Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: 2013’s Most Memorable Theater Moments

Marissa Skudlarek jumps on the end of year list bandwagon.

“Nothing is forever in the theater. Whatever it is, it’s here, it flares up, burns hot, and then it’s gone.”

—Karen (Celeste Holm) in All About Eve

Theater is an ephemeral art, so I’m dedicating my last column of the year to celebrating five of my most memorable theatergoing moments in 2013. I don’t quite consider this an official “best of” or “top five” list; it’s more a record of five times in 2013 when theater did what it ought to do: surprised me, jolted me, thrilled me. They are arranged in chronological order.

Act Two of Troublemaker, at Berkeley Rep – I didn’t find Dan LeFranc’s comedy-drama about a troubled middle-school boy 100% effective, but parts of it delighted me beyond measure. As I wrote on my blog at the time: “Act One toggles back and forth between realism and stylization; Act Two goes completely nuts; and Act Three brings it back down to earth to for a more naturalistic, emotional resolution. That second act, though, man… it might be the craziest thing I’ve seen at a Big Theater in a long time. There’s a soup kitchen populated by homeless pirate zombies, the rich kid lounges on a divan as “Goldfinger” plays, our heroes do an unconvincing drag act (leading up to a gay kiss that managed to draw gasps from the liberal-Berkeley audience), Bradley’s smart and mouthy friend Loretta turns into a pint-sized femme fatale… I watched it in disbelief and giddy delight that Berkeley Rep was producing this in such lavish style.”

Finale of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, at Kazino (NYC) – This show is a sung-through, pop-opera adaptation of the section of War and Peace where young Natasha Rostova nearly runs off with a lothario named Anatole. I had seen Dave Malloy’s earlier Russian-themed musical Beardo at Shotgun Players and felt ambivalent about it: it was very clever, but also very arch, and it kept me emotionally distant. The opening scenes of Natasha, Pierre had some of that same winking irony, but by the end, it became heart-on-sleeve sincere. Despite war, scandal, and Russian melancholia, Natasha and Pierre achieve a measure of peace and understanding — symbolized by the passing of the great comet (itself represented by a beautiful chandelier). What began as a boisterous Russian party ended on a note of subtle delicacy. Shotgun, or some other Bay Area company, had better plan to produce this as soon as the rights become available, because I want to see it again.

End of Act One of A Maze, at Just Theater – If a play is titled A Maze, you can’t fault its first act for being puzzling and mysterious. Rob Handel’s script interweaves four different stories, three of them basically realistic and one a strange fairy tale or fable. At the end of Act One, though, all of the stories come together in a way that seems obvious in hindsight, but is completely astonishing (amazing?) in the moment when it occurs. I saw a lot of full-length plays this year, but A Maze was the one where I couldn’t wait for intermission to be over because I had to know what would happen in Act Two. I can’t go into any more detail than that, because it would be a spoiler; but if you want to experience this moment for yourself, Just Theater will be re-mounting its production in February 2014.

Ellen’s Undone, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival – Sam Hurwitt is one of my favorite Bay Area theater critics; his reviews are thoughtful and candid, and my tastes seem to align pretty well with his. But knowing what makes a good play doesn’t guarantee that you can also write a good play. Hurwitt, though, made an impressive playwriting debut with Ellen’s Undone, a contemporary interpretation of the Helen of Troy story. It’s a full-length play with just two characters, one set, and two long scenes – constraints that would challenge even a far more experienced playwright. This 100-minute argument between two smart, stubborn, acidly witty people reminded me of nothing so much as a modern-day Noel Coward comedy (perhaps it helped that Maggie Mason employed her natural English accent to play Ellen). A triumph for Hurwitt and for the San Francisco Olympians Festival as well – which continues to present an impressive variety of new theater every year.

