REVIEWS--Eurydice and Step Forward
‘Eurydice’ is pleasing to the eye, but still feels incomplete
The world of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice as performed by the University of Nebraska at Kearney feels drawn forth from a neon ballet fantasy. Vibrant imagery, a strong chorus and a creatively adapted script push an otherwise underwhelming show forward.
Eurydice tells the tale of Orpheus and (you guessed it) Eurydice from the latter’s perspective. In the original myth, Eurydice dies soon after wedding Orpheus, a poet, and he descends into the underworld to retrieve her. The god of death, Hades, agrees to let her go, but only if Orpheus can lead her from the underworld without looking back to see if she is following. Ruhl’s script complicates the tale by adding Eurydice’s long-lost father in the underworld and a chorus of walking, talking stones.
Director Noelle Bohaty’s background in dance shines in the contemporary movements she weaves into every scene of the show. Dance is a second language in the world of the production, communicating desperation and longing alike. Ruhl’s world is all shifting memories, fleeting moments, and puzzled introspection. Bohaty’s choreography fits so well with the poetic prose of the script that the show feels like a musical without songs. And in a world where words are hard to come by and even harder to understand, movement feels like the most honest form of expression available. The only flaw with the ever-present dancing is that sometimes, it blocked important moments of plot and action.
The bedrock of any Greek show is the chorus, and the four moving, talking “stones” are as solid a foundation as a show could hope for. Hunter T. Scow, Trisha Marie Miller, Kalee Reams and Mary Dworak almost never leave the stage, providing exposition and context alike with intensity and vigor. The strength of the chorus, however, overshadows the leads in many ways.
Mary Joyce Storm (Eurydice) and Hayden Nelson’s (Orpheus) chemistry never truly takes off despite solid individual performances. Storm’s lyrical clarity can’t quite mesh with Nelson’s cartoonish naiveté. In the play’s opening scene, their characters flirt and tease, but even when they are standing close, they never quite touch, lacking familiarity. The scene should lay a foundation for world-shattering romance, but it falls short. Their energies don’t feel like two halves of a whole, resulting in an underwhelming romance.
The visual design of Eurydice, however, is anything but underwhelming. Ronald Altman’s sheer, pastel costumes flow beautifully with the contemporary choreography. Anthony Knudson’s set is simple yet stylized. The design elements blend very well. The stage, featuring a central rotating platform, is washed in bright shades of blue, pink and violet, courtesy of Del DeLorm’s psychedelic light design. DeLorm utilizes black light effectively; the underworld feels abstract and foreign, complementing the set and costumes both.
In all, Eurydice is pleasing to the eye, even if the direction and acting does not always live up to its fullest potential.
Eurydice, While Electric and Feverish in Design, Lacks Luster in Performance
The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, while noble in its thwarted attempt to speak on a father’s love for his daughter, left much to be desired.
Ruhl’s 2003 version of this well-known Greek Tragedy follows the title character into Hades after she is seduced and essentially captured by the God of Death. Overcome with grief, Orpheus follows his bride into the depths of hell in order to retrieve her. Hades strikes a deal with our hero; Eurydice will follow him out of hell so long as he does not turn around. Ruhl’s version, however, focuses more on Eurydice’s relationship with her long lost father, a nonexistent character in the original myth, and her decision to remain in Hades rather than return to Earth with Orpheus.
Thus, the high-risk nature of this tale begs for intense, raw, and feverish emotion to be at the forefront of everything. I was gravely disappointed.
With the exception of Hunter T. Scow and the Stones’ adaptation of a biting Greek Chorus, other principal characters fell short of their potential. Several important moments lacked sufficient pacing and intensity. In saying this, I must specifically point out Eurydice’s father.
There are several moments where the audience is succinctly told how deep and prevailing his affection for her has been, even in death. This is highlighted through the thousands of letters he has written to her while in Hades.
I, along with several other audience members, yearned to feel the brevity of this intense father/daughter bond, however both performers never managed to bridge the gap created by lengthy pauses and clunky exchanges. Thus, I was never able to fully buy into the story.
While other aspects begged for critical improvement, I did enjoy the contemporary dance added by director Noelle Bohaty’s choreography; in a world where language is obsolete as Eurydice grapples with her own death, movement is a powerful outlet for expression. This managed to be a glimmering highlight.
Scenic Designer Anthony Knudson did not consider how sight lines get devoured in a deep thrust. Several key points, such as Eurydice’s arrival and the rising action of Orpheus’ journey were blocked upstage. Because of this I missed many of the performances that were delivered on the higher platforms, and various snippets of dialogue were cut as the music shrieked loudly next to my head.
