Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Ruhl’

Audience Tears Flowed for ‘Eurydice’

Monday, January 24th, 2011

(from L) Nelms McKalvain and Howard Shangraw and friend converse after the show.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

At the final bow, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Some of the audience members were loudly blowing their noses. One woman clasped her had over her mouth to keep from sobbing.

“Really? People were crying? I couldn’t tell,” said Juwan, who played Orpheus, after the show.

However, you could tell that he was impressed. Any time a high school theater cast brings an audience to tears is an accomplishment.

The final show of “Eurydice,” a modern take on the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, by Sarah Ruhl, was held on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

“I think it was our best show,” said Juwan, after striking the set. “Everything seemed to gel together.”

You didn’t have to know anything about Greek mythology to appreciate and understand the play. It’s been done hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But Sarah Ruhl made it more interesting and palatable.

“I’m glad that it was set in the 21st century,” said one student.

Brooke, a senior who played “Eurydice,” brought Nelms, a piano teacher at Idyllwild Arts, to tears. He stood out in the courtyard with huge tears rolling down his face. Everyone around him smiled. It was rare to see such open emotion from a middle-aged man.

“Brooke just broke my heart,” Nelms said.

Brooke was the happy-go-lucky pretty thing that was in love with Juwan. As a musician, he listened to the “beat of a different drummer.” She loved words, and he loved music. Somewhere in between, they connected.

“There was a lot of kissing going on at the beginning,” exclaimed Juwan’s mom, who came all the way from Kansas, to surprise him.

“I’m glad that Juwan finally got a lead role,” another student said.

Juwan played the heartbroken Orpheus

Juwan played Orpheus, the heartbroken bride groom, to the hilt. He sent music, and wrote letters, to the Underworld, and delivered them via worms. He told his bride of his dreams, in which her hair was made out of faucets. It only made everyone cry harder.

“Please come back!” he begged.

In one of his scenes, he’s talking to a telephone operator. He’s trying to connect to Eurydice in the Underworld. The operator on the other end is confused and exasperated.

“This is a special case,” Juwan tells her. “She’s dead.”

How can he connect to a dead woman? The audience cries harder. Somehow they’ve been there before. Asking an operator for help beyond reason.

When Juwan first saw Sarah Ruhl’s play, he thought it was a kind of dumb. Then he listened to Howard, and drew from his own experiences of heartache, to play a believable role.

Brooke (as Eurydice) might have broken Nelms’ heart with her letters home.

“Don’t try and find me again,” Brooke wrote after they flubbed up the voyage back. She called out his name and he looked back, so that was it.

“I’m sorry,” she wrote to Orpheus. “I was afraid. But don’t come looking for me again.”

In her open letter to her husband’s next wife, Brooke demonstrated her emotional range.

“Be sure and feed him often, because he forgets to eat,” she recited out loud. “And be sure and notice that he blushes pink when you kiss him. If you kiss his forehead, I will thank you for it.”

What woman would want her husband to be happy with another woman? Eurydice had matured while underground.

Everyone expected Joe Spano to steal the show. After all, how can high school theater students measure up to a professional actor with an Emmy nod and many successful shows under his belt?

Stones Dylan and Angela pose for pictures after the show

“He was great, but he didn’t steal the show,” said some theater students.

It wasn’t a slight. What Joe Spano did was elevate “Eurydice” to the next level. Everyone stepped up their game. Because they already had it in them.

Brooke, Juwan, Jake, and the Stones were just as good as Joe. And that’s the way it should be.

He was fun to watch, no doubt. Especially when his daughter was adjusting to being dead. He built her a makeshift room out of string that he tied to umbrella handles hanging from the ceiling.

“That was the saddest part,” said Chris, a music major who saw the show on Friday night.

For others, Joe’s saddest moment was when Eurydice left to follow Orpheus home and said, “With her gone, it’ll be like a second death to me.”

Jake, who played an “Interesting Man,” (who must’ve said “interesting 100 times) was really just a letch, who lured Eurydice to her death.

By the way, Brooke’s slow-motion fall was eerie, but effective. Kudos to Howard Shangraw, the director, and the set designers for making it happen with lights and poles.