Tinker Bell’s death scene in Peter/Wendy, at Custom Made – J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan depicts a whimsical world, where children can fly by thinking happy thoughts, and even the villains are comically blustering or incompetent. Still, there are darker and more adult undercurrents throughout, which burst to the forefront in the scene where Tink drinks poison to save Peter’s life. Anya Kazimierski (Tink) was honest and raw and terrifying in her death scene, and then there was a long moment as Sam Bertken (Peter) cradled Tink’s body and regarded the audience, seemingly trying to make eye contact with every single person there, stretching out the tension until we could hardly stand it. Finally – and without Sam needing to ask us the famous question – someone in the row behind me piped up “I believe in fairies!” And then another person in another section: “I believe in fairies!” It was a magical moment because the play got a little out of control from what the actors had expected; it was a magical moment because we, as an audience, were all in it together.

These were five of the moments where everything clicked for me, as an audience member watching a performance. But they wouldn’t happen without those moments earlier in the theater-making process where everything clicks for the cast and crew – those miraculous moments in the rehearsal room where you realize that, oh wow, this is actually going to work. So I also want to acknowledge some of my most memorable moments as a playwright: my living-room reading of Orphée last January, when I learned that my translation was playable; the first read-through of Teucer, in which actors Eli Diamond and Carl Lucania were already firing on all cylinders; rehearsing my one-minute play Cultural Baggage and making some subtle cuts so that its three overlapping monologues fit together perfectly. To everyone who made these and all of my theater experiences of 2013 possible, thank you.

Like a great comet, theater flares up, burns hot, and then it’s gone.

And I do believe in fairies.

Marissa Skudlarek wishes you a New Year sprinkled with fairy dust.

Advertisements

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Someone Had to Throw a Bomb

Marissa Skudlarek unpacks the luggage, la-la-la…

On Monday April 15th, around lunchtime here on the West Coast, the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I saw the headlines, kept the breaking news feed open in my internet browser. I watched the shaky footage of the explosions, with the Boston cop saying “This is fucked up ovah heah.”

And then I recalled that I was producing a show that night at Theater Pub, and quickly reviewed the script of Orphée in my head, wondering if the day’s events would lend any moments in the play an unintended resonance. I realized, with a jolt, that in the first scene of the play, Orphée says “Someone had to throw a bomb.” He’s speaking metaphorically, of course – he’s expressing his belief that the artist’s duty is to “throw a bomb, create a scandal, [provide] one of those storms that refresh the air.” Nonetheless, I wondered if it was appropriate to include that line in performance, on a day when real bombs (not metaphorical ones) had been thrown. Would it upset the audience? Would it prejudice them against the character of Orphée?

I emailed the director, Katja Rivera, and the actor playing Orphée, Andrew Chung, to say I was thinking of cutting the line. Both of them responded that they’d prefer if I left it in, and, upon reflection, I decided that they were right. If we left the script as is, we’d make a statement that art cannot be constrained or cowed by terrorism. And if our audience was mildly scandalized, so be it – one of the messages of Orphée is that true poets do not fear scandal and death. If we cut the line, I realized, we’d betray the spirit of Jean Cocteau. And the terrorists would win.

And really, why should I be afraid to leave the “Someone had to throw a bomb” line in the play when, all around me, people were doing far braver and bolder and more provocative things with their art? For the 2012 Olympians Festival, Stuart Bousel wrote a play (Twins) based on the myth of Artemis and Apollo killing Niobe’s twelve children – and then the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred the day before Stuart’s staged reading. Stuart didn’t cancel the reading, though he did warn the audience that the play dealt with a difficult and sensitive subject. Perhaps some people stayed home rather than see a play about the murder of children; perhaps a few people were offended. But many of the people who did go see the reading found it incredibly cathartic and moving. No Olympians Festival show has ever made people weep the way they did at the reading of Twins that night. Art needs to tell difficult truths; otherwise, it’s just pabulum.

I attended some of the 2012 Olympians Festival readings with the man who is now my boyfriend. The festival must’ve made quite an impression on him, because a few weeks later, he wrote me an email telling me about a dream he’d had:

I dreamed that we were at the Olympians Festival and the city was in panic because  the gods were coming to punish us for blaspheming them. “But we didn’t blaspheme them,” I protested. “Oh, but we did,” you said, turning to Stuart, “in so-and-so’s play and in what’s-his-name’s play too, really.” You turned back to me and nodded slightly. You seemed not the least bit concerned and Stuart had his usual air of interest and mild amusement. Your body language suggested that this was part of the writer’s life: sometimes you win trophies, sometimes you inspire blogs, and sometimes ancient gods come to punish the city, and that’s just how it is.

