CARV’S WEEKLY BLOG: Riot to Follow ventures into the underworld

By Christian Carvajal on May 2, 2011


We've learned our lesson. I was happily disinvited from reviewing Riot to Follow's production of Eurydice (pronounced "you-RID-a-see") two weeks early; since it opens the same weekend as four other shows, I volunteered to watch a rehearsal and write this preview instead. What happens between now and May 5 will make or break a promising effort.

Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice (2006), a distaff take on the Orpheus myth, debuted at Yale Rep, and it has an Ivy League smartsy-fartsiness about it that benefits from a whimsical touch. You may remember that Eurydice, an oak nymph, meets a satyr on her wedding day who causes her to receive a fatal snakebite. Her fiance, Orpheus, is so overcome with grief that his songs wrench tears from the eyes of the gods. He is allowed to descend into Hades to retrieve his beloved, with one caveat: He must lead her out without looking at her. He is promised she will follow. Tragically, however, Orpheus turns back at the lip of the world (his reason why changes depending on the version you're reading) and Eurydice is lost forever.

That's the myth, and we find it in several ancient cultures. A version of it gives the Biblical story of Mr. and Mrs. Lot its Shyamalan ending. In this play, the question is, does Eurydice (Jenna Vershen) want to come back?

Ruhl's play has been described as a throwdown for set designers, but none of RTF's response to that challenge was in place yet. (I gather there's an elevator.) Instead I watched the charismatic leadership of director Miller Pyke, who assistant-directed RTF's unnerving production of Bug last year. Lazlo Steele, that show's twitchy male lead, appears here as a modern-day version of the satyr and as the Lord of the Underworld. This show fits well at RTF, a troupe of dedicated Greeners, but it will push their talents. Often when actors have no formal technique, they try to breathe themselves into a performance. We get huffing and puffing but no tears, choked gasps but no sexual or romantic chemistry. Two weeks out, there was still quite a lot of that. A little Meisner technique would do much here.

Though still in her mid-30s, Ruhl muses, "We live in a culture that's totally afraid of death...But it does seem to be a preoccupation of mine, this tenuous link between living people and dead people. I think most artists worth their salt eventually grapple with questions of mortality. I started writing seriously when my father got sick, and he died fairly young. That was a crucible through which a lot of my impressions were formed. When you have a loss like that, I think you keep re-experiencing it until you finally just don't....I think there's something about the notion of a lifetime of remorse and regret being contained within the smallest thing--that one iconic gesture of looking back."

Meanwhile, scrappy little RTF is already looking forward. A full new season of four shows is in the works, including an Eric Bogosian tirade, an absurdist quasi-comedy, and the midnight darkness of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman.

So bravo, Riot to Follow, and broken legs.

[The Evergreen State College - Communications Building Recital Hall 107, Eurydice, May 5-7, 7:30 p.m., all ages, free, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia]