Ondine at Sutro
May 1 – June 7, 2015
This review appeared in the Piedmont Post May 6, 2015
We Players made a fine choice setting their version of Ondine at the Sutro Baths in San Francisco’s Land’s End. Water remains in sight or felt by breeze throughout this three hour play about the doomed love of a water sprite and a knight errant, and the wind-swept trees and man-made plazas seem to incarnate the play’s ideas about wild nature and linear man. The visitation of pelicans, wafts of marijuana smoke, and people in 21st century running gear unknowingly walking in a wedding procession of floridly costumed actors were among the reminders that the play was not taking place in a controlled environment. Such intrusions are part of the pleasure of outdoor theater and in some way heighten, rather than detract from the experience. Visually, Ondine is a delight–water sprites climb walls and stairs and dance in flowing costumes, court ladies gossip in bright gowns, and Ondine’s (Ava Roy’s) blonde-edged curls catch the light and blow luxuriously in the wind as she enchants the knight Hans (Benjamin Stowe). Roy is also the producer and director of this play and the co-founder of We Players, whose previous immersive outdoor theater productions include Hamlet at Alcatraz, The Odyssey on Angel Island, and Macbeth at Fort Point. Roy is clearly a force of nature herself, and is a fine actress, particularly in a tragic role– I was blown away by her Lady Macbeth in the production at Fort Point. But here’s my quibble, Ondine is light fare, even though it attempts to have a foot in tragedy. Adapted from the 1938 play by Jean Giraudoux, which has its roots in a 19th century novella and in myths reaching back five centuries earlier, Ondine plays with familiar archetypes–nature as femininity, masculinity as order and restrictive hierarchy. The story of a supernatural being giving up her power for the sake of loving a human being strikes a familiar chord, and there is indeed something wistful about the play’s ending when Ondine forgets Hans and returns to the sea. But Giraudoux is no Shakespeare, and the lines succeed more as levity than as tragedy or poetry. In terms of character depth and development, there’s no there there. Still, there is much pleasure to be had in Ondine at Sutro– particularly in the music (props to music director Charlie Gurke) and singing (a shout out here to Libby Oberlin and Julie Douglas) and above all, as a means to experience a beautiful setting.