Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Emilie and her partner Olivia live in a small fifth-floor walk-up. At the start of the play, we see Emilie fully focused on shaping a mound of clay on her potting wheel. Later she meets her father David at the Museum of Modern Art, David carving out a small block of time from his busy work schedule. Emilie has plans in place for David to meet Olivia, a meeting that seems to be long overdue. However, Emilie is struck by a car and descends into a coma, and Olivia and David end up meeting for the first time at Emilie's bedside. Each is distraught by the state in which they find Emilie and they maintain hope that in a day, or two, or three, Emilie will reenter their world. The days become weeks and painful decisions must be made, which put David and Olivia into conflict. An act of love brings resolution to the dilemma.
Most of the experience is seen through the eyes of David or Olivia. However, there are moments when we enter Emilie's mind, comatose to the outside world, but alive within. In balletic scenes, Emilie is soloist, the remainder of the ensemble her nemesis. She appears lost, frightened, and trapped in an internal existence. Her perceptions ricochet in unfamiliar ways, as she seeks escape, though whether it is back to her life or to reach beyond this life is not clear.
The power of Emilie/Eurydice lies more in the storytelling than in the story. With their trademark approach to collaboratively developing original work through physical theater, the eight member cast of Emilie/Eurydice not only portray identified characters and unnamed persons who populate the scenes, through movement and imagination they create the settings and properties, and produce the sounds that form a very specific backdrop to the narrative.
A hospital milieu is skillfully created through movement and imagination: the tests conducted on Emilie, the vital signs charts, a cart carrying IV replacements, the constant application of hand sanitizer, even the hospital bed. Though nothing is on stage but the actors, the activity and environment could not feel more authentic. Those who have lived through this will recognize the surreal state, de-coupled from daily affairs, that takes hold when we are suddenly drawn into orbit around a crisis of life or death. Every detail, from the nurse's routine of blowing open the surgical gloves she dons before examining Emilie, to the swinging doors that separate the anomie of the hospital waiting room from the fast-paced anxiety of the corridors, is made present with not a prop or scenic element in sight.
The ensemble not only practices physical theater with skill and artistry, but also creates recognizable human characters. Joy Dolo essays a moving Olivia, tender and resilient, navigating her way through heartwrenching loss. Eric Marinus finds within David a paternal and protective nature that perhaps he had given a back seat to his work. We see him flailing in efforts to take charge of a situation that defies clear direction. Allison Witham is a joy as the nurse, who always knows what to say to ease the worry or discomfort of loved ones, and cares tenderly for Emilie. Natalie Remus plays the doctor as competent, dedicated and direct. We see her trying to give patients and their loved ones the humane care they deserve within a system that requires her to be crisply efficient.
As Emilie, Heather Bunch is at the center of the play. In the early scenes, Bunch establishes Emilie as strong willed and focused on what truly matters, which for her is Olivia and her pottery. This informs her vibrant inner responses while comatose. For the majority of Emilie/Eurydice, she is in a reactive mode, silently responding to the hospital tumult around her. When we enter her mind, Bunch reveals Emilie's sense of free-fall, of existing outside time or space, with a desperation that lacks any direction. She moves with grace, while making visible the tension within Emilie's mind and body.
While soundsphones, walk/don't walk signals, hospital monitorsare created by the ensemble, Emily Dantuma's performance on cello (which she occasionally uses to create other sounds) provides a consistent stream, using original music composed by Dantuma and excerpts from Saint-Saëns and Bach to give the story emotional touch points.
What of the connection to Eurydice? Though there are varied versions of the myth, all rest upon the deep love between Eurydice and the musically gifted Orpheus. In the most common telling, Eurydice dies from a snake bite, and descends to the Underworld, ruled by Hades. Orpheus appeals for her release by playing beautiful, heartfelt songs that convey his grief. His heart softened by Orpheus's music, Hades agrees to this, with the provision that Eurydice must walk behind Orpheus, and that he not look back at her until they have exited the gates of the Underworld. Almost through the exit, Orpheus cannot restrain himself and looks back to be sure Eurydice has followed him, only to lose her again ... until, upon his own death, he joins her for eternity.
The theme of love lost to a death-like state, then reclaimed, certainly applies to both stories. The love between Eurydice and Orpheus runs parallel to the love between Emilie and Olivia, and the power of music has a special place in both stories. This much connection is easily discerned. Emilie's story is more complicated than the myth, with two loves, for her partner and her father, and a complex medical system to contend with. On the other hand, nothing in the current play indicates that Emilie will relapse and be sent back to her death-like state, as happened to poor Eurydice.
Perhaps, more than anything, the place of "Eurydice" in the title is to bring home how ancient and inherently human are feelings of grief and loss, and how tenacious is our ability to hope for the victory of life over death. Emilie/Eurydice is a lovely work, moving in its depiction of the way the course of life can change on a dime, and the depth of feelingsloss, grief, anger, regret ... and, to be sure, hopethat accompany us through those chapters of our lives.
Emilie/Eurydice continues through November 21, 2015, at the Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets are $17.00 - $25.00. For tickets call 612- 339-4944 or go to illusiontheater.org.
Conceived and Directed by Isabel Nelson; Created by the Ensemble; Music: Emily Dantuma; Lighting Designer: Mike Wangen; Stage manager: Sarah Bauer; Production Manager: Sarah Salisbury; Technical Director: Aaron Shoenrock.
Cast: Heather Bunch (Emilie/ Ensemble), Emily Dantuma (Cello), Joy Dolo (Olivia/Ensemble), Alex Hathaway (Ensemble), Eric Marinus (David/Ensemble), Derek Lee Miller (Ensemble), Natalie Remus (Doctor/Ensemble), Allison Witham (Nurse/ Ensemble).