Review: Eurydice (Filament Theatre Ensemble)

     
     

Beautifully poetic, yet occasionally off key

     
     

Carolyn Faye Kramer as Eurydice in Filament Theatre Ensemble's 'Eurydice' by Sarah Ruhl.

 

Filament Theatre Ensemble Presents

 
Eurydice
 
Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Julie Ritchey
Original music by Peter Oyloe and Shannon Bengford
at the Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 S. Canalport (map)
thru May 29  |  tickets: $10-$35 sponsorship |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

Sarah Ruhl’s work can be seen all over Chicago this year, from The Court’s Orlando—to The Goodman’s premiere of Stage Kiss opening in May. All the while, she is not only being staged in our big name venues, but also in the fringe with Filament Theatre Ensemble’s remount of her 2003 play, Eurydice (in conjunction with Orpheus: Featuring DJ Puzzle as Fate). And rest assured, the Pilsen space of the Lacuna Lofts is pure fringe with its unfinished, exposed and vacant expanse. It’s the type of building that’d be perfect for hide-n-seek, or the filming location for the next movie in the Hostel series. In this instance, director Julie Ritchey’s production, and Ruhl’s text, has something in common with the space, in that it is visually interesting, ignites curiosity, but in the end, it’s mostly empty.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, you’ll not be out of the loop, as Ruhl extracts the more romantic and sentimental aspects, expounding on them in a contemporary fashion. The play opens with Orpheus (Peter Oyloe) and Eurydice (Carolyn Faye Kramer) in 1950’s swimsuits (costumed pitch-perfect by Mieka van der Ploeg). His love is so boundless that he offers her the world, literally, by giving her the sea, the sky and the stars. The only two thoughts ever on his mind are Eurydice and music, for Orpheus is the most talented musician in the world. After some lovely staging by Ritchey in the opening scene, Orpheus ties a string around Eurydice’s finger to which she responds amusingly, “That’s a very particular finger.” And so, the worry-free couple is to be wed.

Eurydice’s father (played with great heart by Patrick Blashill), is dead, yet he successfully manages to get a letter sent to Eurydice from the underworld. In a chain of events related to the letter, and ‘A Nasty Interesting Man’ (Nathan Pease), she takes a tumble to her death. And thus, she is transferred to the underworld, by way of a raining elevator version of the River Styx. Here we meet our chorus of three stones (played with dedicated physicality by Ted Evans, Brandon Cloyd and Ashley Alvarez), who unfortunately come off more annoying in their childishness than anything else.

The rest of the narrative plays out much the same as any version of the myth, as Orpheus gains entry to the underworld in search of Eurydice. However, in Ruhl’s imagining, there is a certain “through the rabbit hole” element to the underworld. Nothing is as it seems, everyday objects have lost their meaning, and it is a world void of emotion. Ruhl also takes her time to languish in stripping meaning from words like “father” and “love.” She writes a wonderfully lyrical monologue in a letter from Orpheus to Eurydice in which he ponders, “Eurydice is dead….who is Eurydice?…what are people?”

The direction and acting in Ritchey’s production is decidedly set in the two-dimensional, which in part works well with the Greek morality tradition. While it highlights Ruhl’s wit and verse, it sacrifices some of the heart and what’s at stake for each of these characters. Still, Carolyn Faye Kramer’s performance is smart and uninhibited. Nathan Pease’s turn as an “interesting” man is creepy yet intriguing, however as the Lord of the Underworld, Ritchey may have steered Pease’s character too far in the obvious direction with Ruhl’s childlike depiction. The doe-eyed Oyloe has wonderful focus with Orpheus’ unconditional loyalty to love and music. His naïve ambitions are committed to fully.

The overall mise-en-scène is starkly beautiful with the interplay between the cold industrial aesthetic of the space and the warm whimsical poetry in the costume, light and scenic design. Joe Schermoly uses minimal elements within the barren space, such as white tree branches, that are intriguing yet not fully transformative. The freight elevator serves as the perfect mode of transportation to the underworld. Sitting in silence, listening to the clanking of the approaching elevator—waiting—provides for a few of the more exhilarating moments of the night.

One fatal flaw in this production is the recorded music. Too often, it sounds more like the background music in an informational video for a time-share. The composition and design come off as unoriginal (I swear I heard the theme from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast quoted at one point on the piano), and falsely produced—the overly computerized MIDI sound to every note played on the strings takes away the possibility for any emotional response to the music or authenticity. It also underscores a bit loudly during key monologues and scenes. While this may seem a minor point, in a play that relies upon one of the main character’s abilities to create the most beautiful music in the world, it unfortunately takes the wind out of the sails of Orpheus’ journey. When Oyloe is alone on stage conducting a computerized orchestra, we do not believe he has tugged at the heart strings of any person or creature. Oyloe’s live acoustic guitar playing is far more effective than any of his and Shannon Bengford’s arrangements.

