Sliding Into Hades

Review by Willard Manus

Working in the tradition of Grotowski, Chaikin and Mnouchkine, The Koan Ensemble at the Odyssey Theatre has mounted its latest collaborative effort, SLIDING INTO HADES, a re-telling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth. "The original idea was to write a theatre piece dealing with the American penchant for denying the realities of mortality," explains director Ron Sossi in a program note. "Endless 'fountain of youth' therapies, radical cosmetic makeovers and 'happily ever after' fairy tales have seemed to substitute for an honest confrontation with the inevitability of our own demise in the near-distant future."

In searching for a way to explore these tendencies, Koan (with the help of playwright Aaron Henne), came upon the Orpheus/Eurydice myth. Orpheus, it will be recalled, is the Greek musician who journeyed into the afterlife to win the release of his beloved wife. He sang and played upon his lyre until the lords of hades wept at such love and grief. They gave Eurydice permission to leave but sternly warned Orpheus not to look back to see if she was behind him. He did and she was taken from him forever.

Orpheus's belief that he was bigger and stronger than the inevitability of death has provided Koan with a much-needed narrative spine. The young Orpheus (Eric Losoya) takes a walk on the wild side, one minute hassling with Pluto (Beth Hogan), the next trying to fend off the zombie-like dead who do penance by pushing around shopping carts. All the dialogue is in rhyming couplets; without warning, Orpheus is played by an older man (Alan Abelew); the part of Eurydice is split between three actresses of varying ages (Diana Cignoni, Ochuwa Oglie and Marina Bakica). The intent is to strip time, age and identity away, get down to the nitty-gritty of human existence.

It's all very strange, challenging and unsettling--exactly the feelings one should be left with after a night of experimental theatre.

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit