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Miami University’s Intimate and Personal “Echoes of Miami” is a Gripping Haunt

Review by Sean Maus of Echoes of Miami: Miami University

In its season opener, Miami University’s College of Creative Arts has unleashed an emotional, sensationally gripping thriller.

The myths, legends, and history of Miami and Oxford literally echo through time in this original concept collection of short plays written by the current and former students of the theatre program. The question “How do we understand the history of the place where we stand?” is the evening’s examination. The production begins outside the College of Creative Arts where we learn the language, poetry, passion and history of the Myaami tribe whose ancestors cared for the land  that is currently the home of Miami University in Oxford.  This is a place where many people have lived and are no longer remembered.

Through 7 different “plays within the play” the performances take the audience on a journey through many voices: voices of women in an asylum once on the grounds of the campus, a man of the underground railroad, clergymen leading the people of Hopewell Church, the students who have mysteriously disappeared and murdered one of their own, teachers filling the famous lecture-recitals in the late 19th Century, the voices of roommates who learn a lesson about taunting the infamous ghost(s) of Helen Peabody. We’re led through the production and around the college campus by three incarnations of Helen Peabody who was the first head of Miami University’s Western College — her portrait still hangs in Peabody Hall, a girls’ dormitory named after her.

What makes this piece of theatre so striking is its multiple locations – not an easy choice to make logistically. The play takes place throughout locations on and about the College of Creative Arts.   Also, the profound amount of history that is inventive and curious that emerges through some powerful writing.  While many of the stories are steeped in lore, the good old-fashioned ghost story tour feels urgent and deeply, painfully human.  Each playwright and director exert supreme control of their stories, locations and characters.  The actors are inventive and curious about what the character can reveal and how they reveal it.  Yet, there’s a little signature chilly touch of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Twilight Zone” here.

While the audience may not be prepared to brave the crisp night air outside the college, the opening scene “This is Myaamionki” is a colorful spectacle of specters. We’re transported from modern Miami through Alex, a current student who is more interested in taking a selfie — portrayed by a cute sprite of an actress Anna Hernandez-Buces as she meets time-traveling Myaamia tribe members, and is introduced to our spirit guides in the many forms of Helen Peabody. While some of the performers took a while to warm up, especially given the outside temperature, there were some time-worn textures to actress Maddy Shilts’s Man-Hating Helen.  Historic Helen, played by Laura Smith, has an ebullience that brought a powerful chemistry to her compatriot Defender Helen who is eerily empathetic as they introduce us to “The Haunting in Peabody Hall.”

If I had to pick from the stories, my choices would be “Murder at Reid Hall” and “Delirium.” These two stories brought a real sense of mystery and emotion to the core of my being. “Delirium” focused on the maltreated women patients in mental asylums at the time of 1925. Taking place in storage space beneath the main stage theatre you are treated to a spooky  haunt with chilling spirits portrayed by Nellie Given (Woman of Electricity), Megan Hayes (Woman of the Window), Meghan Stille (Woman of Solitude) and Jessie Beach (Woman of Chains). If the staging doesn’t creep you out, the sunken, manic eyes of these actresses will haunt you.

“Murder at Reid Hall” is a Twilight Zone throwback to the 1950’s complete with a James Dean infused performance by Worley Stidham.  Eleanor Alger brings the cheating Sharon to life with just the right tinge of bouffant hair while shrieking like the best of the horror film drive-in movie girls of the 1950’s.  Kevin Garcia was perfectly cast as the average 50’s teen –  moody, confused, and finding himself, who probably was enjoying dancing, spending time with friends, often at a malt (milkshake) shop.

Then, there’s the fun haunted house feel of the “Haunting in Peabody 237” which brings a bit of humor to the haunting. Rylan Hixson as Cam and his roommate Kevin Garcia as Andy, were roommates in Peabody Hall. The set decoration was straight our of a men’s college dorm, complete with Xbox, sweaty socks and bags of chips scattered on the floor. Garcia and Hixson show their terrific versatility as actors having gone from dramatic roles in previous sections (“An Evening withe Snyders” and “Murder at Reid Hall” respectively) to turning on the comedic charm as two roommates. Beyond excellent acting technique the two young actors have a genuine connection. They make it  so much easier to produce riveting results on stage without looking contrived. Both are astute and close observers of human nature even though they are playing roles similar to their own lives. But it’s watching the transformation of these two from their earlier roles of the evening into roles that come back to haunt them.

