The last production of 2017 for Mesa Community College’s theatre and film arts department, “Eurydice,” is a play written by Sarah Ruhl loosely based on the Greek myth of the journey of Orpheus to the underworld.
“I see at the core of it, an examination of the heartbreak that comes from being separated by loved ones, and that could be because of death, it could be because of just relocation,” director David Barker said. “As I get older, I’m 62 now, I have come to really appreciate my family and trying to live in the moment, and trying to make the most of every day and every situation.”
Barker said he realizes the joy people have right now could, in the blink of an eye, be shattered by separation.
“What Sarah Ruhl has done in this play is, examine this theme rather deeply, and examined it from the perspective of a young couple that gets separated by death on their wedding night, and then also the separation of a father from his daughter,” Barker said.
Barker said Ruhl’s writing is beautiful, at times realistic but can quickly shift into a poetic treatment of a moment; he said that he wanted to make sure the handling of emotions the actors deliver to audiences was focused on passion and efforts of the characters to reconnect, rather than despair.
“It’s very easy to allow actors to wallow in self-pity, and that is tolerable for about two minutes,” Barker said. “But watching an adult wallow in self-pity and feel sorry for themselves is abhorrent.”
One of the visual aspects that Barker wanted attendees to pay special attention to are large inclined walls, that have footholds reminiscent of a rock wall.
“I was concerned that we have a critical episode in the play when Orpheus arrives in the underworld alive; he hasn’t died,” Barker said. “So, how to represent a vertical journey going down, without a fly system, and without a large staircase, which I did not find appealing.”
This was created to communicate movement between the worlds of the living and dead, without the need to mime or walk around in circles while also delineating the difference between how the dead arrive in the underworld and the living do.
“I’ve seen ‘Eurydice’ done before, and this play lends itself to being done either in a very simple way, or in a very elaborate way,” MCC Theatre venue manager Chris Tubilewicz said. “I think this particular production moves more towards the elaborate in terms of the different design elements; there is a lot of very ambitious design work that the students put into this.”
Regarding the Lord of the Underworld, Barker said: “I’m really highlighting the evil qualities; we don’t pull any punches with that.”
He said that this was in recognition of the Greek mythological roots of the play, which portrays such figures with little subtlety.
“We’re representing the Lord of the Underworld and the Nasty Interesting Man as evil personified, which makes the journey of Orpheus even more heartbreaking because it is not fulfilled,” Barker said. “He doesn’t fulfill his goal, and that leaves his precious Eurydice in the hands of evil.”
The nature of the Lord of the Underworld is reinforced by music.
“There were notes from David Barker, he wanted to explore the idea of possibly having heavy metal included in the sound design, and some of that influenced some of the costume choices,” Tubilewicz said.
All the design team for this show are students in the THP203 class offered at MCC.
Tubilewicz said that each time a new class is tasked with working on a production there are challenges to surmount, bringing students who are at a baseline of knowledge up to the point where they have a full-fledged theatrical design onstage.
“It’s always rewarding, I love doing it,” Tubilewicz said. “I also loving exposing those students, and the rest of the department, myself included, to work with guest directors.”
Barker said that it was wonderful to work with students on the production.
“These young artists are passionate, and I can tell how much they care about the project,” Barker said.
“When I made it clear in the very beginning that I was taking Sarah Ruhl’s healthy disrespect for realism as license and permission to explore and invent, everyone was on board with me.”
The production was taken in a slightly different direction from the script in one aspect; the text suggests an “Alice in Wonderland” aesthetic for the underworld that Barker wanted to avoid so that designers weren’t pigeonholed, and because Jordan Deffenbaugh’s adaptation shared the same stage in 2015.
“The whole idea of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ nothing is quite right there,” Tubilewicz said. “And in this world, especially when you get into the underworld … it’s familiar, but not. You see levels, and surfaces and all the things that you would normally see in everyday life, but it’s not quite right. There is something there that disturbs, confuses, disorients and I think the design team did a really good job of not trying to take it to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but still try to create something unique.”
Tubilewicz said that while it is odd in appearance, the intent of the design team was to have the audience accept the reality presented on stage.
Barker said the focus was on bringing the text to life in a vibrant way.
“Eurydice” can be seen at the MCC Theatre Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://www.mesacc.edu/arts/event/2017-12/eurydice.
– Mesa resident Kian Hagerman is a Mesa Community College journalism intern for MyNewsMesa.com.