Cutting Ball revives a Bone to gnaw on

Jan 21

Diadem 1
Paige Rogers is a young, hopeful Ariadne in Eugenie Chan’s Diadem, a Cutting Ball Theater world premiere. The play is a companion piece to Chan’s Bone to Pick (below), also starring Rogers, as an older, much less hopeful Aridadne. Photos by Rob Melrose.

In the summer of 2008, Cutting Ball Theater threw audiences an incredible Bone. The play, part of the evening known as Avant GardARAMA!, was Eugenie Chan’s Bone to Pick, a one-act that re-imagined the myth of Ariadne, a princess of Crete and a key player in the whole Theseus/Minotaur tussle.

Chan’s play fascinated because it took a dusty old myth and gave it a compelling spin. Ariadne, known as Ria here, is haggard waitress at the end of the world. She was left on the island of Naxos by her new groom (Theseus, here called Theo) at the moment of her greatest happiness. She had just helped her new husband slay the Minotaur (actually her half-brother), and they were heading off to a glorious future together.

But for whatever reason, Theo dumped her. And here it is 3,000-some years later, and she’s a waitress in what’s left of a diner near the end of time. In her craziness/loneliness, she cycles through her life and takes a journey – possibly real, possibly imagined – into a meat locker that leads to a labyrinth of sorts filled with memory and emotion.

Oh, and meat. There’s lots and lots of meat in this story – not actual meet on the stage – but meat that factors into Ria’s emotional and physical state of hunger. You leave the play craving a rib-eye (though not necessarily one cut from a Minotaur, even though it might be as lean as buffalo).

The charms of Chan’s play came to extraordinary life in the performance of Paige Rogers under the direction of Rob Melrose. Her Ria mesmerized us and made her world as real as it could possibly be.

Happily, Cutting Ball has revived Bone to Pick, with the impeccable Rogers back in the role that she so masterfully defined. The play – a Cutting Ball commission – has been so successful that Chan was commissioned to write a companion piece. The result is Diadem, the play that now occupies the first half of the evening.

bone 1Chan dives even deeper into the myth of Ariadne by illuminating that pivotal moment when she realizes, though she tries to deny it, that Theseus is probably not coming back. This is a young, hopeful Ariadne (not the grizzled waitress in the blood-spattered uniform) adorned in flowing blond locks and an equally flowing white gown (costumes by Joceyln Leiser Herndon).

This Ariadne (also played by Rogers) lets her mind wander to the strange events within her family. She’s a little baffled and no wonder. Her mother, Pasiphaë, fell in love with a white bull and had her buddy Daedalus create a gizmo – sort of a cow costume if you will – that allowed her to mate with the bull. The offspring of this awkward union (thank the gods there was no YouTube back then) was the Minotaur, a creature slain by Theseus with the help of Ariadne.

To be frank, Greek myths have never quite captured my imagination. The names and the stories get all jumbled up in my head, and they tend to make me feel like I’m back in school and about to fail a test.

What makes this re-telling so effective is the way Chan makes the story feel ultra-contemporary without sacrificing the scope and mythic size of this ancient story. And through Rogers, we connect with the emotion of hope about to crash and of old wounds that never stop aching. There’s also a whole lot of weirdness, and why not? We’re talking Minotaurs and Zeus here, apocalypse and possible insanity.

Michael Locher’s gorgeous set gives the plays an otherworldly feel – the quilt-like squares of his metallic backdrop are incredibly effective at capturing the flashes and shadows of Heather Basarab’s eloquent lighting design.

This is challenging, rewarding theater filled with power, humor and beauty.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Cutting Ball Theater’s Bone to Pick and Diadem continue through Feb. 13 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$50. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com for information.

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