Even though the stories change, the show generally keeps working with the same stuff. It’s twisting tales of supernatural fears and everyday horrors that explore the deep history of the Miami campus.  For being in development for four years, according to producer Saffron Henke’s note in the program, the efforts have paid off.

Echoes of Miami is the sort of risk-taking show that comes along seemingly only in Fringe Festivals.  Credit the Miami theatre team with bringing the tonal leaps and shifts in time and place to making this college a place of great theater that is a diamond in the crown of Cincinnati area theatre.

Know’s “The Man-Beast” is a Ferocious Tale

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Man-Beast”: Know Theatre

Jennifer Joplin and Jim Hopkins in “The Man-Beast”

The artists and administrators at Know Theatre continually conjure tricks and treats, from gorgeous scenery, powerful and surprising performances, to interesting offerings after the mainstage shows. In Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast” they provide a production of power, love, and betrayal in 18th century France which steeps slowly but richly and builds to a surprise conclusion.

The show begins when a hermit, Jean (Jim Hopkins), bangs on the door of an outcast woman, Virginie (Jennifer Joplin) a practitioner of herbal arts and taxidermy, who “knows a thing about a thing.” He’s wounded, but huge and agitated so she defends herself with a gun.  He begs her to mend his arm, bitten by a mysterious bloodthirsty creature which has been menacing the area. He’s been tracking this creature to earn a large reward from the king. Virginie mends him, and eventually they agree she will help him secure the reward, sealing this deal in a blood oath.

Directed by Brant Russell, the two performers fill the stage. Hopkins is an imposing figure and Joplin matches him with strength, and both add a bit of humor, providing relief in this tension filled show.

The play explores power and trust—when this powerful man comes to her house, he is weakened, but she has a gun. The creature has power to track and kill human and animals throughout the countryside, and he feels he has stopped that power by killing the creature, he just needs the evidence to prove it. The king has power to offer a large reward. The woman has power over herbs and weeds to find their medical and pharmacological properties. Power and the powerful keeps shifting throughout the play, that’s what makes it so interesting to watch.

Visually, you will be in for another treat by Andrew J. Hungerford. First, somehow Know fit this large set into the small corner of the lower level, and still provides plenty of seating, keeping the intimate feel. Virginie’s dim cabin is perfect for her, filled with herbs and skins, working lanterns, and a large glowing fireplace. Mara Tunnicliff is the Taxidermy Designer and she’s created some very believable pieces. Noelle Wedig-Johnston’s costumes add color and reflect the period, as does Doug Borntrager’s subtle but effective Sound Design.

Is there room in the play to eliminate the intermission, tighten and build to an uninterrupted conclusion? Oui. But if you’re in the mood for some mystery, professionally performed by some of Cincinnati’s top talent, Know is your place this Halloween season. Call 513-300-KNOW or go to for tickets.

UC CCM’s “Guys and Dolls” Bets on the Right Numbers

Review by Liz Eichler of “Guys and Dolls”: CCM Musical Theatre

UC’s CCM is staging a vibrant, lively version of a Golden Age Musical classic, “Guys and Dolls,” with a talented ensemble, creative team, and amazing orchestra creating quite a few memorable standout numbers.  Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, “Guys and Dolls” runs through October 27. It takes a while to build, but the payoff is in the second act, when the talent keeps coming.

