"Sliding Into Hades" features a seven-member cast that impressively entwine themselves within and around the travails of superstar Orpheus as he breaches the inner sanctum of Hades to rescue his deceased bride, mirroring our modern age conceit that we now can control our destinies and the process of aging and dying.
The Odyssey Theater Ensemble’s resident Koan Ensemble surveys the oft-examined Orpheus/Eurydice myth, exploring the human conceit that death can be defeated by pure ego and self-determination. Loosely scripted by Aaron Henne, conceived and helmed by Odyssey Artistic Director Ron Sossi, “Sliding Into Hades” features a seven-member cast that impressively entwine themselves within and around the travails of superstar Orpheus as he breaches the inner sanctum of Hades to rescue his deceased bride, mirroring our modern age conceit that we now can control our destinies and the process of aging and dying.
The open storage facility sets of Hans Pfleiderer and Julianne Elizabeth Eggold provide a useful environment for this captivating group effort, facilitating the Koan’s energetic interplay, evoking both the classical chorus group ethic of Greek mythology and the modern day interactions self-serving individuals.
This is established immediately when Orpheus (Eric Losoya), having been lauded by the “groupies” for his prodigious musical abilities that “can charm wild beasts,” confidently presses his suit on the beauteous Eurydice (Diana Cignoni). Her response is an off-putting “I don’t date musicians.”
The dramatic throughline follows the framework of the Greek legend fairly closely as the won-over Eurydice and her new husband Orpheus happily anticipate their life together, only to have the bride succumb to a poison provided by a kindly lady (Beth Hogan), who is good-naturedly fulfilling the edict of fate.
Helmer Sossi emphasizes the finality of Eurydice’s death with the inclusion of an autopsy/embalming scene that is chilling in its impersonal casualness. The procedure underscores Eurydice’s acceptance of the loss of herself as she is drained of all her former memories, realities and sense of identity.
The requisite failed effort of Orpheus to descend into Hades to rescue Eurydice under the specific instructions that she must follow him without his turning to gaze at her is played out with ritualistic flair. But where the classical story ends, the conquer-all “chutzpah” of modern man takes over.
Looking back at a replay of the events of the past, an aged Orpheus (Alan Abelew) is supremely confident that he can still go back and rescue Eurydice, despite the pleadings of his contemporaries that this is not how he should be spending his limited remaining time on earth.
Despite some colorfully zesty group interplay, the production suffers from a bit of overkill as Orpheus doggedly treks through a series of misadventures, including traveling the River of Absurdity, reaching the Hall of Regret, the Forest of Anger, Swamp of Shame, Wind of Doubt, Desert of Despair and the Oasis of Obsession.
“Sailing Into Hades” does make a telling concluding statement that despite once again failing to get what he wants and facing his own imminent death, the relentlessly egocentric modern Orpheus feels that given another chance, he can still make it happen.