Full Disclosure: This is a review of my plays that are closing in Salt Lake this weekend. The reviewer, Hillary Stirling, is an intelligent, literary woman I met in one of my old wards and who has taken a strong enough interest in my work to write reviews of them whenever she attends. In posting it here, I’m hoping to give her hard work and excellent writing style a wider audience than my Facebook page will allow. –Mahonri Stewart
I went to see “The Death of Eurydice” and “Jinn” on opening night, and my only disappointment was that the venue wasn’t sold out. I’m no theater critic, but I do have a literary bent and Mahonri Stewart’s plays never fail to inspire. The actors were phenomenal and very much did his work justice.
This was the second time I’ve seen “The Death of Eurydice,” and it was well worth viewing a second time. The play’s minimalist staging makes the story truly timeless and enhances the introspective nature of the play. The focus remains squarely on the actors and the story they tell. “Jinn” was similarly staged with the actors and the story they tell effortlessly carrying the play with little more than excellent dialog and skillful acting.
A strong theme running through both plays is the tension between the comfortable known and the dangerous and alluring unknown. “Eurydice” is a retelling of the famous Greek myth but it departs from most other version by presenting the story from her perspective rather than from Orpheus’. It grapples with perceptions of both life and death from the unique position of someone who has the option to come back. But for all the intellectual depth of the play, the human element is the most powerful. Even knowing the outcome, I was moved to tears.
“Jinn” is more grounded in the modern world, though again the minimalist staging allows the story to remain timeless. While Eurydice’s struggles are brought on by external forces, Calypso’s challenges are internal and the driving tension is whether she will actually confront those inner daemons or not. She is much like her namesake from Greek mythology, a secluded though sophisticated hermit, who is hiding from many regrets.
The plays themselves were reason enough to go to the effort of arranging a babysitter and driving from a neighboring county. However, with the venue located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, it made a perfect centerpiece for a night out with my husband. I highly recommend making the time this weekend to go enjoy the plays!
If anyone doesn’t want to be spoiled, stop reading here. I can’t discuss the full brilliance of the plays without giving too much away, so go see them! Then, if anyone would like a more in-depth review, read on…
“Jinn” also plays very much with the theme of appearance vs. reality. The character herself is a sophisticated woman with an eye for beauty. In many ways she is a modern everyman: independent, creative, confident, and with money to spend, the embodiment of a successful person in our society. Yet behind that carefully composed surface is a woman running away from choices she regrets and the powerful sorrow that follows. We see a woman who has failed to live up to her potential, who is full of distrust, whose soul is literally fractured. It’s a powerful commentary on us as a society and as individuals. Her challenge is ours and ultimately it becomes a rather ironic question of self-determination. Do we face our past mistakes, grapple with the grief, and become better people for it? Or do we bottle it all up and, in so doing, let those mistakes control our lives while we ourselves remain broken? The question is almost too easy to answer, but the play artfully captures the human elements that make it so hard for Calypso (and symbolically us as a society) to make the healthy choice. Facing one’s mistakes is a very punishing process emotionally, and even after Calypso makes her choice, I was none too certain that I would have had her courage.
I have to say that “The Death of Eurydice” will always be one of my favorites. There is only one prop – a coin – that in many ways symbolizes the entire play. Anciently, Greeks were buried with a coin to pay Charon the ferryman to take them across the river Styx and so it represented the passage from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead. She offers Hades the coin, but he refuses it, saying he had no need of it. She is the one who needs it to help her understand the journey before her, in this case whether that journey takes her into the underworld or the realm of the living. The same actor plays both Orpheus, the living bridegroom who charms even the stones, and Hades, the lord of the dead who captured and carried off his bride. They are opposites who are inextricably bound, like two sides of a coin. Likewise, life and death are two sides of a coin, but this telling of the myth challenges the notion that life is the better of the two. We never learn exactly what Eurydice found when she chose death, but really that isn’t the point. The point, as with Calypso, is that she had the courage to choose the path that would bring her into the unknown.
Last but not least, I enjoyed the fact that the protagonists in both plays were female. One of my first impressions of Mahonri Stewart was that he was an excellent feminist and his work has only solidified that impression.
For those who live near the Salt Lake area, “The Death of Eurydice” and “Jinn” close this weekend at The Off Broadway Theater (272 South Main Street, Salt Lake City 22801). The show begins at 7:30 and tickets are $12/$10/$8, although anyone who contacts ZTC at Zion.Theatre.Company@gmail.com can get 2-for-1 tickets.