Based on Damon Runyon’s colorful stories of 1940’s New York city characters, the play revolves around the antics of gambler Nathan Detroit (the role is double cast: Matt Copley opened the run, but alternates with Kevin Chlapecka) and his long-time fiancé Miss Adelaide (also double cast, I saw Anya Axel, but Kendall McCarthy alternates). Detroit and his cronies plan illegal “floating craps games” while dancer Adelaide is more than ready to ready to settle down after a 14-year engagement. The other unlikely couple is gambler Sky Masterson (Frankie Thams) who bets he can take Mission Sister Sarah Brown (Aria Braswell) to dinner in Cuba. He wins the bet but loses his heart. All are capable performers with some great individual moments.  During “Sue Me” between Nathan and Adelaide, “If I Were a Bell” between Sarah and Sky, and Sky’s “Luck be a Lady” the performers all get a chance to let go and belt out their hearts.

If you’ve seen (or been in) high school or community theatre production of “Guys and Dolls,” you have probably not been privy to the richness of dancing and choreography this CCM version provides. You will be impressed with the chorus, from when they first step on stage with unique characters in the stylized street scenes, to the well-executed and varied dances in the Havana scenes, to the Crapshooters Ballet which features so much enthusiastic dancing and acrobatics from the young cast it reminded me of “Newsies.”  When you think they’ve topped it, here comes “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” with masterful precision by the group that really understands movement, being led by the triple threat of Nick Berninger as Nicely Nicely Johnson, with professional comedic timing and delivery. He knows how to punch the jokes.

Director Diane Lala managed a lot of moving pieces, and as choreographer, she fills the stage with dancers and movers that are a joy to watch. The ensemble is amazing. Kudos for casting an alumnus as Arvide Abernathy, Sarah’s father. His “More I Cannot Wish You” was sweet and believable. The color pallet of the costumes and scenery is interesting and enjoyable.  Thomas C. Umfrid (Scenic Designer) planned wonderful moving pieces that adapt and impress in every scene.  The interior of the Mission is a warm authentic treat, but the lightpost is perfect. Costumer Designer Reba Senske’s clothing fit the performers and the period, with lightness and ease, accommodating the hundreds of high kicks throughout. The show is not without some issues. Audience comments at intermission concerned articulation and sound issues during the speaking segments (from patrons in their 20s to 70s, sitting in various parts of the theatre). However, the music can be heard, both from the amazing singers and the talented orchestra, conducted by Roger Grodsky.

“Guys and Dolls” runs through October 27. Contact or 513-556-4183 for tickets and more information.




CCM’s “Guys and Dolls” Is A Risky Bet

Review by Spenser Smith of Guys and Dolls: CCM Musical Theatre

Director Diane Lala states in her Director’s Note that Guys and Dolls “has been saluted as the perfect musical comedy.” The production now on stage at the Patricia Corbett Auditorium should take note.

Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, premiered in 1950. The musical is based on two short stories by Damon Runyon.The original Broadway production ran for 1200 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The show was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

These are awfully big shoes to fill. A “perfect musical comedy” with a heart. The story focuses on two relationships. We first meet Nathan Detroit (Matt Copley), the gambler tasked with finding a new venue for the “floating crap game.” He has to keep his dice habits away from Lieutenant Brannigan (Stone Mountain), and his eager-to-wed fiance Miss Adelaide (Anya Axel). Copley and Axel are a fine pair. Dialect coaches D’Arcy Smith and Kate Webster could have helped Copley by urging him to tone down his dialect. His dedication to the accuracy makes some lines unintelligible and that small criticism was amplified opening night with myriad sound issues. Axel couldn’t escape the soundboard on the fritz, but her strong singing voice needs no amplification. Her Adelaide caught me off guard. The role was written specifically for Vivian Blaine, the only lead actor to star in both major original productions and the 1955 movie. Twenty three years after her death, the role Blaine originated sixty eight years ago is her most notable triumph and the role for which she is most recognizable. Why? Take a look at the film. Blaine absolutely chews the scenery. She gets a laugh out of every possible moment. Most of the punchlines in the ninety-minute first act at CCM fall completely flat and the opening night audience was eerily quiet throughout. The relationship between Nathan and Adelaide should be funny. It’s supposed to be the polar opposite of the tepid courting between Sarah and Sky. Copley and Axel are both fine actors and I am not one to promote carbon-copy performances, but their interpretations of these iconic comedic roles leaves the scenery, designed by Thomas C. Umfrid, completely whole.