I’m not sure why Ruhl created the Lord of the Underworld (also played by Jake) as a pre-teen, but it took away some of his bite. Running around on a trike with oversized shoes and a lit-up umbrella hat was entertaining, but typically, I like my demons older. His youth made it hard to take him seriously.

But, in the end, little Lord Fontleroy on the trike, had the final say.

“I just got chills all over,” said Chris Pennock, an Idyllwild actor best known for his “Dark Shadows” days.

His wife was the one who covered her mouth to keep from sobbing.

“It was so amazing,” she said, wiping away her tears.

Joe Spano (partially obstructed) and his daughter, Liana, a stone, talk with audience members after the show

Outside, Idyllwild residents took pictures Joe Spano and the other actors. It was nice having a celebrity amongst them.

“We grew up watching Joe Spano on ‘Hill Street Blues,”” one resident said. “It was nice to see him live on stage today.”

Spano, who played Eurydice’s father, and his real-life daughter, Liana, played a stone that guarded the Underworld.

“This was the best experience,” said Milan, who was Spano’s understudy. “He improved my acting performance by a mile.”

“Eurydice” played to packed houses on Friday and Saturday nights, Jan. 21 and 22. The Sunday, Jan. 23rd audience stood on their feet to show their appreciation. On Apella Drive, the road out, past the parking lot, a few women were walking home. What a testament to the show! Without a car, they arrived on foot rather than miss the show.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Joe Spano Stars in Idyllwild Arts Show on Sunday, Too

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Hill Street Blues” and “NCIS” star Joe Spano will also star in the final performance of “Eurydice,” by the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department, on Sunday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. It’s a correction to the earlier report (on Idyllwild Me blog post dated Jan. 20) that the understudies would take over that performance. Theirs was held on Saturday, Jan 22 at 2 p.m.

Today, at 2 p.m., will be the final performance of “Eurydice,” Idyllwild Arts production of the Greek tragedy about Eurydice and Orpheus in the Underworld. Spano starred as Eurydice’s father to packed houses on Friday and Saturday nights.

Milan, a senior Theater major, credits Spano for adding professionalism to the show. It is the first time this crew has worked alongside a well-known actor.

“His choices onstage has given everyone involved with the show a huge acting lesson,” Milan said. “And him being in the show has absolutely effected the quality and professionalism of the show.”

He said that Spano had also taught him to slow down and take his time with each scene.

Brooke, another senior who plays the lead, Eurydice, admitted to being timid around Spano at first.

“I had never worked with a professional actor before, let alone one as famous as Joe Spano,” Brooke said. “But he treated me like an equal.”

Both Brooke and Milan had not seen Spano during his “Hill Street Blues” hey days, but their aunts and uncles gave them an earfull.

“My aunt just loves Joe Spano, and thought he was terrific in ‘Hill Street Blues,” Brooke said.

Milan also researched the shows online.

Juwan plays Orpheus in today's final performance of "Eurydice"

Although the father role may have been missing in other versions of “Eurydice,” Sarah Ruhl’s take is different. She focuses more on the circle of life.

“The father is the second, if not first most important role in the play,” said Milan, who has watched Spano rehearse for weeks. “Without the father, it would not be the same story. He goes through many obstacles, such as memory loss, but had the courage to let his daughter go.”

The set of the play is also top notch with a rain shower encased in an elevator. It’s the work of guest set designer Steve Hudson-Mairet, head of the Theater Department at Marquette University, and Todd Carpenter, the technical director at Idyllwild Arts (see “Help with Eurydice Set,” Idyllwild Me post, dated Jan. 14).

The final performance of “Eurydice,” starring Joe Spano as the father, Brooke as Eurydice, Juwan as Orpheus, Jake as the lord of the Underworld, and Liana (Joe Spano’s daughter), as a stone, will be held today, Sunday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m.

The show is free and open to the public. The IAF Theater is located inside the Bowman Building on the Idyllwild Arts Campus, located at the end of Tollgate. For more information, call (951) 659-2171 or visit www.idyllwildarts.org.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Help with ‘Eurydice’ Set

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Even the poster for 'Eurydice' emphasizes water

By Marcia E. Gawecki

With every production, the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department takes it up a notch.

