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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Best Night You'll Ever Have In Hell: Shotgun Players' Eurydice

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Megan Trout as Eurydice and Kenny Toll as Orpheus. - PAK HAN
  • Pak Han
  • Megan Trout as Eurydice and Kenny Toll as Orpheus.

“Dazzling” and “smoldering” are the best words to describe Shotgun Players' multi-layered Eurydice — a play based on one simple turn of a man’s head.

Confounding, comic, cacophonous, and constructed by master engineers playwright Sarah Ruhl, director Erika Chong Shuch and set designer Sean Riley, the women-led take on the ancient tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is anything but cautious.

From the first sprint and flying leap Eurydice (a fiercely fantastic Megan Trout) takes into Orpheus (Kenny Toll, radiating a near-perfect blend of teenage sexuality and aloofness) in the opening scene, traditions tumble.

click to enlarge James Carpenter* as Father, Megan Trout as Eurydice, Peter Griggs as Loud Stone, Jeannine Anderson as Big Stone, and Beth Wilmurt as Little Stone. - PAK HAN
  • Pak Han
  • James Carpenter* as Father, Megan Trout as Eurydice, Peter Griggs as Loud Stone, Jeannine Anderson as Big Stone, and Beth Wilmurt as Little Stone.

Whereas the usual perspective on the myth arrives via Orpheus, Shotgun’s production angles in from Eurydice’s viewpoint. Instead of Eurydice getting married, suffering a snake bite, and mooning around in the Underworld until her groom can lead her out of hell (without his looking back at her, which Orpheus does, of course — and everyone dies, including Orpheus, who is ripped to shreds by mad women). This Eurydice is what one could call “proactive” and the ending is annihilating.

Striding into Hades — and sending a mountainous “wall” of upturned silver buckets crashing to great effect — after a Nasty Interesting Man (the subtle Nils Frykdahl) interrupts her wedding, Eurydice pursues a dream she’ll never capture. She’s always known that Orpheus was more in love with music than with her body or her mind, but once in the Underworld, she discovers deeper intangibles.

She can’t at first recall or communicate with her long-dead Father (James Carpenter, invaluably proving once again that tender poignancy sidling up next to outlandish cavorting can result in resoundingly moving drama). Even worse are the three rule-spouting Stones; Big, Loud, and Little. (Played by Jeannine Anderson, Peter Griggs and Beth Wilmurt, respectively, the spirited trio displays a stack of skills that live up to Christine Cook’s costumes-on-meth attire.)

Orpheus, following Eurydice into the rusty, green-toned underbelly of what resembles a ship’s hold (there aren’t enough good things that can be said about Riley’s mischievous, inventive set) becomes almost a distraction. Ruhl proves adept, her script like a wizard casting our attention on the secret pockets in Eurydice’s relationship with Father. Unfolding like a book, multiple metaphors for awareness arrive — buckets laden with water descend, or fly aloft when emptied; hand-written notes declare their message, but also the authors’ identity; a living Rube Goldberg machine made up of Father and the Stones demonstrates how dirge-like human existence really is.

Through it all, Shuch never looses touch with the central story of love’s innocence and idiocy. Mickey Mouse ears, desperate dances, the wail of “How does a person remember to forget?” and other gifts from a director unafraid to travel the creative edge add up to tumultuous moments of truth. If at times, especially in the final scenes, the twisted turns blur and scenes lose clarity, it mostly adds intrigue.

Wilmurt’s arrangement of “Motherless Child” sung by Anderson, Frykdahl’s mesmerizing vocals and the sound of running water and buckets clattering are just three highlights in what may prove to be the season’s most disturbing, effective score with original music by Frykdahl and sound design by Matt Stines.

Ruhl reminds us that “to mourn twice is gluttony,” but there’s little doubt that this production’s haunting, sorrowful sweetness and grand gestures into the depths of hell are too disturbing — and too wonderful — to forget.

Eurydice, through Oct. 4, at Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley. $30-$50. 510)-41-6500.

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Lou Fancher

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