The other relationship involves Sarah Brown (Aria Braswell), who leads the Save A Soul Mission with her older and wiser confidante Arvide Abernathy (Dain Alan Paige). What she really doesn’t know is that her mission will be the subject of the next bet. Nathan Detroit is in need of $1,000 to host the latest crap game. Detroit decides his only way to get it is to bet Sky Masterson (Frankie Thams) that he can’t get Sarah to go to Havana with him. Masterson, a suave gambler who doesn’t lose a bet, takes him up on the offer. Braswell, an excellent soprano, begs the sound board operator to leave her microphone off when she belts out the “I’ll Know” tag. She can really wail. Thams, as Masterson, must charm his way into Sarah’s heart. He has to win the bet, after all. In their first scene together, Thams came off as brash and even mean. Remember, Sky needs something. If Sarah wasn’t put off by his unending advances from the start, she is now. Things improve from there, both for the characters and the performances. One thing is for sure, it feels like Sarah and Sky really like one another and I appreciated the honesty in that dynamic. I was genuinely glad Braswell’s Sarah wasn’t scared off by Thams’ Sky in that first mission scene.

The second half felt much more relaxed. The pace that dragged heavily for much of the first act seemed to pick up a little bit. Two moments most definitely did not disappoint. The Crapshooters Ballet, choreographed by Director Diane Lala, was fresh and fun. I have to point out it was awkward that they danced that whole number silently. Not unlike the dance in the Havana club, there was no ambient noise (hoots and hollers) from the ensemble. Since it went on for so long it seemed like a deliberate choice and one that should be reconsidered. Probably most notable is everyone’s favorite eleven o’clock number “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” sung by Nicely Nicely Johnson (Nick Berninger). When Nicely is forced to testify during the mission meeting, his off-the-cuff storytelling becomes deliciously entertaining. The swift choreo and stratospheric vocals are in their prime. I have only seen this number staged with Sky, Nathan and the gamblers, not the entire ensemble. The idea of making this a full production number is a welcomed change.

Tickets for Guys and Dolls, running through October 27, can be purchased by calling 513-556-4183.

“The Man-Beast” at the Know Theatre: The Beastman Always Rings Twice

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of The Man-Beast: Know Theatre

Jim Hopkins and Jennifer Joplin in “The Man-Beast”

18th century France. The terrible “Beast of Gevaudan”, a suspected werewolf, is ravaging the countryside killing victims. King Louis has offered 300 livre for its destruction. An outcast woodsman goes on the hunt and and almost brings him down before being mauled in the arm and escaping. He stumbles into the cabin of a mysterious woman, who may or may not be a witch, and together they form an uneasy alliance to claim the bounty.

With this premise, the Halloween season, and the theme of Know’s season–“Fear Itself”–you might assume that their latest offering, The Man-Beast, might resemble a classic Hollywood horror film. You would be wrong. Instead, The Man-Beast takes its inspiration from the very best of Hollywood’s film noir, like “Double Indemnity” or “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. It is a tale of passion and betrayal, a story of two people desperately trying to cling to love and avoid the inevitable consequences of greed and an immoral act. Oh, and then a little bit of well-placed horror sprinkled in.

The playwright, Joseph Zettelmaier, was responsible for two other recent Know favorites, “All Childish Things” and “Pulp”; although those plays could hardly be more different in setting and style than this one, they all share some of the features that make his plays a delight to watch: witty dialogue, incisive character development, and several twists that leave the audience guessing. My only quibble with the script was a certain inconsistency in style, at times more classic and old-world, at times more vernacular and modern, with a smattering of Frenchisms thrown in that seemed more deliberate than natural. Still, that hardly detracted from the enjoyment.

This two-person play was exquisitely cast with two Cincinnati-area notables–Jim Hopkins from the Shakespeare Company and Jennifer Joplin, well known to ETC and Human Race patrons. Hopkins, with his imposing frame and powerful baritone, embodies the feral hunter, Jean, perfectly. Joplin, as Virginie, brings wonderful humor and humanity to her role, while maintaining an aura of menace which grows as the play proceeds. Together, they have remarkable chemistry which lends authenticity to their complicated but compelling relationship.