I was flattered that he was dreaming about me, of course, but even more flattered by the way that I appeared in his dream. I liked how the dream-Marissa had the artistic and moral courage to say “An artist must be permitted to write whatever he wants, even if he blasphemes the gods and attracts divine retribution.” These sentiments also seemed to tie in nicely with Stuart’s Theater Pub blog post about artistic courage (otherwise known as “the post with all of the Lord of the Rings in-jokes”), which appeared the same week my boyfriend had this dream.

In real life, I may not yet have the courage of Eowyn the Shield-Maiden, or of Orphée the poet who faces an angry mob, or of the coolly nonchalant figure in my boyfriend’s dream. But I’m trying to be braver and more honest in my work this year. I’m trying to live up to that ideal.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Katja Rivera: Reigning Orpheus Interpreter Of The Bay Area

We’re doing a double post today because Orpheus is part of a pair and so is our director du jour, Katja Rivera! She’s not only directed tonight’s Theater Pub, but also directed the recently opened EURYDICE at Custom Made Theater Company. We wanted to know what it’s like to have the same story so much on the brain and with a headshot this charming we think you’ll agree there’s always room for quality time with Katja.

Seriously. How can you not live this smile?

Seriously. How can you not love this smile?

So, how did you end up with your hands full of Orpheus and Eurydice?

Ah, synchronicity. Marissa Skudlarek had been working on her translation of Orphee at the same time I was working on Eurydice at Custom Made, so she thought it would be fun to have me do both.

And how did you get involved with this reading?

Lovely Marissa asked me. I had directed a play of hers at last year’s Pint Sized Festival (“Beer Theory”), and she felt I’d be a particularly good match. How could I say no?

What do you consider the major differences between Sarah Ruhl’s version of the story and Cocteau’s?

Ruhl uses the myth to explore the grief she’s experienced since her father’s death, and really, to get a chance to spend some more time with her pops. It’s poetic, visceral. It reminds me of of Alice in Wonderland. Cocteau’s version explores the myth surrealistically, and focuses more on the relationship between Eurydice and Orphee. And it has a happier ending.

Is there anything that stands out to you as a real strength of Coctaeu’s vision?

The element of magic and carnival, which in a full production would be a blast to explore.

What are some of the differences between directing a reading and directing a show?

Oh my goodness. Readings are instant magic. You throw your instincts at the piece and–go! A show you’ve got a longer period to let the collaboration stew and get rich. I’ve loved watching how Jessica Rudholm’s performance in Eurydice has become more and more nuanced.

We noticed you are using some of your custom made cast (Jessica, Jeremy Parkin, Stefin Collins) in this reading- any particular reasons behind that?

They are good, reliable actors who fit the roles. And I loved hearing echoes of lines from Eurydice as we rehearsed Orphee. My own private joke.

What’s next for you? Any more trips to the underworld in your future?

Next, I am directing at Playgrounds Best Of Festival opening on May 11. And the I am going to Washington DC to see my daughter graduate from law school!

When enjoying a dramatic reading at the Cafe Royale, what’s your favorite thing to get from the bar?

Ginger Beer!

Don’t miss Orphee, for one night only, tonight at Cafe Royale at 8 PM! And dont’ miss Eurydice, playing all month at Custom Made Theater Company!

Don’t Miss Orphee Tonight!

In anticipation of ORPHEE tonight at Theater Pub, we are re-running Ashley Cowan’s post from a few weeks back, which like Eurydice, mysteriously vanished from the site. Enjoy!

A Semi-Charmed Kind of Afterlife

It seems like there’s a certain fella who’s become pretty popular around the Bay Area lately; lending well to the Greek Mythology trend that’s invaded the theater scene. Along with the success of Custom Made Theatre Company’s hit: EURYDICE (currently running) and now his own play, Orpheus/Orphee is having a pretty good spring in San Francisco.

