A Utah Theater Review by Rebecca Gunyan
Last night my husband and I had the opportunity to watch the two short plays: The Death of Eurydice and Jinn, both written by award-winning Mahonri Stewart and presented by the Zion Theatre Company. This was an amazing display of Utah Theater at its finest.
Nestled in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, the Off Broadway Theater is a hidden gem. The building front is unobtrusive; look for the purple and yellow marquee sign out front. We arrived early to allow for ample time to find parking, but that wasn’t necessary. The building is close to a number of parking garages. For those who don’t want to tackle downtown driving, a Trax station is conveniently located right across the street.
The playhouse has a movie theater feel, with the smell fresh popcorn greeting you when you walk in the door. The building has definitely seen its fair share of use, with worn chairs and carpet and missing tiles in the restroom. What it lacks in newness, it makes up for in style. The lobby was clean and tastefully decorated.
As we took our assigned seats, I was disappointed in how few people were in the audience to fill the approximately 200-seat theater. I figured more people would arrive as 7:30 approached, but no one new materialized.
As the first of the plays began, it was immediately clear that this would be a low key play as far as props and costuming went. A bar counter with a number of glass bottles on it was the only prop used the entire show. I quickly realized that the actors were more than capable of holding my attention.
The first play, Jinn, is an interesting one-act in which Calypso, a young lady played by Rebecca Minson, is drawn to a shop filled with bottles of Jinn, or genies. Her interaction with the shopkeeper leads her on a journey of self-discovery.
As the lights went up, our attention was drawn to the calm shopkeeper, who polished bottles with an almost bored air. Played by Michelle Markland, the shopkeeper was a strong presence on the stage. When Markland spoke, she delivered her lines with the ease of someone who was well-rehearsed.
Markland’s interactions were focused primarily on Calypso, who paced the stage with the frenzy of someone who can’t be bothered to slow down for life. Her body movement suggested that she would rather be anywhere but in the shop she found herself in. Minson spoke too fast, but it fit her character. She always spoke clearly.
Minson and Markland took advantage of the entire stage, sitting on the front edge at times to bring their dialogue closer to the audience in a more intimate feel. At first I was bothered by Markland, and her total indifference to the struggles that Minson was having. Her character almost felt flat. As the play progressed, I understood why she acted how she did. She provided a backdrop for the play’s theme of bottles as they represent emotions. If you open the bottle, you will experience life, for all its troubles and delights. The theme is: if I open the bottle, open my emotions, should I keep them out or put them back in the bottle? Both ladies fit their roles with ease, seeming natural on stage.
The two Jinn, played by Rachel Baird and Lawrence Fernandez, had small but important parts of the story to tell. Fernandez played his role flawlessly. His interaction with Minson was genuine and emotional, charged with romantic tension. I believed they were in love.
It was harder for me to relate to Baird. Between a drab costume and quieter lines, I felt that Baird struggled to engage the audience.
However, that opinion completely changed for me when the second play began. The Death of Eurydice, performed before by the Zion Theatre Company, is a retelling of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, focusing on Eurydice’s interaction with Hades as she dies.
Rachel Baird, also both show’s creative director, played Eurydice, lighting up the stage as soon as she stepped foot on it. She portrayed Eurydice with a depth and emotion that was captivating to watch. When she cried, her eyes were wet with tears. When she laughed, her joy was contagious. As an audience, we were on the journey with her along the River Styx. I loved watching her.
Fernandez played the role of Hades equally as well. Where Baird was emotional and engaging, Fernandez was confident but more aloof. He made Hades believable as someone who has done his job for years, ferrying people across the river, but seldom being surprised. It was clear that Eurydice touched his heart. The only break in his character was when Fernandez became the narrator. Dropping out of character made him sound more scripted instead of natural.
Both of the plays were filled with strong acting and an incredible amount of dialogue that flowed naturally between the actors. There were a few problems with volume, but it was unclear if it was because the actors needed to project better or if the microphones were faulty. Although the facility was huge, the play seemed intimate by the way the actors filled the stage. Baird’s direction, along with David Bellis’ technical direction, helped their performers flow and seem believable and natural.
I left the theater with great respect for Mahonri Stewart, a playwright who clearly knows how to tell a story that makes you think long after the curtain closes.
My husband and I discussed our views about the play over pastries at Gourmandise, a shop just a few blocks away. We both agreed that the actors were talented and they told the story well. We were sad that so few people attended the opening show. My hope is that more people take the time to enjoy this amazing show. It was well worth the drive for us. I am excited to see what else the Zion Theatre Company presents.
Zion Theatre Company is presenting The Death of Eurydice and Other Short Plays by national award-winning playwright Mahonri Stewart. The Off Broadway Theater, 272 South Main Street, Downtown Salt Lake City, UT 84101 August 10, 11, 13, 17, 18 at 7:30 PM. Tickets: $12, $10, $8 Call: 801-355-4628