The play is presented at the lower level near the bar, whose intimate setting, for the most part, served the play well. I did get distracted by the lanterns hung from the low ceiling which Hopkins had to frequently dodge (sometimes unsuccessfully). The night I was there, three tall gentlemen sat in the first row and the lack of graded levels of seating gave my wife and I a somewhat obstructed view. But otherwise the single set, designed by Andrew Hungerford–Virginie’s cabin–fit well in the space and was extremely well-appointed. Special kudos to the Prop Designer, Rebecca Armstrong. But the real star of this production was the taxidermy designer, Mara Tunnicliff. A large bear head dominates the set throughout the play, but pales in comparison with the realistic taxidermic creation presented in the second half, a stunning prop which I can’t imagine how it was created or found. Director Brant Russell wisely refrained from too many sound or lighting effects but let the suspense and horror arise from the characters and the story themselves. Those sound effects (Doug Borntrager) and lighting effects (Andrew Hungerford) that were used were well-placed and effective.

Overall The Man-Beast was a terrifying experience, more from its revelation of the human heart than any Hollywood monster. Don’t miss this great Halloween offering at the Know, running through November 9th. Tickets may be obtained from or from the box office,

Cincinnati Shakespeare’s “1984” Will Leave You Wide-eyed!

Review by Willie Caldwell of 1984: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

The second production of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 25thanniversary season is a shocker in more ways than one. Written by George Orwell and adapted to stage by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, 1984 tells the story of a dystopian future where, “war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

Written in 1949, Orwell’s novel is widely revered as one of the greatest political fiction and science-fiction novels of all time. The novel’s themes of totalitarian and authoritarian state governments resonate strongly with today’s political landscape and never-ending news cycle. Big Brother, doublethink, and thought-crime all play out in real time as the ruling party seeks to wipe out individualism and independent thinking through perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and propaganda.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the video and projections crated by Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan of Brave Berlin. As the founding directors of LumenoCity and Blink, Reynolds and McGowan skillfully create an atmosphere of claustrophobic tension and a heightened sense of paranoia. The use of technology and digital projection mapping helps to create a surreal world where nothing is quite what it seems and there is always the sense that someone is watching. This is made apparent as the audience is incorporated more than once through the use of live stream video. Audiences are accosted by sound and light for the duration of the performance which runs approximately 101 minutes without intermission.

While the use of technology is an overall triumph, there are places where the sound becomes deafening. The repeated use of a siren becomes somewhat uncomfortable as does several instances of an amplified voice which is simply too loud. Ushers offer ear plugs which I would recommend.

The cast is strong and works hard to blend the world of the play with the world of the audience. Actors routinely break the fourth wall and reference the similarities between Orwell’s 1984 and current day.

Justin McComb’s portrayal of Winston Smith begins quietly and remains understated for the first part of the play. As tensions rise and allegiances are tested, McComb works himself into a full fledge frenzy on stage. Sweat, spit, and blood become tools in his performance as he works to close the gap between the actors and the audience forcing us to question our own reality and leaving us to wonder, is this really a “play?’

Julia, played by Sara Clark, is methodical and almost robotic. Clark’s carefully crafted performance demonstrates skillful control and is matched by the sharp lines of her appearance. Clark is reminiscent of the femme fatale character and embodies the seductive siren who will ultimately bring disaster to any man who becomes involved with her. Clark and McComb balance each other quite nicely as tensions continue to rise and ultimately reveal a dramatic transformation of the set.

O’Brien, played by Jeremey Dubin, weaves between our protagonists in a parental way that is ominously reassuring. Dubin delightfully embodies an air of smugness that often accompanies unchecked authority.  His performance is meticulously matched by his sharp suit, tidy pocket square, and horn-rimmed glasses.

