Adapted and Directed by Omen Sade
From Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Produced by Filament Theatre Ensemble
At Lacuna Artist Lofts
B Boys Will B Boys
This show can be summed up in two words: notenough dubstep. Joking aside (and there was mercifully little dubstep), Omen Sade’s ambition and vision of this piece was daunting. The blending of forms (theatre, dance, concert, club, Commedia, circus . . .) is done as if by a person who’s never seen a play – or rather like this: by a person who has not been told what he can and cannot do, what is and is not theatre, what must and must not be so, according to the establishment. And what he has created is not only a compelling and innovative piece of theatre, but a show that would feel right at home in London’s Fringe scene or a cabaret in East Berlin. Honestly – and I admittedly am new to this scene – it was surprising to find something as unapologetically avant as this in Chicago.
But avant garde doesn’t mean, as it has come to mean in some crannies in this and other countries, overly artistic, or bad, or hyper-intellectual (for this, see: Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music – or better yet, read some of his defenses of it). It simply means on the front lines – and that’s exactly what this piece of theatre is. It’s trench-theatre. It takes no prisoners, and the prisoners it does take have to dance. It’s a brave melding of styles, a conscious effort to expand what theatre is considered to be in this city, in this country.
And overall it works well. The story is familiar: Orpheus, greatest of all musicians, marries Eurydice, who dies of a snake bite on their wedding day; he descends to the Underworld, seeking to retrieve his love from Hades. Upon hearing his most tragic of songs, the gods of the underworld allow him to take her back, but he must walk all the way out to the Overworld before he can look at her. After he ascends, he looks back, but she has not yet emerged from the path, and is taken back to the Underworld. Orpheus cannot retrieve her, and, ultimately, is torn apart by a group of Maenads.
Sade does take some liberties with the story, substituting the snakes, gods of Hades, and the Maenads (that is, all the misanthropes of the myth) with three minions of Hades, all grotesquely masked Bouffons. But this has a streamlining effect, allowing the audience, without much dialogue, to follow the story more easily. Indeed, these are well-thought-out creations: Bouffons are ultimately descended from satyrs, and employ broad physical comedy and movement not unlike Commedia dell’arte; also, the ones in this piece cannot be understood by the audience unless in the Underworld.
The physicality of the cast is impressive: the Bouffons, the Nymphs, and Eurydice are all supple in their movements, in their dancing, and in the remarkable silk act that takes place in the middle of the show. But their movement is impressive not just for its discipline, but for its emotion: much of the show is silent – or, rather, there are but few words (the music is almost constant) – and these actors portray a wide range of convincing emotions with only their bodies.
And the music is good. Composed by Kevin Barry Crowley, who plays Orpheus, and Jason “DJ Puzzle” Donnelly (Fate), it sets the backdrop for the entire piece. Crowley is an admirable MC, and Donnelly is a hell of a DJ. Which is one reason this would work so well in a club; as things stand, though, the space used is fitting – the Lofts are an old macaroni factory, which gives a great urban decay / renewal club vibe. And Sade uses the whole space (there are two rooms, really, separated by a brick wall with hollow windows, as well as two freight elevators).
Is this theatre for everyone? No. There are no seats (though chairs can be provided, if so desired), the music is loud, the show experimental. Guys and Dolls it’s not. But if you’re willing to go there, have your assumptions about theatre challenged, hear good music, and see something new, you won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed on 4.22.11
For full show information, visit Orpheus‘ page at TheatreinChicago.
At the Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 South Canalport, Chicago, IL; for tickets, visit www.filamenttheatre.org; $10-15; performances Fridays and Saturdays at 9:00 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through May 29th.