Opening on Oct. 26 until Nov. 4, the University of Dallas Drama Department presents Jean Cocteau’s “Orphée,” a surrealist and contemporary reimagining of the classic Orpheus and Eurydice myth.
The play stars Loretta Bond as Eurydice and Charlie Spurgin as Orphée, with Sienna Abbott as Horse, Jack Urbanski as Heurtebise, Lynley Glickler as Death, Eoin O’Grady as Azrael, Braden Barder as Raphael/Postman, Sebastian Luzondo as Commissioner of Police and Maylis Quesnel as Scrivener.
Allison Peterman, Olive Smith and Rose Urbanski play the Chorus, the Bacchantes.
Director Kyle Lemieux, associate professor of drama, noted the playwright Cocteau’s fixation on an artist’s relationship to the material they create and that material’s relationship with time.
“The play is in many ways a play of symbolism,” said Lemieux. “It was so attractive to me because it is not of the realistic tradition, it’s not primarily concerned with a realistic plot as such but rather with broader poetic questions.”
The play takes a classical myth and reworks it in an intentionally modern way and has stage directions that the play is to be set in whatever time period it is being performed in. This makes the story wholly contemporary, within the context of what the myth would be in a contemporary sense.
“Our production is trying to honor both the tone of the play and these fundamental questions that Cocteau is investigating,” said Lemieux. The questions being essential ones: what is an artist’s obligation to the work that he creates, what is one’s obligation to the eternal and the afterlife?
The play works to create an experience for the audience that creates cohesion around these ideas, and furthermore, due to the play’s “environmental staging,” the audience is participatory rather than passive.
“Environmental staging” doesn’t mean that the stage is covered in real ivy or fresh soil, but rather a theatrical term meaning that the audience seating arrangements are built around the stage, as opposed to a classical theater seating arrangement.
The Drama Building proved to be very helpful in achieving the desired environmental and immersive staging for “Orphée.” Technical Director and Designer Mark Kirk, in his second year working with the drama department, has been managing the logistics of both building a set and running practices in the same building.
“[Kirk] has been incredibly patient and flexible as we’ve navigated our space challenges,” said Lemieux.
The play has a runtime of 90 minutes with no intermission. This is slightly different from other, multiple-act plays, but due to the immersive nature of the play it naturally runs undisrupted.
The limited space of the theater necessitates limited seats, and only 35 people can be seated per show.
The fluid situation of the Drama Department remains as it was during the 2021-22 school year. The Margaret Jonsson Theater was condemned due to a mold infestation, and the fall 2021 Mainstage, “Comedy of Errors,” performed outdoors in the Orpheion Amphitheatre.
After the Margaret Jonsson Theater was rid of its mold infestation, the university had hoped to renovate it. Due to ADA regulations, the cost of the renovation would have been too high. The university is instead hoping to construct a new theater elsewhere on campus.
“It makes more sense to think, well, how can we raise funds for a new theater and put it in a place that’s going to be more feasible, rather than squished between two old dorms?” said Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president of UD.
Lemieux had a positive outlook on the otherwise tricky situation of theater facilities.
“You can make theater in any space,” he said. “This is just the situation we’re in, and we’re trying to make the best out of the situation we’re in.”
“The Drama Building is optimal for this play. That might just be how we have to do this, produce unusual plays in unusual ways, to take advantage of the situation.”
Due to the 2020 pandemic, many drama department shows were radio-style readings or online productions. The last play Lemieux was able to direct was UD’s 2019 production of “The Roaring Girl,” which was the last play to ever be performed in the Margaret Jonsson Theater.
“I’m so excited to be back making live theater with our students again,” said Lemieux.
Admission for “Orphée” is free. Lemieux encouraged any interested students to just show up to the Drama Building, located between Anselm and Augustine Halls, even if they could not reserve tickets beforehand. There’s always a chance that a few ticket holders simply don’t show up and students can grab open seats.