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Orpheus: Alt-Rock Twist on a Greek Myth


For a play about tragic loss and grieving there's a heck of a lot of fun to be had at Here's environmental production of Orpheus. Conceived by Kristin Martling (who also directed), Juliet Chia (who designed the lights) and David Evans Morris (the set designer) with a text by Stephanie Fleischmann and music by Nikos Brisco, the ancient Greek myth is relocated to an underground alternative music club that's contemporary, yet somewhat mythical.

(Short recap: Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. He could play the lyre like nobody's business and would have won a few dozen Grammys if they had those things in Greek mythology. One day his new bride Euridice was getting hit on by some shepherd so she ran away, only to get fatally bitten by some snake in the grass -- Now you know where the expression comes from. -- so Orpheus ventures down into the underworld to see if he can get them to change their tune and give him his wife back.)

In this adaptation, which is explained in a smart little flyer that parodies Rolling Stone, Orpheus is a rock icon and lead singer of the international sensation Orpheus & the Fly Boys. His monster hit single, "Little Bird", was penned in tribute to his brilliant ornithologist bride, Euridice. But only hours after their secret Central Park wedding ceremony, Euridice gets hit by a cab and passes into the world of the dead while lying on a Mt. Sinai hospital operating table. Upon hearing of his love's death, the grief-stricken rocker (a thin, shaved head Taylor Mac who looks remarkably like pop singer Moby) heads directly to the exclusive new club Asphodel.

Fortunately for us theatre-goers, Asphodel is where we arrive to take in a performance of Orpheus. It's so trendy that the people at the box office will refuse to sell you a ticket. (Theatre tickets are so 2003.) Instead, after you plop down your cash you'll be handed a small piece of honey cake (an offering to the three headed dog who, I suppose in this updating, serves as the bouncer) and a gold coin. (cover charge?) The club itself is dark and nicely atmospheric, with cocktail tables surrounding a protruding stage. A four piece band plays Greek folk music, mixed in with a little Gypsy and Turkish, and we find ourselves among an A-List of mythical dead celebrities.

Ixion (Raquel Cion), who was sentenced by Zeus to spend eternity spinning on a flaming wheel, is center stage hula-hooping. She does this frequently throughout the evening and it's quite amusing. Arachne (Kim Carpenter), known as an expert weaver, wanders about tying people to their chairs. The three sirens (Katy Cunningham, Nina Mankin and Arie Thompson), who later on will treat us to some spiffy harmonies, are for now acting as mythological Hooters girls, serving complimentary vodka drinks (one per person) to patrons while looking fetching in black and feathery S&M wear. (The provocative and imaginative costumes are by Liz Bourgeois.) Unfortunately, I never caught a moment, if it ever occurred, where the sirens were called by name, so I don't know who played the hilariously dim-witted server who described her tray of multi-colored drinks with "This one is from the River Styx. And this one... is from the River Lethe. And that one... ah... that's a martini." Before I could finish my drink I noticed Tantalus (Corey Moosa), who was tortured with thirst, staring at my cup. "Dude", he quietly pleaded, "I'm parched, dude." And although I mercifully gave him the rest of my drink, it was grabbed out of his hand by an alert siren before he could slake his thirst.

And then the play started.

There isn't anything terribly wrong with Stephanie Fleischman's text. But compared to the rest of the production, there isn't anything especially right about it either. The dramatization of Orpheus' grief-stricken appearance and his appeal to Persephone (Daphne Gaines), the Goddess of the Underworld, to allow him to bring his wife back from the dead, followed by the tragedy that occurs just when it looks like he got his wish, is told in a rather perfunctory manner. Her dialogue never approaches the wit, the sexiness and the farcical fun of the Marting/Chia/Morris concept. True, this is a tragedy, but the pre-show atmosphere suggests an irreverant style that is never duplicated by the playwright's words. Since music plays an important part of the story, there are songs, but Fleischman's lyrics hit the same rudimentary level as her text and Brisco's compositions, though pleasant and often tuneful, start sounding alike very quickly.

But the principals are out there giving 'em a good one. Taylor Mac has got a strong off-beat presence and rock star pipes. Gaines, as the hellish hostess, is an invigorating chanteuse and Leeanne Hutchison, as Euridice, has an airy delivery and a fluttery vocal quality worthy of a top-notch ornithologist . And backed by a quirky band of players and a lively production, perhaps this time the concept's the thing.

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