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Jean Cocteau’s 1926 play ‘Orphée’ is viewed
through unique lens of Deaf West Theatre
LOS ANGELES (Feb. 5, 2020) — Orpheus, Eurydice, a trouble-making horse and Death herself converge in a very funny and irreverent reimagining of the Greek myth by surrealist poet, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Deaf West Theatre views Cocteau’s whimsical, magical and highly visual play, first performed in 1926, through a unique lens: translated from the French into Spoken English by John Savacool, into American Sign Language by Andrew Moore, and slated for a run at the True Colors Festival in Tokyo, Japan at the end of April. Deena Selenow directs Orphée in a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, opening March 13 for a four-week run through April 5. Three low-priced previews are set for March 8, March 11 and March 12.
Shortly after he wrote the long poem “L’Ange Heurtebise” in 1925, Cocteau adapted the legend of Orpheus and his descent into Hell to rescue his wife, Eurydice, for the stage. With only one act and very few characters (Orpheus, Eurydice, Heurtebise, Death and her helpers), the play revolves around a story of love and death in a universe where time is abolished and horses make poetry. Cocteau’s work deals with the inner personality of the poet and his relentless inclination towards, and fascination with, Death. Described by Cocteau as “part farce, part meditation on death,” the playwright continued to explore the same themes throughout his ensuing career, culminating with his seminal “Orphic Trilogy” of films: Le Sang d’un Poete, Orphée, and Le Testament d’Orphée.
“Although the play was written in 1925, it feels oddly modern and is very relevant to these times,” notes Deaf West Theatre artistic director David J. Kurs.
“Cocteau has created a world in which words are traded freely — Orpheus even communicates with a horse — yet no one truly understands each other,” says Selenow. “This feels very familiar in today’s world. It’s a fun, messy tapestry for both Deaf and hearing actors and audiences.”
Daniel Durant (upcoming feature film Coda with Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin; ABC Family’s Switched at Birth; Moritz in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening at Inner City Arts, the Wallis and Broadway) stars as Orpheus, a celebrated poet with writer’s block who has sequestered himself in the countryside with his wife, Eurydice, to seek inspiration. Eurydice is played by Natasha Ofili (profiled in Oprah magazine for her groundbreaking role as a Deaf principal in Ryan Murphy’s The Politician on Netflix; Undone on Amazon Prime; Deaf West Theatre’s Our Town at the Pasadena Playhouse), with the two given voice by Malik B. El-Amin (artistic director of Griot Theatre) and Lorinda Hawkins Smith (Justice? Or Just Me? recently performed at REDCAT), who also plays Death.
Amelia Hensley (Thea in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening at Inner City Arts, the Wallis and Broadway), voiced by Jacquelyn Landgraf (fiction podcast It Makes A Sound; NY Neo-Futurists; U.S. premieres of Anna Nicole: The Opera at BAM and 3 Kinds of Exile, directed by Neil Pepe at the Atlantic Theater), takes on the role of Heurtebise. “I am going to unwrap the secret of secrets. Mirrors are doors. It’s through them that Death moves back and forth into life,” Heurtebise tells Orpheus. (As legend has it, Cocteau was standing in an elevator when the angel spoke to him and divulged his name: it was the same as that of elevator manufacturer, Heurtebise.)
Also in the cast are Danny Cron, seen in Good Boys at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Krissy Lemon, winner of the Florida School of the Arts “Against the Odds” award.
Following the production at the Odyssey, Orphée will travel to Japan, where the play will be presented with the additional layer of Japanese supertitles. The Nippon Foundation has invited Deaf West to perform at Tokyo’s Theatre Tram from April 24-26 as part of the True Colors Festival. Deaf West previously brought their production of Big River to Japan, where they performed in front of dignitaries including the Crown Princess.
Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) was an enormously influential French artist and writer known as one of the major figures of Dada and Surrealism. With an oeuvre that spanned painting, novels, poetry, plays and films, Cocteau established himself as a leading creative force in Paris. A regular member of the avant-garde, he maintained long-term friendships with artists such as Pablo Picasso, Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia and Man Ray. “The job of the poet (a job which can’t be learned) consists of placing those objects of the visible world which have become invisible due to the glue of habit, in an unusual position which strikes the soul and gives them a tragic force,” he once mused. The self-taught Cocteau would regularly draw his friends and acquaintances in a distinctive, fluid style informed by his interests in Cubism, psychoanalysis and Catholicism. “Poets don’t draw,” he once quipped about his artworks. “They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently.” Among his best-known works is the novel “Les Enfants Terribles” (1929) and his critically acclaimed films le Sang d’un poète (“Blood of a Poet”) (1930), La Belle et la Bête (“Beauty and the Beast”) (1946), and Orphée (“Orpheus”) (1949). Cocteau died on October 11, 1963 at the age of 74 in Milly-la-Foret, France. Today, his works are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, among others.
