Natalie Liccardello, one of the city’s notable theater artists, will be all over the place during the next few weeks.
Liccardello is an actress, playwright and director. Theatergoers will get to see her work in two of those disciplines in shows in Kansas City and in Lawrence.
For the Living Room, Liccardello is staging Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice,” which begins previews Wednesday. This is her second time to direct for the downtown company that specializes in new work and revisited plays that may not have been produced locally, or at least not for a long time.
Liccardello made her debut in 2013 by staging Elizabeth Meriwether’s eccentric comedy “The Mistakes Madeline Made.” This time around she’s working on a different but equally odd piece.
“Sarah Ruhl is one of my favorite playwrights of all time,” Liccardello said. “There’s something about her odd, quirky style that I’m totally obsessed with.”
“Eurydice” is Ruhl’s take on the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus. Orpheus, a singer whose melodies mesmerize all who hear them, and Eurydice are happily married until Eurydice is bitten by a viper, dies and descends to the Underworld. Orpheus follows to bring her back.
In the original myth Hades tells Orpheus he can return to the world of the living with Eurydice on one condition: That Orpheus not look back as Eurydice emerges from the darkness of the Underworld behind him. Orpheus can’t resist, looks back and loses her forever.
Ruhl rewrites the myth and changes the storyline, introducing Eurydice’s father as a major character. In this version, Eurydice asks Orpheus to look back. In a way the play is more like a postmodern riff than an adaptation.
Ruhl is a respected playwright and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship who has said in interviews that she wrote the play as a way to honor her father, who died of cancer in 1994. Kansas City theatergoers have seen Ruhl’s work professionally produced once before, when the Unicorn Theatre staged “The Clean House” in 2009.
Liccardello said she “hounded” Rusty Sneary, the Living Room’s artistic director, to read the play. When he did, he agreed that she should direct it. She brings together a diverse cast that includes Daria LeGrand (seen at the Living Room in “Carousel,” “Titus Andronicus” and “The Death of Cupid”) in the title role; Brian Huther, who appeared in “The Mistakes Madeline Made,” as Orpheus; Tim Ahlenius (who performed in Living Room productions of “Hurlyburly” and “Race”) as Father, Matt Schmidli (recently seen in the Kansas City Actors Theatre productions of “Hamlet” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”) as Nasty/Interesting Man, and young Cam Burns as the Lord of the Underworld. Appearing as the Stones, the equivalent of the Greek chorus, are Zach Parker, Ben Auxier and Diane Yvette.
Ruhl wrote “Eurydice” with virtually no descriptions of scenic locations, leaving that to the discretion of the director and designers. Liccardello said the show will be staged in the Living Room’s upstairs space on a raked stage.
She said she can’t recall when she first read “Eurydice” but she’s wanted to be involved in a production ever since.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “It was so beautiful and so sad. It’s one of those haunting Greek tragedies but there’s no blood. I love her language and how simple she is.… This is the most accessible besides ‘The Clean House,’ I would say. It’s the most produced. I get really attached to certain plays. This is one I thought I might never get to do, and I was too old to play Eurydice but now I’m directing it.”
Liccardello’s R-rated farce “Pies From the Porn Kitchen” begins performances Thursday at the Lawrence Arts Center as part of the Downtown Underground Series in the center’s 80-seat performance space, one of two theater venues at the center.
Ric Averill, the center’s artistic director of performing arts, decided to stage the piece after encountering the extended one-act in a reading.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said.
The play premiered in 2011 in a memorable production at the Fishtank Performance Studio in the Crossroads. The setup involves two cleaning ladies who report to an upscale Manhattan apartment and encounter “baked goods, porn and a naked dude named Zeke,” according to the original synopsis.
Averill is directing three of Kansas City’s best young actors for the show: Amy Attaway, Chris Roady and Melissa Fennewald.
“Directing these guys is a dream,” he said.
Averill is an actor who’s performed at The Coterie theater and KC Fringe. He also writes plays and operas. For the past few years, he said, the arts center has beefed up its professional theater component and plans to continue doing so.
For the last three years the center has staged a major musical in the fall — “The Nervous Set,” a vintage jazz musical, last year; “The Threepenny Opera” in 2013 and Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” the year before that. The center also has been hiring Equity actors on guest artist contracts, five to eight a year, according to Averill.
The Downtown Underground series targets a younger audience with edgier material, such as “Pies From the Porn Kitchen.”
“We want people to get the sense that the arts center is a local theater destination in addition to film and dance,” he said. “We have one of the nicest 300-seat theaters in the area, and we have a very intimate, 80-seat black box theater.”