It’s the age-old story of boy meets girl, boy falls madly in love with girl, boy then loses girl in a tragic accident. But, if your name happens to be Orpheus and you just so happen to possess a musical talent that would make Kanye West cry humble tears, then you don’t just grieve for the rest of your life à la Nicholas Sparks.
Ancient Greek myths stated that in his despair over the ill-fated death of his true love, Eurydice, Orpheus did what any self-respecting musician would do: He sang songs so sorrowful that it made the gods atop Mount Olympus weep. The Underworld god, Hades, was also won over by Orpheus’ melodies and allowed him to retrieve Eurydice on one condition: He must never turn around to look at her until they reached the land of the living.
Needless to say, Orpheus didn’t exactly follow the rules and all was lost again. But there is a happy ending of a small sort: Orpheus has become one of the most famous Greek myths and has inspired other artists throughout time.
The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble (DSE) is just one of the many who have been moved by Orpheus’s fascinating feats in the name of love. The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble works in Davis and the greater Sacramento area, modernizing Shakespeare’s writings for the general public. It was founded by Gia Battista, Rob Salas and Steph Hankinson when they were students at UC Davis.
“Since then, we have grown into a fully functioning theater company that has also recently become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization,” Battista said. “We stage full-length productions, run a summer camp for children, and are now starting to ‘tour’ the different venues of Davis, i.e., The Natsoulas Gallery and Rominger West Winery, for Relapse.”
Relapse is the name of the retelling of Orpheus with Shakespearean sonnets of which Battista is deviser, director, and one of the two actors in the production. The show is movement-based, exploring the action of falling as well as the idea of return.
“Relapse means a return or a falling back to something,” Battista said. “It is ultimately the story about a relationship between two people and how it is inevitable that even though a relationship between two may end, that there will be a return, a falling back — in love with another.”
“What’s unique about this show is that it goes after the audience’s senses from multiple angles at once through music, lighting, movement, and text,” said Salas, an actor in the production. “Watching it will be a very exciting and engrossing experience for everyone that attends. I think what will really surprise people is how we will be able to transform the beautiful Natsoulas Gallery and Rominger West Winery into theater spaces.”
In regards to the choice of sonnets that will be used in this retelling, Salas says that the chosen sonnets perfectly integrate into the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
“I think my favorite is Sonnet 66; it really captures what this show is about for us. It blends a cold, aggressive view on life but also blends it with the possibility of finding liberation from life’s limitations,” Salas said.
The music for this show is composed by Richard Chowenhill, DSE’s resident composer, who made sure that the tunes not only sounded great but worked in beat with the movements and text. Chowenhill graduated from UC Davis in 2010 with a degree in music (emphases in composition and classical guitar performance) and is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in music composition and theory at Brandeis University.
“The process, as always, was an intense one. It began with several conversations with Gia, regarding concept and design,” Chowenhill said. “Once Gia solidified our ideas into a working version of the script, I was able to construct a sound world to accommodate the story that Gia was trying to convey in the script and with movement. The music is there not only to illuminate the text, but to complement the movement.”
On April 7, 12 and 14, the show will be at Natsoulas Gallery at 8 p.m. and April 8 and 15 at 7 p.m. On April 13, it will be at Rominger West Winery at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors, and $10 for children 12 and under.
MICHELLE RUAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.