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April 30, 2015

From Bedroom Farce to Eurydice: Life in Rep – Alex McCooeye

Alex McCooeye
I’ve never worked in rep. Not really.

I am used to diving whole-hog into one play and figuring out how to navigate the rules inside one playwright’s container. To do two full productions at the exact same time is something relatively new to me. That is, to rehearse in tandem and then mount within days of each other.

The two plays I am working on could not be more diametrically opposed. Or so it seems.

Bedroom Farce is a British comedy written in 1975 by a playwright who enjoys musing on the short-comings of married life.

Eurydice is a modern interpretation of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, written by a poet- turned-playwright musing on the death of her father, and in a greater sense the impermanence of life.

Bedroom Farce has four sexless married couples, three bedrooms, and a poorly built chest of drawers.

Eurydice has: several bits of fruit falling from the ceiling although “maybe only in our imagination”; three talking stones who are the gatekeepers of the underworld who speak in a stone language, which is actually English but is really the language of dead people; and a nasty interesting man, who might also be a child, who might also be the lord of the underworld.

So how does one navigate this paradox?

My plan going in was to compartmentalize. Through the first few weeks it was simple enough to wake up and think “today I’ll be a farcical Brit” or “today I am Stonehenge” and never the twain shall meet. But something has come to the surface in performance style that functions for both pieces. In both plays, the characters have a potent life underneath the surface that is not immediately apparent on the page or even on stage. I suppose that is true of all great plays but I’m really appreciating it this time around.

These two playwrights (and maybe most great playwrights) are sparse in their dialogue. Their characters, like most people, don’t show all of their cards in words. These playwrights allow room for a director and actors to build an underbelly for a character that is full of memory and emotion and dynamism that may only peek its head into a scene. In Bedroom Farce it might manifest itself by a character taking an extra beat before continuing a sentence, resulting in the audience chuckling at what might have been on their mind. In Eurydice it’s more like a silence between two characters where the air is rich with their history.

These playwrights are challenging to perform because an actor is asked at once to know everything and show nothing. If you show your entire back story, the scene makes no sense and yet if you haven’t figured out why your character is behaving a certain way, the scene could fall flat.

The dialogue doesn’t just sing in an obvious way. It’s potent, and it works, but it doesn’t immediately dance off of the page. The work in both cases is to figure out all of the complexities so that the play can be performed as simply as it was when you first read it. Maybe that’s always been the job, it’s just more obvious sometimes than others.

Alex McCooeye makes his Soulpepper debut this May in both Bedroom Farce (by Alan Ayckbourn) and Eurydice (by Sarah Ruhl).