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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Orpheus X:

come hear my muse
come hear my muse

The Greek tragic hero, Orpheus, gets a makeover in A.R.T.’s new production, Orpheus X. – a minimalistic production. Orpheus X traverses the dubious trail of sex and death with the dizzying act of a tight rope walker on drugs. The production does well to place the epic tragedy in a surrealistic domain in which classic themes flirt with modern complications. It is a journey into the mind of a man obsessed with a dead woman he never knew. It is about an artist’s drive to attain inspiration. Rinde Eckert plays Orpheus, wrote the play, and the score too. What ensues is an intensely intimate exposition of an artist driven to wrestle with his demons.

In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a legendary musician whose songs had the power to control nature. After many adventures with the Argonauts he married Eurydice. When Eurydice died from a snakebite Orpheus descended into the underworld and sang a song of lamentation to Hades and Persephone in the hopes that he could take Eurydice back to terra firma. So moved were Hades and Persephone that they granted his wish under one condition: Orpheus could not look upon Eurydice until they left the underworld. Men being men, Orpheus could not help but steal a look upon his beloved and – poof – Eurydice went back to Hades. After that, Orpheus spurned all women and began singing songs about young men. A mob of angry women were so pissed they tore his body to shreds and left his mangled limbs across a field. The earth wept for Orpheus, rivers overflowed with tears which carried his lyre and head to the island of Lesbos where they were enshrined. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

A.R.T.’s, Orpheus X, is rife with allusions to the original myth. For example, Orpheus is a famous rock star. The focus of the play relies primarily on the love affair between Orpheus and Eurydice (Suzan Henson) and their subsequent tangle with Persephone, the hapless goddess of the underworld. If readers are rusty on their mythology, Persephone is the goddess of Spring who was unwillingly abducted by Hades and made to be his wife. Hades allows Persephone to emerge once a year as springtime. Thus, Persephone is pretty bitter until she gets some fresh air. In A.R.T.’s production Orpheus never knew Eurydice in life. Rather, their fates became entwined when his cab struck and killed her. In the moments before she dies Orpheus holds her in his arms. This drives Orpheus into an unhealthy obsession with Eurydice, one that borders on psychosis; he begins to have conversations with her and to dwell incessantly on being able to see her living. At one point he states, “I know her hands but I cannot see her write.” Eurydice was a poet. In contrast to Orpheus’ fame she dwelled in shadows and was no stranger to earthly suffering.

The plot is thickened when Orpheus’ manager, John (John Kelly) feeds the flame of Orpheus obsession by giving him items of Eurydice. Much like Milton’s Satan, John both resists and acquiesces to Orpheus’s hunger, giving him what he wants while warning him all the while that he should not have it. This is made more striking when the audience realizes that John is Persephone, the capricious goddess of the Underworld. As Persphone she beguiles Eurydice, eventually whom begins to embrace her place as one of the dead. It is not hard as one would think, Eurydice seems to welcome the fact that once bathed in the river Styx she forgets their earthly life. This is a comfort to Eurdycie who looks forward to reading her poetry without the pain that is attached to their creation. Knowledgeable of this desire, Persephone tells her,”Poets thrive in the underworld.”

The play is studded with dialogue but is primarily delivered through a succession of songs – more spoken word than little ditties. Don’t come expecting to find Chicago-style musical scores in this production. Rather, a stream of melodic conversations that often rise to plaintive crescendos between the three sole players. This aspect adds to the overall intimacy of the play. Passionate performances abound. Especially that of Hanson, who plays Eurydice with such fervor that in the final scene her tears ran so much that the front of her dress was soaked. Likewise, Eckert carried Orpheus with the nuance befitting any tragic hero. Persephone, surprisingly played by a man, lived up to expectations as the conflicted and lonely goddess. Director, Robert Woodruff’s vision is stunning- from design to the general intent of the production: to portray the concept of an icon being removed from the world. Laslty, video artist, Denise Eckert, provided the set with an unusual backdrop of abstract nudes, bare trees, and winding hallways that fitted the plays theme of desolation.

A.R.T.’s production of Orpheus X is a must see and if I might say, deserves two looks. A brave performance and a densely layered plot, Orpheus X has brought the classic tale into a fascinating new perspective- one that despite its complexity remains as simple a theme as love and hate, heaven and hell, life and death. Who could ask for anything more?