And why shouldn’t he? Known as a pretty gifted musician with a talent for words, Orpheus would have probably been voted “Most Charming” all four years of art school. And he’s continued to inspire artists throughout the years; appearing in poems, operas, films, plays, paintings, and countless teenage diaries. Considering he’s known as the only person in history who convinced the underworld to permit his temporary visit to bring back his love, I think he’s earned his fame. And he’s the inspiration for Jean Cocteau’s ORPHEE which just so happens to be Theater Pubs April offering to the gods.

Taking on the divine contribution with a sassy twist is fellow columnist and playwright, Marissa Skudlarek who has translated the play for April 15’s staged reading. And leading its direction is Katja Rivera who has become an Orpheus expert after also directing EURYDICE at Custom Made Theatre Company.

To get you in the spirit of the French (and no, I’m not going to kiss you, you pervs) retelling of the Greek gem, here are just a few things to get trés excited about regarding this production of  ORPHEE (other than because it’s tax day and you need a distraction from the IRS): ORPHEE was written in 1925 and produced a year later. Jean Cocteau was 37 and said that for the first time in his career, after feeling like he was struggling to strike the right artistic balance, Cocteau finally felt like he had found his purpose. That’s a big deal, friends! You should come for that alone!

The play begins with Orphee, Eurydice, a move to the countryside in search of stimulus, and a talking horse. Sadly, no, it’s not Mr. Ed but it’s still quite clever and fun.

Orphee becomes rather consumed with his new horse friendship and Eurydice can’t help but be a little irritated.  And so she smashes windows. Because that’s the obvious thing to do. Which employs a handy repair (spoiler alert: he might be an angel) man to help maintain the house. Before there were angels in the outfield, they were hanging out with Eurydice!

Maybe this doesn’t quite sound like the Greek myth you’re used to. Fair enough, this play came two years after the Surrealist movement interpreted danced its way through France. But don’t worry, Eurydice still dies! And Orphee stills descends into Hades under the condition that he can only bring back his wife if he agrees not to look directly at her. Otherwise, she’s a goner.

Cocteau described the play as “a tragedy in one act and one interval”. The French sure have an interesting way with words! But the piece certainly seems to capture a more complex nature; weaving elements of humor punctuated by surreal situations. You’ll laugh, you’ll emote, you may walk about of Cafe Royale with a French accent.

Oh, and maybe I should also take a moment to mention another update from the traditional story: Death is a beautiful woman in an evening gown who travels through the mirror to spend time in both the living world and the dead.  That is some deep stuff.  It’s a notable narcissistic intent that reflects humanity’s understanding of life and death. We may literally want to discuss it for hours.

April 15 may be Tax Day but the evening is reserved for Theater Pub! The passage to the afterlife starts at 8pm at Café Royale. So grab a bite from Hyde Away Blues BBQ, a cold brew, and come be charmed by ORPHEE. No reservations necessary and we are a free event, but get there early as we tend to fill up quick!

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: The Flowers of Youth

Marissa Skudlarek is forever young.

Jean Cocteau disowned his first two books of poetry. Fortunately for him, his lifetime artistic output was so vast that, even if he disowned two of his books, he was still left with a remarkable body of work. Cocteau was an artistic prodigy. His first books of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp and The Frivolous Prince, came out when he was barely twenty years old and made him the delight of Parisian literary circles. Other people were less charmed, and thanks to the title of his second book, they nicknamed Cocteau himself “the frivolous prince.” That’s not exactly a flattering name, nor one that you’d like to keep into adulthood, so I suppose I can see why Cocteau came to disown that book of poems.

