Ben Calabrese is captivated by the action unfolding on stage; two star-crossed lovers, one on a table and the other on a chair, lean in for a passionate kiss when suddenly the table slips out from underneath. And so goes the unexpected nature of a show’s rehearsal and its focused director, who observes and takes note of it all.
Rehearsing a scene from the upcoming production of “Eurydice,” actors Will Caldwell and Shannon Carroll, both 22, displayed an effortless chemistry while staying true to the old saying which demands that the show must go on. This play is the opener for SF State’s varied Spring 2013 theater season.
The story is a modern retelling of the classic Greek myth as written by French playwright Jean Anouilh, and set in the 1930s. It tells the story of a musician named Orpheus (Caldwell) and an actress named Eurydice (Carroll) who meet at a train station, instantly fall in love and the depths they go to for everlasting love.
In the original myth, it is love that takes Orpheus to the underworld in order to bring Eurydice back to earth after she had been fatally bitten by a snake. The catch is he should walk in front of her and never look back until they reach earth or else she would die again and be gone forever.
In Anouilh’s version, a car crash claims Eurydice’s life, but the challenge remains. Orpheus must wait beside her spirit in the train station until sunrise and not look her in the face. With the stakes set high, Anouilh’s skeptic love story rolls into motion.
“Anouilh sort of had this vision to criticize the idea of love at first sight,” Calabrese, 21, senior and the show’s director, said. “I think ‘Eurydice’ will tell us that love isn’t as clean and simple as fairytales.”
To further convey Anouilh’s vision, he casted two extra actors Caleb Cabrera and Grace Ng, who mirror the narrative of the modern day Orpheus and Eurydice and represent the pair from the original Greek tale.
Regardless of the play’s bittersweet themes and sometimes bleak tone, Calabrese hopes that the epic love story will resonate with the audience and that they will dare to accept love in all its imperfections.
“I think love can be messy at times,” Calabrese said. “(But) it’s no less good. It’s no less powerful. It’s no less important. Embracing the messiness is what I hope to get people to do.”
“Eurydice” is funded by the Players’ Club — SF State’s theatre arts student organization. Every fall, they select one production for the spring season out of a series of interviews and proposals from students all vying for the opportunity to direct their own show.
“We decided to go with this show because it was inspiring, uplifting and moving all at the same time,” Gabby Battista, 21-year-old president of the Players’ Club, said. “We had a general consensus where we wanted everyone to believe in true love,” she said.
The Players’ Club decision should come as no surprise considering Calabrese’s track record at SF State. He has been involved in at least 13 productions either as an actor, director, playwright or stage manager.
“The school’s really given us the opportunity to use this space and really showcase all the things we’ve learned here,” Calabrese said. “It’s great that we have the creative freedom to express ourselves in that way.”
In addition to directing “Eurydice,” Calabrese’s short play “La Cajita” has been selected to represent SF State for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival regionals next month in Sacramento. It will compete in the one-act plays category along with five other aspiring playwrights from neighboring schools. If chosen, it will move on to the national festival in Washington, D.C. in April.
As excited as he is for the festival, Calabrese’s main focus is “Eurydice,” and his expressions ranged from head nods to smiles during the run-through.
“As a director, I think the toughest job has been making sure that everybody’s ideas are coming forward,” Calabrese said. “That’s 30 minds and you’re working with so many talented people. That’s been the most challenging and the most rewarding.”
The cast and crew are equally passionate, as they too believe in the story’s vision.
“I want people to look at this relationship and maybe examine their own,” Carroll said.
With a love story encompassed in themes of death and disappointment, Caldwell advises audience members that this is not a show for the fainthearted.
“If you’re depressed, don’t come see it ‘cause you might not make it out,” Caldwell jokingly said. “I hope audiences just let the show wash over them.”
“Eurydice” will open Thursday Jan. 31 and run through Sunday, Feb. 10 at SF State’s Studio Theatre in the Creative Arts Building. It will be followed by Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Our Town” opening March 7 at the Little Theatre. The season will conclude with the wise-cracking antics from the puppet-driven musical “Avenue Q” opening April 25 at the Little Theatre.