Ultimately, Filament may not have the resources to meet the necessities of Ruhl’s play. The lyricism of the dialogue can only sustain the story so far. The light playfulness of the text requires a higher level of theatricality and spectacle to maintain interest, and to achieve the intended emotional effect, and create a separation of the two worlds to flesh out Eurydice’s journey. The play wants to float along in a dream world in which anything can occur, time and language are rendered meaningless, and the desires of the characters are unbridled. In this fanciful, yet uneven production, I was woken up, and taken out of this dreamlike place a few too many times to consider the journey refreshing and worthwhile.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Peter Oyloe as Orpheus and Carolyn Faye Kramer as Eurydice in Filament Theatre Ensemble's 'Eurydice' by Sarah Ruhl.

Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is directed by Filament’s Artistic Director, Julie Ritchey. It will run Friday through Sunday April 22 through May 29th in conjunction with Orpheus: Featuring DJ Puzzle as Fate. All performances are at 7:30pm. Tickets are a $10 – $35 sponsorship. Ticketing information is available at www.filamenttheatre.org/tickets.


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REVIEW: Choose Thine Own Adventure (Filament Theatre)

An adventure worth choosing!

 

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 2 (CMYK)

   
Filament Theatre presents
   
Choose Thine Own Adventure
   
Adapted from William Shakespeare by Allison Powell
Directed by Julie Ritchey
at The Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport (map)
through December 11  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

With its fifth season opener, Filament Theatre Company wanted to explore what a Shakespearean theatre setting might be like in the 21st century. They were inspired by the groundlings who stood in the “yard” of the Globe Theatre to watch Shakespeare’s production, yelling, talking and being boisterous throughout the performance. They asked, “Why not embrace that rowdy, passionate side of the human spirit and perform Shakespeare as the groundlings would have wanted it?” Filament Theatre has done away with traditional theatre elements, tearing down the fourth wall and setting the show in a bar to see what can happen with their production of Choose Thine Own Adventure.

The Underground Lounge provides the setting for Choose Thine Own Adventure. The stage is set to look like a London stage circa the Elizabethean period. There are only a few set pieces, mainly a bench center stage that offers use as it is, as a balcony and as a boat to name a few. The bar atmosphere lends itself to the interaction between the actors and the audience. Pre-show entertainment gets everyone in the mood with music rocking out of the speakers while the actors play various games like ring toss with the audience. It’s rowdy, outgoing, lively fun and festivities that foreshadow what’s to come.

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 3 (CMYK)As soon as Choose Thine Own Adventure begins, it’s clear that hilarity will ensue. The four person ensemble of Dromio (Marco Minichiello), Antonio (Ped Naseri), Bernardo (Omen Sade) and Rosalind (Mary Spearen) is equally strong and talented as they play both their roles and themselves as characters. The show opens with each cast member reciting various lines of Shakespeare. They ham it up and play it out the audience in a stagey but entertaining manner. It’s then made known that there’s a mix up as to what show is to be performed so the actors turn the choices to the audience. Completely tearing down that fourth wall between the stage and the seats, the audience is brought right into the action as the actors deliver various choices on where the action can go. Depending on the response they receive, Choose Thine Own Adventure can end in at least 20 different ways. Choices include where the scene should take place, what action should occur or whether it should be a comedy or a tragedy.

All four cast members are clearly comfortable playing off the audience and do so confidently. They are great with comedic timing and adlibbing lines for effect. Naseri in particular delivers some hysterically improved lines. Naseri, Sade and Minichiello have each created a unique persona for their character. Naseri cleverly plays into the comedy and the laugh lines. Minichiello excels at playing off and playing to the audience while reciting Shakespeare with skill, and Sade powerful stage presence allows him to fill the space. Spearen holds her own against the men of the cast, inserting her own wit and comedic talent as she plays opposite each man.

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 1 (CMYK)The cast is fully engaged throughout the run of Choose Thine Own Adventure, which keeps the audience glued to the action, cracking up and laughing out loud for the entire one-hour run time. They are able to adjust to whatever the audience chooses – and then jump right into the action. While it is funny and entertaining, it is still Shakespeare at its core. The cast has a clear understanding of Shakespeare’s plays and delivers quality performances of the actual material while adding the fun and twists.

Choose Thine Own Adventure is both a well-done work of Shakespeare as well as a hilarious good time that’s full of laughs and lively action.  Filament Theatre has truly created an adventure worth choosing! 

    
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 4 (CMYK)

Choose Thine Own Adventure plays at The Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport Ave., through December 11, 2010. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at http://www.filamenttheatre.org/tickets/

   
   

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