Theater Reviews

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Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles
Through June 17


It's hard not to admire the Odyssey Theatre's courage in presenting a play "dealing with the American penchant for denying the realities of mortality." But in using the Orpheus legend, brought up to date and set in a storage facility "somewhere between now and a mythical time," "Sliding Into Hades" succeeds more as a concept than as spiritual illumination or theatrical entertainment.

It's not for lack of trying. For one thing, despite a menu of metaphysical calories, there's a light and charming touch throughout that begins when the first of the multiple Eurydices (Diana Cignoni) tells the first of the multiple Orpheuses (Eric Losoya), "I don't date musicians."

Other virtues of the production include its pace, which is surprisingly swift and full of energy and endearing charm; a provocatively imaginative and fully utilized set; a great selection of music (much of it in a French abstract vein); and an audience-friendly length of about 80 minutes.

There also is much to admire in the clever mythic equivalents that playwright Aaron Henne finds in modern life and in making the dying Orpheus (Alan Abelew) the play's key character. Unfortunately, there is simply too little time for the full force to be felt of the old poet's return, Scrooge-like, to accompany the young Orpheus on his fateful journey to the underworld.

Ultimately, however, the well-chosen and earnest cast, acting as if they had been encouraged by director Ron Sossi to maximize their vocal and physical creativity, is left in the dust raised by the episodic haste and confusion with which the story is told.

It's also a shame that Henne's graceful writing, including rhymed couplets at the start, eventually tails off into more conventional, if still forceful, prose. And though there is a strong sense that the performance has special personal meaning to the actors, due perhaps to a death in the company which delayed the opening for a week, its power is muted by being generalized.

The acting is variable. Abelew verges on outstanding for most of the evening, creating moments of Lear-like despair at the end. Beth Hogan plays a variety of characters -- including a riotous drunken boat-person who ferries the dead across the Styx -- with strength, passion and purpose.

As young Orpheus, Losoya anchors the first third of the play with an abundance of distraught emotion and impressive amounts of energy spent scampering around the set. The two main Eurydices, Cignoni and Marina Bakica, meet their simpler challenges more easily, their Teutonic and Latin accents appropriately suggest their exotic natures, and more than beautiful enough to make Orpheus' infatuation convincing.

Both Cary Thompson and Ochuwa Oghie transform their mostly secondary roles into scene-stealing magic by their willingness to risk and innovate, and with their charismatic stage presence.

The subject matter and the approach for "Hades" derive from the nature of the Koan Ensemble, the Odyssey's "in-house, process-oriented, resident ensemble company dedicated to in-depth exploration of the larger metaphysical questions that haunt our species."

Previous productions have included works about Faust, Buddha and Kafka. If such heavy-duty theater appeals, you won't want to miss Orpheus.

SLIDING INTO HADES
Presented by Koan, the Odyssey Theatre's Resident Ensemble Company
Credits:
Created by: Odyssey Theatre's Koan Ensemble
Playwright: Aaron Henne
Director: Ron Sossi
Producer: Ron Sossi
Set designers: Hans Pfleiderer, Julianne Elizabeth Eggold
Lighting designer: Kathi O'Donohue
Sound designer: Kurt Thum
Music selections: Ron Sossi
Costume designer: Swinda Reichelt
Movement and choreography: Myrna Gawryn
Cast:
Eric Losoya, Diana Cignoni, Marina Bakica, Alan Abelew, Beth Hogan, Ochuwa Oghie, Cary Thompson
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