Theatre review

Arts Review


Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through Nov. 21

Running Time: 1 hr, 35 min

Every once in a while – sometimes once in a long while – a production comes along that not only overcomes its flaws, but transcends them. If you go see this St. Edward's University production, you'll see actors taking a lot of time – sometimes more time than necessary – delivering a script by Mary Zimmerman, based on the myths of Ovid. You'll hear these same actors often delivering their text in a stilted, flat manner, seeming to recite it rather than speak it naturally. You'll see some really cheesy directorial choices (such as dropping large paper Zs from on high while a character onstage sleeps) and some costume pieces that appear to have been culled from the reject bin at Burger King. But most importantly, you'll see a production so transcendent as to be almost ethereal.

I walked in with few expectations. I knew the work of director Christina J. Moore and some of the designers, but knew none of the actors and nothing about the play. I can't say that I was immediately entranced. Richard Isackes' set – a large pool of water surrounded by wooden walkways and backed by two large doors and flats painted with clouds – is interesting. Sarah Lankenau's costumes are reflective of both ancient and modern times. In each case, like the actors' delivery of the text, the choices are simple, sometimes deceptively so, and lacking in adornment. But the production snuck up on me. Zimmerman's script is a series of myths that focus on that most timeless subject, love. She begins with the story of Midas but omits the ending, leaving Midas to wander the earth in search of a stream that will wash the curse of gold from his hands. Story piles upon story with only the slightest narrative threads to string them together. Sometimes one myth comes in the middle of another. Some are familiar – Orpheus and Eurydice, for instance – some entirely unfamiliar, but all speak knowingly of love and do it in language as timeless, poetic, and evocative as the subject itself. "The soul wanders through the dark until it finds love, and so wherever our love goes, there we find our soul." Throughout, Moore's actors wade into the pool. Often, they enter and exit by diving under the water and swimming under the doors. Sometimes fog floats out from under the doors and covers the water, and things appear out of the fog. It is utterly beautiful. The longer I watched and listened, the more enthralled I became, until the end, which was entirely expected, but no less powerful for being foreseen, and I was reduced to a quivering, teary mass of gelatinous goo.

No one can tell you what love is, despite the proliferation of stories about it. Love is like grace; it comes to you whether you seek it or not, without warning and without consideration. Love is a mystery of pleasure and pain, a mystery of the mind and, especially, of the heart. But whether or not we look for it, once it finds us, we want to be cleansed in its fire. This production is full of the burning grace of love and the wisdom that comes from having loved well. It evokes a mystery like no other, in words of love like few I've ever heard: "Let me die the moment my love dies. Let me not outlive my own capacity to love. Let me die still loving, and so, never die."

It is, quite simply, lovely.

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