Deena Selenow’s recent directing credits include Mama Metal for IAMA Theatre Company and Hype Man at the Fountain (Scenie Award for “Outstanding Direction”). Her work has been presented at REDCAT, East West Players, LATC, La Jolla Playhouse WoW Festival, the Skirball Cultural Center, Hammer Museum, LA LGBT Center, Highways Performance Space, Machine Project, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference and PRELUDE Festival, among other spaces and places on the West and East Coasts.
Founded in Los Angeles in 1991, Deaf West Theatre engages artists and audiences in unparalleled theater experiences inspired by Deaf culture and the expressive power of sign language, weaving ASL with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice. Committed to innovation, collaboration and training, DWT is the artistic bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds. Recent and past productions include The Solid of Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne; Our Town, in a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse; Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, in a co-production with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; Spring Awakening, which transferred from Inner-City Arts to the Wallis and then to Broadway (three Tony Award nominations including Best Revival); American Buffalo (Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice”); Cyrano, a co-production with the Fountain Theatre (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Production); Big River (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Backstage Garland awards for Best Musical in its L.A. premiere, Tony nomination and four Drama Desk Awards on Broadway); Pippin, produced at the Mark Taper Forum in a co-production with Center Theatre Group; Sleeping Beauty Wakes, also a co-production with CTG, presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; Oliver! (Ovation Award for Best Musical); and A Streetcar Named Desire (Ovation Award for Best Play). In 2005, DWT was selected to receive the Highest Recognition Award by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for its “distinguished contributions to improve and enrich the culture lives of deaf and hard of hearing actors and theater patrons.”
The Deaf West creative team includes scenic designer James Maloof, costume designer Lena Sands, lighting designer R.S. Buck, sound designer Howard Ho and projection designer Michael Epstein. The production stage manager is Kyle Montgomery, and Laura Hill produces for Deaf West Theatre, David J. Kurs artistic director. Ken Mikos is executive producer.
Orphée runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. from March 13 through April 5.Three preview performances take place on Sunday, March 8 at 2 p.m.; Wednesday, March 11 at 8 p.m.; and Thursday, March 12 at 8 p.m. There will be four ASL Nights: arrive one-half hour prior to the performance on Thursday, March 19; Friday, March 20; Thursday, March 26; or Friday, March 27 for a 15-minute ASL workshop that teaches signs used in the play. Tickets to all performances except previews are $35 (reserved seating), with premium seating in the first two rows available for $50; tickets for students with valid ID to all performances and general admission for previews is $25. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in West L.A. (between Olympic and Santa Monica Blvds.). For reservations and information, call (818) 762-2998 (voice) or go to www.deafwest.org.
Details for Calendar Listings
Orphée — Orpheus, Eurydice, a trouble-making horse and Death herself converge in this very funny and irreverent reimagining of the Greek myth by surrealist poet, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. A celebrated poet with writer’s block, Orpheus sequesters himself in the countryside with his wife Eurydice, where he seeks inspiration. Deaf West Theatre views Cocteau’s whimsical, magical and highly visual French play, first performed in Paris in 1926, through a unique lens: translated from the French into Spoken English and American Sign Language, and slated for a run at the True Colors Festival in Tokyo, Japan at the end of April. Described by Cocteau as “part farce, part meditation on death,” the playwright continued to explore the same themes throughout his ensuing career, culminating with his seminal “Orphic Trilogy” of films: Le Sang d’un Poete, Orphée and Le Testament d’Orphee.
• Written by Jean Cocteau
• Translated into Spoken English by John Savacool
• ASL Master: Andrew Moore
• Directed by Deena Selenow
• Starring Danny Cron, Daniel Durant, Malik B. El-Amin, Amelia Hensley, Jacquelyn Landgraf, Krissy Lemon, Natasha Ofili, Lorinda Hawkins Smith
• Presented by Deaf West Theatre, David J. Kurs artistic director
Previews March 8, March 11, March 12
Performances: March 13 – April 5
• Wednesday at 8 p.m.: March 11 ONLY
• Thursdays at 8 p.m.: March 12 (preview), March 19*, March 26*, April 2
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 13 (opening night), March 20*, March 27*, April 3
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 14, March 21, March 28, April 4
• Sundays at 3 p.m: March 8 (preview), March 15, March 22, March 29, April 5
*ASL Nights on Thursday, March 19; Friday, March 20; Thursday, March 26; and Friday, March 27: arrive at 7:30 p.m. for a 15-minute ASL workshop that teaches signs used in the play.
A Visiting Production at the
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
(818) 762-2998 or www.deafwest.org
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• Premium Seating (first two rows): $50
• All other seats: $35
• Students with valid ID and previews: $25