With ‘Eurydice,’ Sarah Ruhl’s modern take on the tragic Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the Underworid, they’ve landed a top-notch actor and set designer.

“We got Joe Spano!” exclaimed Howard Shangraw, head of the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department. “It helps that his daughter, Liana, goes to school here.”

Spano, an Emmy-Award winning actor, is best known for his stand-out characters in the popular TV series, “Hill Street Blues” and “NCIS.” For the ‘Eurydice’ production, Spano plays the father.

Secondly, the ‘Eurydice’ set, which features two live water sources (an enclosed waterfall and a well) is being created by professional set designer. Stephen Hudson-Mairet is a longtime friend of Todd Carpenter, IA lighting and technical director. Steve heads up the theater department at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

He plans to be here 10 days to help Howard and Todd with the set, which is already partially built.

About two months ago, Steve came to the Idyllwild Arts campus to see the student production of “Jayne Eyre.” He wanted to see firsthand what the stage and the IAF theater looked like, and needed to meet with Howard and Todd and get their ideas.

“The IAF Theater is barrel-shaped, like an airplane hanger,” Steve said. “But every theater has it’s challenges. I’ve seen a lot of them and none are perfect.”

After the meeting, he went back to Milwaukee and did his homework.

“Before I even think about drafting a design, I read the play three times,” Steve said. “It gives you ideas that you cannot get anywhere else.”

Juwan, who plays the lead Orpheus, backstage at another event

The second the third read gives him practical ideas about where the actors will stand and step.

For his “Eurydice’ design, he incorporated ideas from Howard and Todd, and came up with a full-color sketch.

“I never leave anything to chance,” Steve said. “Because blue has many shades, and we all need to be on the same page.”

So he attached color swatches to the diagram, which was approved.

“The main part of the stage is framed by an oversized triangle,” Steve said. At the apex, an elevator opens up to a waterfall encased in an elevator.

“The water should rain straight down,” Steve said. “It acts as a barrier into the Underworld.”

Although there are pipes everywhere overhead, he wasn’t sure how the water was going to flow inside the elevator. He had to check it out firsthand.

“I also have to think about what we’re going to do about the water puddling onstage,” Steve said. “And if there would be any long-term water damage underneath the stage.”

These water issues are why Todd and Howard hired a set design professional like Steve. In the past, he has created set designs for massive theater productions like “Hair,” with life-sized 60s cutouts onstage, and “Frog and Toad,” a smaller student production, based on the popular children’s books.

On Thursday afternoon, Jan. 13, Steve was headed to rehearsal, to see the actors in action. And today, he’s going to paint the set along with the students. Among the many challenges will be building an arc and painting a river on the floor.

“In the show, one of the actors rides a tricycle around the stage on an arc,” Steve said. “We’re hoping to make it work for him.”

He wasn’t sure how the arc was going to be built, but was certain that it would work before the ‘Eurydice’ curtain goes up next weekend.

“One of the best things about set design is the collaboration of ideas,” Steve said. “We always come up with something better together.”

Painting a river on the floor was one of the first things he’ll tackle.

Howard Shangraw, head of IA Theater Dept. Courtesy photo.

“It’s going to be ‘river-esque, not raging” Steve said. “Like everything else on the set, it’s a symbol.”

Other symbols include a variety of Asian-style umbrellas that will be suspended from the ceiling. He pulled several from his suitcase to add to Todd’s collection.

“The umbrellas will give Todd something to throw a light on,” Steve said.

During their college days, the two have worked on sets together.

“Todd always takes my ideas and makes them better,” Steve said.

After the final ‘Eurydice’ show, Steve will help the students break down the set. He has no attachments or regrets for a set that he’s been working on for two months.

“I’m used to designing and building sets, and taking them down in six weeks,” Steve said.

His only keepsake is a couple of photos. Most of the set pieces of ‘Eurydice’ will be recycled into other sets.

‘Eurydice’ shows will be held on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 21 & 22, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. at the IAF Theater on campus. All shows are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.idyllwildarts.org.

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