Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bone to Pick and Diadem

(Paige Rogers as Ria in Bone to Pick. Photo by Rob Melrose)

Seeing Bone to Pick and Diadem at the Cutting Ball Thursday night made me wish we could see Paige Rogers on stage more often. As the theater's co-founder and associate artistic director, Rogers more often directs than performs. But for these two retellings of the Ariadne myth, both one-woman shows, Rogers, a deft storyteller and a versatile mimic, could not have been better cast. Her easy command of the stage, under the direction of Rob Melrose, makes for an enchanting performance.

In the original Greek yarn, Princess Ariadne so falls in love with Theseus, a warrior, that she helps him defeat her half-brother, the Minotaur, by guiding him through the labyrinth where the half-man, half-bull lurks. In reimagining the myth, playwright-in-residence Eugenie Chan focuses her short plays on two distinct stages of Ariadne’s development. In Diadem, Ariadne is an idealistic and passionate teenager. In Bone to Pick, she is older and disillusioned. Diademis fairly consistent with, or at least suggests, the aesthetics of its ancient Greek source: Rogers is clad in a long white halter dress (by costume designer Jocelyn Herndon), her wavy blonde hair cascading down her back. The set, by Michael Locher, is unadorned but for a chair and a small altar, behind which sit five small female figurines on long, thin poles, staggered so as to suggest something of a maze. And save for a few comedic forays into contemporary vernacular – “Plunge thy rapier into the motherfucker!” – Chan’s language aspires to classical rhythms. Bone to Pick, by contrast, finds its home in the contemporary but alludes to the classical. Rogers, as “Ria,” comes onstage in a soiled pink waitress’s uniform. The skull of a Texas longhorn, coupled with Rogers’ impressive facility with the melodic rise and fall in a single Southern diphthong, places us firmly in the Southwest—which in this play is even more post-apocalyptic than it usually is.

The truths revealed by this sudden jump in place and time reminded me of those in Blue Valentine, the subject of my last post. The first blush of Ariadne’s love, when cruelly unrequited, quickly boils over into lust for revenge. Then, a more mature, self-aware and hardened Ria, drinking coffee directly from the pitcher, shows us what happens when strong emotions go long unresolved: self-abnegation reigns free, interrupted only by the occasional self-deprecating quip.

Often, however, especially in the second play, Chan’s writing obscures these interesting ideas. She gets too wrapped up in the cuteness of her own conceit, often to the complete exclusion of accessibility. At one point, Ria leading “Theo” through a safe to the last fresh beef in the world, starts shouting out disconnected numbers and commands. As my companion put it, “Why this random word and not some other?” Even Rogers’ indefatigable energy and rapt physicality—you can almost see the numbers on the dial of her mimed safe-combination lock—are no match for the muddle.

For a lesson in artistry and simplicity, Chan should look to the play’s designers. In its sets, the theater favors the symbolic over the representative, allowing light and sound to accomplish what many would leave to more concrete mise-en-scene elements—a philosophy I admire, though I should point out that this is the second Cutting Ball play in a row that’s overused echoing. This production’s most prominent visual was its rear wall, a checkerboard of metallic panels, each of the lines on its grid dotted with light bulbs. The various moods lighting designer Heather Basarab created on it, and the labyrinth it alluded to, were often more helpful storytellers than the text itself.

In Rogers’ next stage appearance, let’s hope she finds a more deserving vehicle.

Bone to Pick and Diadem continue through February 13 at the Cutting Ball Theater. For tickets ($15 - $50), visit

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