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Orpheus myth's meaningful update

November 29, 2002|David C. Nichols

Vivid intelligence distinguishes "Winterquest," receiving its world premiere by the Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble at the Gascon Center Theatre in Culver City.

Writer-director Stephen Legawiec refashions the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a holiday odyssey of notable refinement.

The setting is the ocean-side village of Bryggen, where cartographer Orville Scribbet (Dean Purvis) dwells with wife Eurydell (Jenny Woo). Their idyllic existence is threatened by Orville's wanderlust, causing his housebound spouse to disappear during a curtain-shopping excursion.

When Bryggen's seasonal tributary boat fails to appear on schedule, three commedia-masked artisans (Jill Lawrence, Beverly Sotelo and Dana Wieluns) enlist the embittered Orville to help them find it. Their airborne journey shapes a regenerative Christmas parable, summed up by Eurydell's locket inscription: "The heart's terrain is vast and unsounded/But love's a torch, clearing wide a sacred field for miracles."

Legawiec's staging is imaginative, with his set, Robert Velasquez's costumes, Beckie Kravitz's masks and Leif Gantvoort's lighting consistent in their homage to Maxfield Parrish.

The strong-voiced ensemble is most endearing. Purvis recalls the young William Converse-Roberts, well-matched to Woo's graceful Eurydell. The three clowns are superbly expressive and funny, and their colleagues are uniformly fine.

There are discrepancies. The muted visuals, though admirable, fall short of full-blown wonder, with the tribute ship's eventual appearance underpowered.

Such sparseness, along with composer Susan Christiansen's emphasis on ballads and the bittersweet narrative, may prove challenging for wee attention spans. Their elders, however, should revel in such charming, meaningful family fare.

-- David C. Nichols

"Winterquest," Gascon Center Theatre, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 22 $10-$20. (310) 842-5737. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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