At the same time, it always makes me uncomfortable when artists disown their early works. I guess I can understand disowning one of your books if it promotes ideas and beliefs that you no longer hold, especially if you now consider those ideas downright dangerous or wrong. But if you’re disowning something just because you think it’s poorly written or too juvenile or not up to your usual standards… that, to me, seems like a cruel rejection of your younger self. Despite its flaws, that work was part of your artistic development. Maybe you had to write that ludicrous, melodramatic story at the age of 15 in order to write a subtle, nuanced story at the age of 30. Our juvenilia can be embarrassing to read — artless and awkward, or else pretentious and striving too hard to impress. But that’s often because it reflects who we were at the time we wrote it. I strive to embrace my younger self, with her pretensions, her awkwardness, her bad taste in music. I might still laugh at some of the things I wrote when I was younger, but it’s an affectionate, indulgent laugh, not a mocking one.

Some people think that they look smarter when they disdain their younger selves but, in fact, this can make them do and say foolish things. Recently, in Slate, Alyssa Rosenberg published a screed denouncing Romeo and Juliet as “horribly depressing” and “full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love.” To be fair, Rosenberg doesn’t exactly misinterpret Romeo and Juliet: she understands very well that it is a play about heedless teenage infatuation, and she makes a good point that the play can fall apart when the actors playing Romeo and Juliet seem too adult. (She is not looking forward to the upcoming Broadway production starring 36-year-old Orlando Bloom as Romeo.) But rather than praising the play for how well it captures the grandiose “us against the world” feeling of teenage romance, she believes that it’s dangerous to promote this idea of love. Reading her piece, I hear a subtext of “I was so stupid when I was a teenager and had those intense, heedless crushes and relationships! Why would I ever want to go back to that time? I’m so much more mature now.” The thing is, I don’t think that Rosenberg’s dislike of Romeo and Juliet makes her look intelligent and mature. Instead, she seems full of self-loathing and bitterness, lacking compassion for her younger self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, because I just produced a staged reading of a play, The Rose of Youth, that I wrote five years ago. Perhaps there’s not a huge difference between a 20-year-old and a 25-year-old, yet my writing has improved in the past five years, and there are definitely sections of the play that feel characteristic of a younger, less skilled writer. I introduced the male romantic lead in the most boring possible way, for instance; and the play is full of moments that made me sigh and go, “Oh, Marissa, you were just trying so hard to impress your professors there, weren’t you?” (The play was my senior thesis at college.) However, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to revise the play; I left the script as I had left it five years ago, awkward moments and all. I had to put my theory into practice, and embrace my younger self. I acknowledged that I’d learned a lot from writing The Rose of Youth, and that it was exactly the play that I needed to write as a college senior. But I also realized that my artistic development has continued, and I’ve now moved to another level as a writer.

Yes, it’s possible to develop as an artist without feeling the need to disown your earlier work. Indeed, in another respect, that’s what Jean Cocteau did. Fascinated by the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, he wrote his play Orphee in 1925 — but that didn’t end his engagement with this story. Twenty-five years later, he made a film called Orphee, which bears some similarities to the 1925 play — for instance, both depict Death as a beautiful and imperious woman — yet develops the story in a different direction. Orphee the film is now better known than Orphee the play, and perhaps it is a better, more mature work. (I, for one, find the film more emotionally affecting.) Yet Cocteau did not disown his earlier play. He let both works coexist with each other — a testament to his artistic development and his fruitful, ever-active imagination.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See her new translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphee (the play) on April 15 at Theater Pub. For more, you can follow her on Twitter @MarissaSkud or visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com.

An Interview With Marissa Skudlarek

We’re one week away from the staged reading of Marissa Skudlarek’s new translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphee. A well-known local writer, actress, blogger and (most recently) director, Marissa has been part of many Theater Pub nights, but this is her first time taking the reins for an entire show.

So, you’ve been a part of Theater Pub from the early days. Want to tell us how it all began and what you’ve been involved with?

I vividly remember being present at the first Theater Pub show, Cyclops, in January 2010! I was friends with co-founder Bennett Fisher at the time, and seeking to become more involved in San Francisco theater, so he suggested that I should support his new theater-in-a-bar venture. My first real involvement with Theater Pub — also the first time one of my plays was produced in San Francisco — came when my play “Drinking for Two” was selected for the inaugural Pint-Sized Plays festival in August 2010. Since then, I’ve had another play produced in Pint-Sized (“Beer Theory,” 2012), and written poetry in praise of props masters and costume designers for the Odes of March show. I’ve also appeared onstage at Theater Pub several times in several silly costumes: a fake beard and toga for Congresswomen, reindeer antlers and smudged mascara for Code Red, pajamas and a dressing gown for Pajanuary. Additionally, for the last year, I’ve been writing a biweekly column about Bay Area indie theater, “Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life,” for Theater Pub’s blog.

