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Blog Less Traveled: A sincere request from Jon Elston

Jon Elston has plans for you.

blog by Jon Elston  • 

I’m Jon Elston, literary director and co-founder of Road Less Traveled Productions, and your guest blogger this week on the Blog Less Traveled. Furthermore, I hope to assist in planning your social calendar this weekend. Nothing scheduled for Saturday night? Fighting off the mid-August, post-Infringement/pre-Curtain Up! theater-free doldrums? Already seen Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream… twice? Or maybe you just can’t wait for the Western New York premiere of Pulitzer Prize nominee Sarah Ruhl’s Clean House at the Road Less Traveled Theater in April 2013.

I have just the thing to scratch every last one of those itches. Yes, it’s a very special one-night-only reading of Eurydice—Ruhl’s 2002 update of the classic Greek myth—at 8 p.m. tonight at the Road Less Traveled Theater (639 Main St., Buffalo).

Nobody asked me, but for the record, Eurydice is my hands-down favorite of Ruhl’s plays to date. Now that’s to say nothing against the truly visionary In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, which was met with much praise in its New York City run and also in last season’s Western New York premiere at the New Phoenix Theater…or Melancholy Play, a unique and highly charming la ronde that many local theatergoers still remember from a University at Buffalo production starring Jessica Wegrzyn from several years back…or from the daffy and sinister Dead Man’s Cell Phone or even from Clean House, which obviously RLTP thinks highly enough of to produce as part of our 2012-2013 season.

But my own bleeding heart beats truest for Eurydice, a singular blend of romance, humor and tragedy that seems to define that peculiar brand of 21st century modern drama existing simultaneously within and between standard genre classifications like surrealism, magical realism and absurdism. Characters speak to us (and each other) in life, in death and in afterlife. A suave Adult Man later reappears as a mewling, tantrum-prone toddler on a tricycle. Love letters might just as well be read with the soles of one’s feet as with one’s eyes. Ruhl didn’t invent or introduce these sorts of (highly) theatrical conceits, but she has united them so masterfully and effortlessly in Eurydice that they actually reinforce the conviction of a world where physical realities are negotiable, even fleeting, but emotional and spiritual reality is universal, manifest and eternal.

So anyway, there’s this young lady named Eurydice (who we are lucky enough to have essayed by the always delightful Cassie Gorniewicz) and she’s engaged to be wed to a musician named Orpheus (WNY theater’s It Guy of 2012, Jacob Albarella—he’s everywhere, and with good reason), and gosh, these two kids are crazy in love.

But don’t go websurfing for china patterns on their registry just yet! A mysterious and nasty (yet interesting) stranger shows up at Orpheus and Eurydice’s wedding ceremony. When WNY theatre aficionados think of a nasty and interesting man, they’re most likely to think of—that’s right—the one and only David Oliver. Anyone who relished David’s performance as an unnervingly reasonable Satan in RLTP’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot will scarcely be surprised that the particular nasty and interesting man who crashes Orpheus’ wedding is none other than the Lord of the Underworld, who (after an unfortunate turn of events) whisks Eurydice away to his damp and overcast kingdom.

There, Eurydice is reunited with her loving father (Dave Lundy, making a rare and much-appreciated return to the stage from his recent sabbatical), but still longs to be by Orpheus’ side. Her attempts to contact her beloved intended, and Orpheus’ simultaneous attempts to rescue Eurydice, set in motion a bittersweet denouement that may bring to mind O. Henry, or Romeo and Juliet, or, well, maybe your own life.

But did I mention that Eurydice is a comedy? Probably not, since such traditional/classical definition makes sense (the title character is, after all, dead for most of the play)—and yet there’s so much humor in Ruhl’s vision of the underworld—by turns warm, by turns irreverent. The youthful optimism of the protagonists never flags, even in the face of their most dire situation, while nominal antagonist Hades is less threatening than he is merely peevish and poorly behaved. Then there’s the clownish trio of hellish denizens who mock, attempt to discourage and just generally irritate the cast at every turn:  longtime RLTP fav Bonnie Jean Taylor; Carlton Franklin (fresh from the Artie-nominated Ensemble of RLTP’s Superior Donuts) and Rebecca Ward, an accomplished local talent making her first appearance on our stage. I can’t think of a more hilariously annoying Greek chorus in the entirety of the ancient pantheon.   

Fans of Last Days of Judas Iscariot may find much to similarly savor in Eurydice, even beyond David Oliver in fine diabolic form. An elevator serves as a key centerpiece in both plays, but moreover Ruhl and Stephen Adly Guirgis share a searingly humanistic perspective on the Afterlife (even if their storytelling and especially their styles of dialogue sharply diverge). Guirgis’ Purgatory and Ruhl’s Underworld eschew tangible torments (coals or hot pokers) in favor of a more spiritual malaise (guilt, loss, despair) and characters in both plays must confront the ways in which the ability to forgive and/or forget may allow them to transcend their unearthly prisons. Though there is no pat Happy Ending to Ruhl’s updated fairy tale, love (and the undying possibility of love) redeems our hero and heroine and provides the audience with far more catharsis than any easy deus ex machine ever could.

Every summer, RLTP’s Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop presents a high quality reading of an outstanding play by one of the authors to be produced during RLTP’s coming season. This year, we’re very lucky to have actress/director Victoria Perez helming this special reading of Eurydice, in advance of her starring role in next Spring’s production of Clean House. Admission to Saturday’s reading of Eurydice is only $10 and proceeds will benefit the Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop (NPW), RLTP’s in-house mechanism for supporting WNY writers in the development of their original plays—it not only underwrites tuition for this year’s participating playwrights, but it also helps pay the NPW’s inimitable and irreplaceable Director, Kyle LoConti. Tickets to Eurydice may be be purchased at the RLTT Box Office beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday or may be reserved by phone at (716) 629-3069… or, buy them directly through your favorite NPW Playwright!

I hope to see you there. I will be the giggling, sobbing mess in the front row. You are more than welcome to borrow my hanky if you need it.

TAGGED: eurydice, jon elston, new play workshops, road less traveled productions, road less traveled theater

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