There were several technical aspects that were not clearly marked as necessity, including an elaborate teakettle/water pump that was used only once. Nestled on a revolving platform center stage, “the river of forgetfulness,” which served its purpose for only half of a scene, provided nice beams of light reflected off the water within.
While nightmarish and jaring, I felt the design could have been a little more cohesive and functional. All in all, I applaud UNK for the risks, however unsuccessful, that were taken in this production.
Matthew Schmittdiel--Step Forward
SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota – If you are proud to be an American, then you should exercise your capitalistic right and go buy a ticket for Step Forward. This new production by the University of Central Missouri paints in red, white, and blue what it means to be American, but more importantly what issues define us as a nation.
Step Forward is a newly devised, social justice, performance art piece, developed by a student company. Woah. That’s a lot right there. If you think this would be a hard show to understand-you’re wrong.
Directors Ashley Miller-Scully and Julie Rae Mollenkamp somehow found a way to tell individuals’ stories as a collective and the collective’s story as a whole. From the moment the house doors open, cast members are engaging people to be more than just an audience, but a part of the show. The performance starts off by asking the audience to stand and take a pledge-right hand held high: a modern preamble to the constitution. However, this time we are pledging our solidarity for women’s rights, immigrant support, and an end to police brutality. Each act begins with a new pledge and in episodic rhythm, the story of today’s America is told.
Social justice theatre is tricky. Often a show only touches on one subject plaguing our world, and sometimes it doesn’t even fully explore that one issue. This was not the case for Step Forward. This production discovered each issues’ core and brought that to the forefront of the stage.
The performance art piece uses choreographed dances, songs, and even a step-number to speak on what makes this country great and what makes this country so frustrating to live in. I was surprised at how insignificant any performance mistakes were compared to the message and emotions being delivered by the actors. The chemistry between the ensemble was genuine and highlighted individual’s talents without overshadowing the integrity of the show.
The stage was blank and open for all kinds of movement, with only the audience seating to get in the way. The lights and music worked seamlessly to give each act its own perspective into American life. Above your head four large screens displayed infamous images surrounding each issue or topic, which only drove you deeper into your emotions.
The ensemble’s ability to create a piece bigger than themselves further promoted the overarching message of the night: be kind. The cast members gave out suckers with “be kind” written on the surface. As I walked out the theatre and started licking the sucker, the message on its face soon faded away. However, the message of the night has not left me since and I doubt it has left anyone else that had the chance to see this new production that any American should be proud of.
Michael Cooprider--Step Forward
Friday April 20th, 2018, Hutchinson Kansas, 10am. Students gathered in the quad of Hutchinson High School to protest gun violence in America;as a member of the crowd a certain energy came across me that morning, a prideful and emotional energy. That same energy was felt during Step Forward.
Step Forward is a devised theatre piece from the University of Central Missouri that tackles a number topics affecting several Americans every day. The issues are deforestation, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, and global warming. To tackle the issues the cast performs music and dance numbers ranging from contemporary motions to stomp- clap routines, and occasionally the cast gets the audience involved, for example, in a song about the Black Lives Matter movement audience members are asked to put their hands up.
The show has a very relevant theme of be kind, the audience can see these two powerful words on the projection screens around the auditorium, as well as on the suckers that cast members pass out before the show. The production is intended to unite the audience despite their differences; literally one of the songs is about taking the hands of those around you. The cast also help unite audience members by interacting with them as much as possible, and a large portion of seating is brought onto the stage with the performers.
The choreography for Step Forward is wonderfully orchestrated. Every move flows into the next like an ocean. Additionally the choreography has a clear meaning behind every move, and the actors’ facial expression and body language help further convey the meaning behind every move. One issue with blocking is that the accompanists aren’t very visible and any audience member that isn’t sitting on stage has no idea that the accompanists are actually present. None of the actors drop character, nor do any actor ever miss a step. Every move is perfectly timed and calculated.
Step Forward features fantastic lighting designs; one specific instance is during a song about police brutality red and blue flashing lights shine on an actor shouting “Please! Don’t shoot!”and after the actor falls a spotlight hits another actor on stage in mourning. Lighting for the show is very coordinated, as lighting often is, but the lights add a mood to each song that really draws the audience in.
A weird dynamic of the show is that some parts of the songs, the saxophone and guitar parts, are performed live while every other instrument in the songs was recorded. Another sound aspect of the show that may hinder the audiences experience is that none of the actors or musicians have microphones.
Even without a set the show still has a creative aspect by waving white sheets over the audience during one of the final songs of the shows.
Step Forward left me with an inspired feeling, even though the show is about how divided society is, I left the theatre feeling more united with everyone else in the audience than ever.
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Region 5 IJTA Coordinator