What made you first want to translate Orphée?

At college, I double-majored in Drama and French, which led to a lot of people saying “Oh, are you going to write plays in French?” (To which I would reply “Who do you think I am — Samuel Beckett?”) Then, the summer I was 19, I won a national youth playwriting competition, which flew me to New York City for a whirlwind two weeks of theater-making and theater-creating. When the competition’s Literary Manager, a guy called Lucas Hnath, found out that I was a Drama-French double major, he asked me if I had ever read Jean Cocteau’s Orphée. “I haven’t read it,” Lucas told me, “but a friend of mine says that the script is based around an untranslatable French pun, so that made me curious, and I wondered if you’d read it.” Well, when someone tells me a script contains an untranslatable French pun, I become curious, too — though I didn’t actually get around to reading Orphée until the spring of 2010. And, indeed, there’s a pun that’s deeply woven into the fabric of the script and poses problems for the translator. Carl Wildman’s translation makes a decent effort at dealing with it, but is less than satisfactory; John Savacool’s translation doesn’t even try. I looked up what the phrase is in the original French, and was turning it over in my head one day, when I came up with, dare I say, a brilliant solution to the problem. I don’t want to give too much away, but let me just say that the pun involves a curse word, which makes it all the more fun. My solution was so brilliant that I decided I might as well translate the whole play — to place this jewel in an appropriate setting, as it were. Also, I have the same birthday as Jean Cocteau (July 5). As far as I know, he’s the only playwright born on this day, so I’ve always been interested in his art for this, somewhat selfish, reason.

Marissa Skudlarek: Cocteau Incarnate?

Marissa Skudlarek: Cocteau Incarnate?


There are a lot of different versions of the Orpheus myth- what makes this one unique?

Cocteau’s take on the Orpheus myth is pretty wild — it’s like no other version I’ve seen. It all takes place in Orphée’s living room, so you don’t actually get to witness Orphée’s trip to the Underworld or how he pleads to get Eurydice back. Death appears as a beautiful young woman, attended by two servants named Azrael and Raphael (which are names of angels in Christian theology), rather than as the Greek god Hades. Moreover, Orphée himself has a guardian angel, a character called Heurtebise. Yet, although the play takes place all in one room, a lot of crazy and quasi-surreal stuff goes on — we’re going to have someone reading the stage directions because there’s no way we could possibly stage everything at the Cafe Royale! Cocteau also pays a lot of attention to Orphée’s death: the myths tell us that Orpheus was torn apart by the Bacchantes (Dionysus’ followers), but most adaptations ignore this part of the story. However, this sacrificial death is central to Cocteau’s vision, which focuses much more on Orpheus as a poet than on Orpheus as a lover.

What’s your favorite version (aside from this one)?

I can’t pick just one, so I’m going to provide a sampler of Orpheus-related goodies. The aria “Che faro senza Eurydice?” (What shall I do without Eurydice?) from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice is simple but absolutely heartbreaking. Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld contains the most famous cancan music ever written as well as the hilarious “Fly Duet” (look up the YouTube video of Natalie Dessay and Laurent Naouri singing this — it is NSFW and very, very funny). The movie Black Orpheus has a bad rap nowadays because it’s problematic for a white writer-director to make a movie about black people in a Brazilian shantytown, but I really like some of the tricks it uses to translate the Orpheus story to the modern era. (It was also one of my grandfather’s favorite films, evidently.) Moulin Rouge was my favorite movie when I was a teenager and Baz Luhrmann is on record as saying that Christian’s attempt to rescue Satine from the “underworld” is inspired by the Orpheus legend. Finally, Cocteau’s 1950 film version of Orpheus is fascinating to compare to Orphée (which he wrote in 1925). There are some similarities between the two works and even some passages of dialogue that are the same, but also some really intriguing differences.

