Last month, rehearsals started for the show “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl. I play a character with two personas – “Lord of the Underworld” and “Nasty Interesting Man” – in this professional production of an adapted ancient Greek myth called “Orpheus and Eurydice.” The premise of the play is as follows: a young woman gets trapped in the underworld on the day of her wedding and her husband tries without success to retrieve her and bring her back to earth. While I play neither of the title characters, I have found my roles to be the most complex roles I have ever experienced.
The first day of rehearsing act 1 scene 5 was one day after a personal hero of mine lost his career because of the way he treated women. That day I got up on stage with the actress who plays Eurydice and started reading my lines. We were bantering and reading the lines together before the director walked in. My character speaks in an old time style, one that my ear is not accustomed to so I had trouble discerning the meaning of the scene. Then the director walked back in and said “Ahhh yess. The ‘Me Too’ scene.” I wasn’t really sure what she meant, other then the fact that she was referring to the #MeToo movement that I am sure you are all familiar with.
In the weeks to come, my character became known around the dressing room and stage as “Louie” and “Weinstein” and “Spacey” because of their predatory behaviors towards women and men through physical assault and innuendos.
When you are watching the show from the audience, it is easy to dismiss these scenes as being playful because it is being performed by kids. If you saw adults acting out the same seems, you may catch the predatorial character traits, but when you watch kids on stage, it is easy to overlook the underlying message.
In rehearsal, I have struggled with this show because striking a predator balance is challenging. My director urged me to base my character off of Don Draper from Mad Men. While the show is so incredibly boring, the message from Draper is incredibly clear: predators are not gross people who can’t control themselves and throw their body at anything that moves. Instead, the most prolific ones are suave and charismatic and stalk their prey long before they make their first calculated choice.
What I tried to do with my character was to make him come off not as a predator, but instead as someone so suave that others are attached to him. My character does not think that he is assaulting other people, but instead that he is making a move by reading cues that he sees others putting down. I have come to believe that few predators see themselves as offenders, but instead have convinced himself that in each instance they are merely making a move by reading the desires of others around them. It is far more difficult to play a subtle predator convinced he is making a consensual act then someone who is aware of his rape. And to do this as a 17 year old in a 50 seat theater arranged in a ¾ is probably unachievable.
Consequently, the director for another show that I am cast in played the same role when he was in highschool. He left me with a message: “While the role was fun when I played it, the role has a whole new meaning right now, because these two characters are emblematic of men in power all around the nation.”
My acting abilities are far from decent, and my performance is not yet one I am proud of. But this has been the hardest role I have ever been faced with, and every single second that I play as these characters I am challenged to act more and more like the cold and calculating men that work and perform all around us.