The Filament Theatre Ensemble has a penchant for the unusual and the imaginative. Their last show transformed an apartment into a theatre with only sound and gesture. This time they’ve turned an old macaroni factory into the Underworld. As usual, they’ve put creativity, humor, innovation and entertainment together to create another unique experience through the staging of two separate plays, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice and Omen Sade’s Orpheus, performed in succession.
The macaroni factory in question is now Lacuna Artist Lofts, located in one of Chicago’s more industrial areas somewhere between Pilsen and Chinatown. Filament Theatre has truly taken advantage of the space. The wide expanses of empty rooms with rough wooden floors and wide windows create an atmosphere not unfitting for the Underworld: It’s not a dreary feeling, but one of slight depression created by so much emptiness. The location also allows for an interactive experience; the large room that replaces the stage and seating area permits the play to be viewed from different angles depending on your seats (in Eurydice) and the actors to be followed (in Orpheus). There’s no barrier between play and audience as they adapt this ancient story.
The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is an ancient Greek myth about two lovers: Orpheus, a famous poet and singer, and his beloved Eurydice, who dies on their wedding day. Orpheus goes down to the Underworld to rescue her and plays such beautiful music that he manages to pass through the gates of hell, but cannot save Eurydice from death. It is only when he comes back to the living world and is killed by robbers that he can be reunited with her in death.
Both Sarah Ruhl and Omen Sade offer unique takes on the story. Ruhl’s version sees the myth as the story of two very different people who are in love: A musician, and a reader and thinker. Thus, Eurydice’s death becomes a way to explore the “disconnect” between the two lovers. Although there are a few discrepancies in Ruhl’s writing (once Eurydice arrives in the Underworld she suddenly appears with a very posh air and demands a porter, a bath, and a continental breakfast, as opposed to her earlier, much more laid-back attitude), the story is mostly engaging. Her script is only part of the overall experience, though, and the actors and production also contribute to a truly poignant performance. Orpheus (Peter Oyloe) truly evokes grief at the loss of Eurydice, especially when coupled with the gorgeous symphony he “composes” while grieving. It’s touching in a very operatic way. Even in the modern era when the entire scenario of going to the Underworld feels foreign, Eurydice (Carolyn Faye Kramer) makes the Underworld and what it means seem very real. Most importantly, however, she makes us truly care about the tragedy of the story.
Sade’s Orpheus, though not as poignant a tale as Eurydice, is nevertheless another unique adaptation. Orpheus has been transformed from a wandering singer into a combination of beat-boxer and pop-idol surrounded by screaming fan girls. But it is the quiet girl in the corner that he falls for, and their love is unquestionably sweet. This performance is even more interactive than Filament’s usual shows. The audience participates in the story by acting as the guests of the wedding or the dancers of the nightclub. DJ Fate is another clever addition. By controlling the music he controls the story, for each scene has its own musical accompaniment. This, in addition to the lack of dialogue in this play (it is told through music and action), creates the sense of a world controlled by fate. This idea of people as puppets without words is difficult to accept, which made the story less relatable than Eurydice. However, the sheer novelty of the location and theatrical experience was more than enough to make up for this. The myth’s unique re-imaginings and interactive experience make this yet another success for Filament Theatre.