Assuming you’ve seen the current production of Eurydice at Custom Made Theater Company, how do you think Sarah Ruhl’s and Cocteau’s visions match up?

To my chagrin, I haven’t gotten around to seeing Katja’s production of Eurydice! In my defense, I’ve been really busy this month and, as soon as I complete these interview questions, I’m going to figure out when to go see Eurydice. But I’ve read Ruhl’s script, so I’ll take a stab at answering this question anyway. One major difference between Ruhl and Cocteau is that Ruhl is a feminist and I really don’t think that Cocteau was. (He depicts Orphée’s nemeses, the Bacchantes, as a mob of crazy lesbian bluestockings.) However, both of these playwrights are really drawn to magical realism, impossible stage directions, and breaking the laws of physics onstage. Moreover, both of them have found an intensely personal perspective on this ancient legend. Ruhl has said that she was inspired to write Eurydice because her father died when she was a young woman (hence the scenes of Eurydice meeting up with her father in the Underworld), while Cocteau used the Orpheus myth to showcase his ideas about the role of the poet/artist in society.

Well, one thing your Orphee and Custom Made’s Eurydice have in common is director Katja Rivera. What made you want to bring her in to direct this first reading?

I loved working with Katja when she directed my play “Beer Theory” for last summer’s Pint-Sized Play Festival. “Beer Theory” is an odd little script that is very close to my heart, and I was so happy to be paired up with Katja, who instinctively understood what the play was about and what I was going for when I wrote it. Then, as I thought about producing Orphée at Theater Pub, I knew I’d want to bring a director on board, because I don’t have confidence in my own directorial abilities. I roped Katja in by saying, basically, “I know you’re directing Eurydice in the spring — want to direct Orphée as well?” I figured she’d have a pretty hard time saying no to that…

Why bring Orphée to Theater Pub?

Thanks to the sensibilities of the folks who founded it, Theater Pub has always been interested in Greek mythology (producing Greek plays like The Theban Chronicles and Helen), and also in experimental European theater (with productions like Vaclav Havel’s The Memorandum and Evgeny Shvarts’ The Dragon). Cocteau’s Orphée is the perfect combination of these two sensibilities. Also, the script is approximately an hour long, it all takes place in one room, and it’s a “tragedy in one act, with an intermission” — so it fits Theater Pub’s time and space constraints pretty well, too.

Any plans for it in the future?

I don’t have any plans for Orphée in the future. However, I think my translation is better than either of the two published English translations that I have read, so it would be great to do something else with it… I’ll keep you informed.

And what’s next for you?

My short play “Horny” is going to be in the May Theater Pub show, The Pub From Another World. It’s about sex. And unicorns.

As a long time patron of Cafe Royale, what’s your favorite thing to order at the bar?

Red wine if I want to be sophisticated and bohemian, hard cider if I want to fool people into thinking that I’m drinking beer.

Don’t miss Marissa Skudlarek’s work this Monday, April 15, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Like all Theater Pub events, it’s a free show and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early to ensure a seat. Also, our pop-up restaurant friends, Hyde Away Blues BBQ will be there!

ANNOUNCING OUR NEXT SHOW: ORPHEE!

For April, Theater Pub continues its love affair with Greek mythology and with overlooked European drama by presenting a staged reading of Jean Cocteau’s ORPHEE, originally written in 1925. In this surreal adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, Death is a beautiful woman in a pink party dress, Orpheus has a pet horse who taps out cryptic messages, and a simple handyman might be an angel in disguise. Marissa Skudlarek’s new translation of the play captures the spirit of Cocteau’s original French, from its rhapsodic poetry to its profane humor.

Fresh from her successful production of EURYDICE at the Custom Made Theatre Co., Katja Rivera returns to Theater Pub to direct Cocteau’s version of this famous myth. The reading will feature actors Andrew Chung, Colin Hussey, and more.

One performance only! Monday, April 15, at 8 PM at the Café Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy food from the pop-up restaurant Hyde Away Blues BBQ, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!