exact thing I wonder every time I leave one of his productions: Why is this kid not famous? The talented young man is one hell of an actor. He’s got comedic timing you cannot teach and instinct that could never be learned. He brought exactly the kind of comedic relief that the show and writing required. My applause goes to him as it does every time. Tepid as it may be.

The beauty of this show was nothing short of spell-binding and I am gratefully aware of how lucky I am to have been able to experience it. Fantastic job, Chuck Erven, and the rest of the cast and crew of eurydice.

Megan says:

I would just like to start off with a HUGE thank you to everyone who came out to support our show. I have stage managed many shows before and this one by far has been my favorite. It was an amazing experience to be a part of, mostly because of the absolutely phenomenal cast and crew I got to work with. These “students” are such a huge part of why Fresno City College’s theater program thrives the way that it does. Why? Because of how much passion they bring to the table; from every rehearsal and performance, to every day in the make-up room while getting ready. They are also some of the most humble people I have ever worked with. They know that this production didn’t rely on just on one person, but that this is a group effort, and everyone has a part that is equally important. And also, from being a part of this family for over two months, the cast and crew, including myself, do realize the gifts that we’ve been given from working on this show… and I don’t think anyone besides those people have a right to say or assume otherwise. I myself realize how lucky I am that I had a chance to work on this piece of art, and how thankful I am every single day to work along side these amazing performers, the superb production team, and the wonderful director. And I will never think otherwise.

As for whether or not this was a piece of art… some people believe that this production was, and others don’t. And sure everyone has their own opinion on the subject, but leave the right to decide to that specific theater goer, because no one has the supreme right to denote and try to persuade others whether or not something is considered art or not art.

And sure, to some people it was “just a community college show”, and you can never please everyone, but I know so many people whose lives have been touched by this production. I’ve heard from many that this show has affected them more than most other state, UC, and private college shows, and that in itself is what fuels me every single day to want to be apart of the theater world… because in the words of my good friend Mr. Hollis, “The stage is to affect the lives of the audience watching and hopefully leave you with some sort of new outlook on the world around you.” And to everyone who saw it I hope, even in the smallest way, that that is what took place.

So thank you to everyone who saw it, to Donald Munro for the wonderful review, and to the entire cast and crew of Eurydice… You have affected my life beyond words, and I will forever be thankful and appreciate the experience and memories you have left me with.

Anonymous says:

I understand everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when I came across Stephens comment here, I was more than infuriated. For a man who only volunteers at the ROGUE FESTIVAL every once in a while, they have quite strong opinions about a professional production. This was a beautiful show and those who disagree, I would like to know why, except from Stephen, he’s said enough. The flaws in the show cannot be blamed on the fact it was done by a “community college.” I could just as easily blame you Stephen for the mass amount of flaws in all of the Rogue Festivals. These are people who are learning their talents. And it’s not done for the students, it’s done for ungrateful audience members like Stephen here. My second opinion is for Stephen, before you open your mouth about this show, or even open your mouth, do a little research and get more experience before you make everyone realize your low IQ, seeing is how you live in Fresno.

Kathy says:

Wow Stephen you’re the quintessential definition of an ignorant elitist! Saying this show hosts untalented actors simply for its venue is like saying that the off-brand fruit loops in the big bag at the grocery store is not as good as the small box with the pretty Tucan on it (note: that costs double the price, and has the same ingredients, yes I’ve checked). They’re the same thing. It’s just that one has a nicer marketing team.

Of course, Fresno City College isn’t going to always have the same student actors with the same strengths and or weaknesses, but the group that had performed in these past weeks’s production of Eurydice has proved themselves to be of a higher caliber of acting then you (Stephen) had described. This is all opinion, and thus holds no definite truth, but your assumption that the ability of an individual is based on where they are from is absurd and does hint at falsehood. It is important to remember that a good portion of the student actors (and well-known stage and film actors) that you are seeing on bigger stages had their roots in small towns and small colleges.

Although in their twenties it can be said true that these actors have years to grow and develop there talents and mature into…(what older versions of themselves?)…you can’t deny them their intelligence and awareness. Wasn’t this show about young characters? Who better to understand the emotional and physical journey of Eurydice, a teenage girl, then a young women?

I’m sure all the members of Eurydice are highly aware of how lucky they are to experience this production. Even if one or two of this shows cast or crew weren’t able to see that now, one day when they have comparable experiences with other productions they will then have the opportunity to reflect, without it being condescendingly shoved in their face. Yes, the amazing guest artists helped to create the beautiful images suggested in Sarah Ruhl’s brilliant script, but the work that was shown through the talented local actors was just as exceptional and noteworthy.

An opinion is only just when it is well supported. Compare a person’s talent to others in their area of work not in the area at which they work, and you’ll find that art is everywhere.

I apologize to Donald Munro for responding purely to a comment on this thread. I thought your review was very well spoken and honest. I greatly enjoyed the show and as someone who is not much involved in local theater, beyond my son’s performances at Clovis East, I can say that your review inspired me to see the show and more of Fresno’s future theater productions. Thank you for your recommendation and I look forward to reading more!

Stephen says:

And again, Megan, as someone who has been doing theatre/film for 35 years, MAJOR MAJOR KUDOS to you as Stage Manager. That show ran smooth as buttercream frosting, and obviously had tons of cues for lights, sound, entrances and exits, rain, fountains, projections, whew!

Stage Managers rarely get recognized, but you sure deserve it on this one…those lights were constantly and subtly dissolving from one nuanced peak to another, and it was you who had to remember to get that electric guitar sound on and off, call for lowering the yarn supports…ALL those cues, and all done flawlessly.

YAY for Megan!