Eurydice – Not Just a High School Play

The play Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl is Westridge Theatre’s 2nd production of the 2012-13  Year of Women Playwrights season.  All 4 performances in the Black Box Theatre (11/29-30, 12/1-2) were well-attended by the Westridge community. It’s a complex tale of remembrance and letting go.  The story is based on the Greek mythical character Eurydice.  In the original myth, Eurydice is the wife of Orpheus who died tragically on her wedding day and Orpheus bargains with Hades to bring her back from the underworld.

Sarah Ruhl’s modern day re-telling of the myth introduces some twists and a new character — Eurydice’s deceased father.  Although he resides in the underworld, he has managed to “not forget” his mortal life.  The father becomes Eurydice’s emotional support as she transitions to her new existence. Meanwhile a Chorus of Stones reminds them that it against the rules to keep such attachments in the underworld. Eurydice’s father has broken the rules by remembering. In the end Eurydice must choose whether or not to follow Orpheus out of the underworld or to stay with her father in death.

It was wonderful to see such strong performances all around.  Each actor showed deep commitment to her role. Senior Simona Brooks embodied the graceful innocence of the lead character, especially when confronted by the Nasty Interesting Man, slickly played by Jade Cohen.  Emma Rothenberg held nothing back in her passionate portrayal of the bereaved groom Orpheus.  His fervent poetry contrasts the calm, narrative voice of Eurydice’s father, tenderly played by Madeleine Russell.  Both characters confound Eurydice as she must decide whether to stay or to go.   Riveting performances by Jessica Porter, Lara Edwards and Rebecca Shao provided the contextual framework and some comic relief as they shout their objections to the rule-breakers. “Being sad is not allowed. Act like a stone! “

The play was an ambitious undertaking for Westridge Theatre as it primarily works on an emotional level.  Outrageous make-up and Victorian costumes created shock value when the maleficent chorus of stones arrived on the stage.  The mood was supported by Mr. Stuffel’s cleverly crafted set which looked like the stark underground of an abandoned subway.  For those who may have experienced the death of a loved one, Eurydice taps into that memory and holds on.  For others it is a story of love and loss that unfolds in a dark grey room with exposed pipes and the drip, drip, drip of a place where nothing happens.

 

 

Highlights of a Great Summer at the Bowl

A summer in LA would not be complete without at least a few visits to the Hollywood Bowl.  The venue is the perfect place to enjoy warm summer nights under the stars and offers a variety of musical performances that can suit any taste. I started my summer with 11 of my best picnic-going, music-loving friends enjoying the popular Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  Later, in August I spent a quieter, walk-in evening with Dudamel (dressed in black) conducting the LA Phil in Verdi’s tragic Rigoletto.

It sometimes amazes me how different the Hollywood Bowl feels from one evening to the next. The sold-out Yo-Yo Ma concert found nearly 18,000 people, sitting upright, fully engaged in the moment of each note and the silences between them.– While the family-friendly Pixar at the Bowl concert featured kids squealing in delight when their favorite characters like Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Dory, and Nemo showed up on the big screens. It reminded me of last summer’s Star Wars tribute — A night when 3 generations of loyal fans waved colorful lightsabers while John Williams conducted the familiar themes.

One of my favorite evenings of 2012 was the least attended of all. The Bowl looked to have about 25% of capacity on the Aug. 30th performance of Carmina Burana. It was lucky for all of us who did attend because the entire evening was delightful. It was great to actually be able to have a pre-concert picnic at a table instead of sitting on blankets on the ground. There were plenty of open seats inside the bowl as well, so folks could comfortably spread out and sit back. The warmth and humidity of the evening made the chorus sound richer and closer. The bowl is huge, and yet every inch of it was filled by the 100+ powerfully synchronized voices of the LA Master Chorale.

The concert program describes Carmina Burana as “a setting of medieval poems about life, love, morals, mockery and drinking.” I first remember hearing it during an old beer commercial. It starts out with a powerful bang (O Fortuna!) and goes on to feature more subtle notes and wry humor (for those who care to read the supertitles). It’s one of those pieces that leaves concert goers with a euphoric hangover for a few days after, so I try to see it whenever I can.  I was lucky this summer because I saw it just a few weeks prior to the Bowl concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was a one night only performance of the Los Angeles Lawyer’s Philharmonic .(you read that right!)   — All of the orchestra’s members work in the legal profession as lawyers, judges or law clerks. But don’t let that fool you, they are talented artists and their performance of Carmina Burana was almost as polished as the LA Phil’s. In fact, I think many of them could quit their day jobs!

GREAT NEWS: The Hollywood Bowl performance of Carmina Burana will be broadcast on September 29th at 2PM on 91.5 KUSC!

I’m looking forward to two more fun filled nights at the bowl before I call it a summer. A little Bernstein Americana as Sarah Chang plays songs from West Side Story. It will come to and end with a Rock and Roll bang as Florence + The Machine heats up the stage in October — just in time for the temperatures to drop.  Well, there is always the WDCH and Dudamel to look forward to this winter!

The Pasadena Playhouse’s Heiress is Elegant

Seeing The Heiress at the Pasadena Playhouse seemed like what a theater experience would have been like in the ages before television.  The actors draw the audience in –to the point where its collective gasps and sighs seem to become part of the play’s dialog. Richard Chamberlain at 78 was inspiring.  He has not lost either his looks or his acting ability with age and it was a pleasure to see such a master at his craft.

The play is set in New York City in the Mid 1800s.  It is about a sweet, shy young woman, the only child of a renown New York City physician, as she copes with the constant disapproval of her father and crippling social anxiety.  Her family is independently wealthy, which combined with her naïveté about men makes her extremely vulnerable to the attentions of a charismatic suitor.  She falls in love with him of course. From the set up of the plot you can imagine the rest of the story line — but don’t let that fool you.   It is a real treat to see such masterful performances, elegant staging in one of the most beautiful theatres in LA. The venue is so authentic you may feel surprised to find yourself in 2012 when you exit the theater.

You can enjoy the Heiress at the Pasadena Playhouse through May 20th.