Overall, the production is unnerving, timely, and a bit too real. If you’re looking for a psychological thriller of Orwellian proportions, don’t miss Cincy Shake’s production of 1984. Especially as we gear up for the real horror of the fall season… midterm elections.

1984 runs from October 12 – November 3, 2018. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 513.381.2273.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Goes Back to the Future with “1984”

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of 1984: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Sara Clark in “1984”

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has departed from its Elizabethan roots frequently throughout the years, although perhaps never so markedly as this season, when it started with a Sondheim musical and now goes out on what may be its farthest limb ever with the regional premiere of Robert Icke’s and Duncan MacMillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s vision of a dystopian future, 1984. If you think 1984 has been rehashed in just about every way imaginable already, think again, as this adaptation has plenty of fresh ideas and twists which would be a thought-crime to spoil in this review.

Suffice it to say that the singular quality of this production of 1984is its attempt to make the audience as viscerally uncomfortable as its protagonists. The play runs just short of 100 minutes with no intermission; the audience is warned that no one who leaves the theatre will be readmitted. Spectators are gamely offered earplugs before the show begins for anyone who is sensitive to loud noises. A large staticky video screen dominates the set which at the beginning is trained on the audience itself—but the entire set becomes a projection full of a myriad of shifting images designed to keep us off-balance. The fourth wall between the actors and the audience is shattered more than once. Jay Woffington, CSC’s executive director, perhaps said it best when I greeted him after the show: “Did you survive?”

The plot of1984 needs little exposition for anyone in the world who has a pulse. Winston Smith is an everyman in living in an indeterminate future, working at the “Ministry of Truth” as a technician who erases records of any individuals whose memory the State, run by “Big Brother”, wants to eradicate; secretly he wants to help overthrow the oppressive government by joining a shadowy brotherhood run by the elusive Emmanuel Goldstein. He is cast appropriately as CSC’s ever-reliable everyman, Justin McCombs, who demonstrates he can step out of his usual penchant for lighter roles with intensity and authenticity. Sara Clark, also a consistent CSC favorite, is seductive and powerful as Julia, Winston’s romantic interest and fellow conspirator. Jeremy Dubin is mesmerizing and chilling as the elusive O’Brien. Various other roles are performed rivetingly by other members of the CSC ensemble, both familiar and unfamiliar. All of them are tightly directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, who despite the occasionally repetitive or wordy script manages to keep the action unflagging and the audience’s attention pinned.

CSC’s technical prowess is tested in this production and the capabilities of their new venue shine here. The set, designed by Justen N. Locke, while seemingly utilitarian, is quite expansive and undergoes a surprising transformation towards the end. Sound and lighting effects (by Andrew Hungerford and Douglas Borntrager, respectively) abound, ranging from the subtle to the histrionic. And, as noted above, the show relies heavily on video and projections designed by Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan of the Brave Berlin company. All of these effects were timed perfectly and always delivered.

It might be easy to suggest that 1984 has a peculiar relevance to audiences today because of our political climate—no matter which side of the political aisle you sit. But that would be disingenuous and do a disservice to the timelessness of Orwell’s masterpiece. The play explicitly rejects this notion in a brilliant framing device, which I won’t spoil for you either, but which makes it clear that the problems and ideas behind 1984 are ones which every people, of every age, must grapple with in their own way. And there are no easy answers. As we listen to Jeremy Dubin, as O’Brien, enjoining Winston Smith, we realize the choices we have to make are not morally unambiguous ones.

1984 may not be the most obvious theatrical choice for the Halloween season, but trust me, this production is every bit as terrifying and unnerving as the worst haunted house or horror movie you will see. Be advised, there are explicit scenes of graphic violence, torture, and sex in this production and it is not appropriate for younger viewers. 1984 runs through November 3rd at the Otto M. Budig theatre and tickets can be purchased on the CSC website, or by calling the box office.

CCM’s “Eurydice” is a Matter of Life and Death

Review by Doug Iden of Eurydice: CCM Acting

The drama Eurydice opens the CCM Studio Acting Series in the Cohen Family Studio Theater.  Based upon the Greek myth of Orpheus, Eurydice relates the updated parable about grief, the power of language to communicate and the struggle between life and death.

