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December 11th, 2009

Orpheus X

When there's company in town, we like to show them a good time. And Chiara loves the theatre and there's not a lot of that in coastal Maine in winter. So we went to the theatre two nights running, although we did try for variety, so nobody would get bored. (That's a joke.)

We so succeeded. Orpheus X is as unlike Love's Labors Lost as a theatrical experience well could be.

In the first place it's kind of an opera. Well, a lot of it is sung, anyway, although there are patches of spoken dialogue, some of it in verse. The music is modern classical--tonal, often dissonant, with not a lot in the way of traditional melody. Except when it's slightly bent rock n' roll. It's a modern take on the Orpheus legend, with Orpheus as a rock star and Euridice a poet with whom he becomes obsessed after her death although he'd never met her before the taxi he was riding in hit and killed her. It opens in his recording studio, where he has set up an altar to her and is composing songs about her while his manager tries to get him to eat, to sleep, to come out and sing to the fans who are camping outside his door, waiting for him to come out of his self-imposed exile. The manager has long, crimped hair, lovely long hands, a long, swirly raincoat, and a voice that goes from baritone to male alto without a hitch. He also plays Persephone, Queen of the Dead, who fills Euridyce in on what to expect in the Underworld. "Poets do well here," he sings. "Novelists and screenwriters can't stand the lack of narrative."

It's a remarkable production. There's a lot of business--with instruments, with costumes, with projections of a naked woman walking back and forth in a ruined corridor and honey pouring and waves for the River Styx, and Euridice scrawling Greek letters across plexiglass panels and the edge of the stage with sidewalk chalk because you're not allowed pens in the underworld, but "chalk is just organized dust." At the end, she tears off Orpheus's blindfold, choosing to stay dead and not come back because it's all too clear that he wants her back for his sake, not hers. What she wants is closure, which Persephone gently and very movingly gives her.

I love Rinde Eckert as much as ellen_kushner does--although less eloquently. I suppose it's silly to complain that he's not as famous as he should be, with his show up on Broadway, although as a limited run at a smallish theatre that specializes in offbeat and out-there work. He's certainly one of the stars of weird-ass performances, not as famous as Laurie Anderson, but up there. Have you heard of him? If so, whaddya think?

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