nytheatre.com review by Gyda Arber
April 2, 2006
As a frequent theatre-goer, unfortunately I don't see shows that inspire or excite me as often as I'd wish. But when a show succeeds, and uses the unique advantages of live theatre to do so, there’s nothing like it. Hell is one of those shows.
Hell, a "new (necessary) opera" by poet Eileen Myles and composer Michael Webster, loosely retells Dante’s Inferno. A Poet has been summoned into a Hell called “Constant” to write a poem for the Devil. As she questions her purpose there, she’s taken on a tour of Constant, coming across an assortment of characters, including a do-nothing leader called Father Tree, a dissenting gnome, and representatives from Iceland. Myles’s amazing libretto touches on politics, pop culture, and the media, ultimately taking the stand that live performance (poetry, opera, theatre, what-have-you) is critically important—and being suppressed by the powers-that-be.
This message is expertly enhanced by director David Chambers and video designer Peter Flaherty. Live video is woven into the piece, as each of the singers is caught on tiny surveillance cameras and the images projected onto a large video screen center stage. Wesbter has skillfully set Myles’s libretto to music, evoking a baroque operatic style using recitative to let Myles’s words stand out.
The cast is uniformly excellent. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting great singers for a $20 ticket price, but the performances are first rate—as good as anything at the New York City Opera or the Met. Of course, Matthew Chellis as the Devil and Juliana Snapper as the Poet stand out, but each cast member has their chance to shine, and shine they do, especially Danielle Freeman as the frog, Daniel Gundlach as Thomas, David Adam Moore as Lewis, and Amelia Watkins as Dorothy.
Opera, frequently considered to be a dying art form, is the perfect vehicle to make Myles’s point—and Myles and Webster have made their opera short (90 minutes) and accessible. Shows like Hell are necessary and important to see—run out and catch this one before it’s too late!