The play opens with two lovers (Eurydice, played by Madison Pullman, and Orpheus, played by Duncan Weinland) cavorting on the beach. They are in the prime of their lives and very happy.  Orpheus proposes to Eurydice who accepts.  Eurydice is enthralled with books, which has an ironic twist as the story progresses, while Orpheus is a musician and composer. This is also the first of many allusions to water which run throughout the play.

In the Underworld, we meet Eurydice’s father (James Egbert), who has managed to retain his ability to read and write, and remember the past despite being “dipped” in the river which is intended to obliterate all connections with the past. In Greek myth, the river is the boundary between the real world (life) and the Underworld (death).  Father writes letters to his daughter which she does not receive, but one is intercepted by The Interesting Man (Jabari Carter).  The Interesting Man entices Eurydice to his apartment with the promise that he will show her a letter from her father.  However, in his attempt to seduce her, Eurydice falls on the stairs and dies.

Thus, she is reunited with her father in the Underworld but, because she has been dipped in the river, she has no memories of the past or the ability to read and write. Her father patiently restores his daughter’s knowledge and a strong bond is created between them.

As Eurydice arrives in the Underworld, she is greeted by three Stones (played by Ella Eggold, Madeline Page-Schmit and Jack Steiner). The Stones, who often speak in unison, are a Greek Chorus which alternately provides commentary on the action,  and acts as the conscience and police force of the Underworld.  The Stones are appalled because Eurydice and her father have flagrantly violated the rules by reading and remembering.

We also meet the Lord of the Underworld (also played by Jabari Carter) who, as a child and later as a giant, tries to seduce Eurydice and warns her that she needs to conform. In the meantime, Orpheus is disconsolate with grief and writes music for her.  He attempts to communicate with her in the Underworld and, eventually, goes to the Underworld itself.

Eurydice is now in a situation where she must choose between her father and her husband and between life and death.

Led by Director Susan Felder, the acting is very good, led by Pullman’s Eurydice who must transform from a bright, almost naïve young living woman through grief, through confusion and ultimately through tragedy. Duncan Weiland as Orpheus also goes through a similar transformation.  Egbert’s Father is believable in an avuncular manner and represents reason and learning.  Carter’s multiple roles as the Interesting Man and two manifestations as the Lord of the Underworld (child and super-adult) are very effective as unctuous and duplicitous characters.  The Stones are both dramatic and hilarious as they react to the other characters.

The construction of the play is very interesting with a major emphasis on staging and lighting to help propel the story. The set is very sparse with a dark and stark aura.  Most of the “set design” by Abby Palen relies on props such as a blanket, an umbrella, buckets and a water pump and the construction of a room in the Underworld (which is prohibited) by Father who uses four poles and string to create the illusion.  The stage has a balcony which is used effectively to differentiate between life in the real world and the Underground which is shown solely on the main stage.  Thus, we see a literal division during the interplay between the living but grieving Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld.  There are also some interesting illusions such as the rainstorm in the elevator leading the Underworld.  The only real set piece is a cutout in the front of the stage representing the river.  (Several people coming into the theater almost had an unexpected bath (including me).)

The lighting (Elanor Quinn Eberhardt) is very effective in moving the action between various locations and represents multiple musical instruments in Orpheus’s love song to Eurydice composed by Duncan Weinland. The music, which is also prohibited by the Underworld, is sad  but makes the Stones cry when Orpheus appears.  There are also snippets of old songs which represent the tabooed memories of Father and his daughter.  Sound effects by Josh Windes also add to the atmospheric sense with rainfall and storms.  There are constant reminders of water which can either be cleansing or purge of the characters of their humanity.

This is a play that grows on you. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it and many of the apparently disparate parts are beginning to gel.  When I left the theater, I thought that this was merely an interesting play but now I think it is both interesting and well-devised.

So, as we approach the Halloween season, you can take a trip to the Underworld by viewing Eurydice at the Cohen Family Theater at CCM.