The Trip has carved an interesting piece of metatheater from the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. The troupe’s Orpheus and Eurydice premiered in San Diego in December 2014 and has now alit at New York’s Theaterlab for just a few days.
Not just set in modern times, this version of the ancient tale is also steeped in the broadband age, prefaced by a series of clips you’re meant to watch online beforehand, and closing with a long Bergmanesque video sequence presented on stage. The latter, in widescreen black-and-white and at least looking like analog film, silently relates the myth’s climactic episode, Eurydice’s aborted return from the underworld led by Orpheus. The gods have granted the tragic musician-hero a second chance for life with his beloved provided he refrains from looking back at her until they’ve reached safe earthly ground.
But the meat of the show comes first: the wedding. The audience plays the invited guests and a cast of six enacts the tense setup of the reception as Orpheus prepares to meet his bride face-to-face for the first time. The pair have courted only by phone and online, exchanging enigmatic and (to be honest) rather boring flirtatious videos, which if we’ve done our homework we’ve watched prior to attending the show.
The stage show beats the creative energy of the videos by an order of magnitude. The wedding sequence sags only during a replay of a few of those videos. This Orpheus and this Eurydice are much more fun and interesting in person.
With comedy, song, theatrical self-reference, and an exciting half-abstract half-interpretive dance, the story, or more accurately the event, unfolds in more or less real time, shepherded by Orpheus’s roommate Josh, who buzzes about in a controlling manner but loses his grip when catastrophe strikes. Then, as the happy wedding spins into tragedy, the production lurches through two jolting changes in pace and mood.
And here the experiment goes awry, as we shift from being led happily from sequence to sequence to being mired first and for too long in the shock of Eurydice’s death, then for much too long in the beautifully shot but tedious film. Maybe Tom Dugdale and his team wanted to broaden the show’s avant-garde structure to purposefully test the audience’s patience. Maybe they loved their footage so much – and it’s awfully scenic – they couldn’t bear to edit it down. Either way, it sends us out into the world with a muted, somber feeling in opposition to what the preceding live action set up.
Not that there’s anything wrong with flouting expectations – and of course the foundational story has about the saddest ending human imagination has ever cooked up. It’s only that from a theatrical standpoint, as an audience member willfully opening my emotions to artistic manipulation, I felt let down by the closing segments. Tragedy and disappointment are two different things.
That said, the disappointment arose because of the fun of the main staged sequence. I’m glad I got the opportunity to see this interesting experiment, with its crisply talented, highly energetic and clearly committed cast. Most of it is a hoot. And even with (and partly because of) the unsatisfying end, I found myself mulling over the nightmarish yet endlessly fresh story of Orpheus and Eurydice long after I’d left the theater.
Orpheus and Eurydice has just two more performances at Theaterlab’s Off-Off-Broadway space on West 36th St. in Manhattan, running through July 20.