The myth-based plays of Jean Giraudoux surely rank among the most difficult works a theater troupe can tackle. This fragile material must be presented with the utmost earnestness, but with a lightness of touch. The Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble’s production of 1939’s “Ondine” succeeds at this quite splendidly. While the acting is uneven, director Marilyn Fox’s production captures the magical feel of this intriguing work, which has been aptly described as a fairy tale for adults.
The story concerns water-sprout Ondine (Liza Rivera), who is raised by a poor fisherman and his wife. When a handsome knight wanders into their household, Ondine immediately decides she loves him, and soon she has seduced him into forgetting the woman to whom he is betrothed.
Act Two finds Ondine unsuccessfully attempting to adapt to life at the royal court, where her innocent outspokenness (she cannot tell a lie, or hide her true feelings) proves a liability in this politically charged atmosphere. In Act Three she is placed on trial for being an otherworldly creature.
Like most myths, the story is thematically ambiguous, though it touches upon many real-life issues. The perpetually befuddled knight Hans, superbly played by Robert Jacobs, appears to be the playwright’s representative of humanity: Driven by forces he does not understand, yet convinced he acts according to his free will, he is essentially oblivious to the life-and-death issues raised by Ondine’s presence in the world.
As Ondine (a role played by Audrey Hepburn on Broadway in the 1950s), Rivera has beauty and physical grace. Early on, she comes across more like a pouty Valley Girl than a supernatural creature, but she is genuine and moving in the emotional climaxes of Act 3.
Kerry Jones’ sets — particularly the Act 1 cottage — are simple and tremendously effective. Tom Gerou’s original score, alternately jaunty and mystically lyrical, captures the spirit of this enchanting play.