Multi-part epics are always intimidating. They’re a big commitment to make in advance, and there’s a sense of failure if you don’t see them through. No one wants to be the quitter who only saw Voyage (in Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia) or Das Rheingold (in Wagner’s Ring cycle). Magic Theatre has taken the pressure off with the world premiere of Barbara Hammond’s The Eva Trilogy. It’s a three-part cycle, but the parts all fit into a single night at the theater. It’s not an easy night—Hammond makes the audience work to understand her plays—but it’s a night worth spending, for the sake of getting to know Eva and her story.
The Eva Trilogy comprises Eden, a one-woman show in which we learn Eva’s history and the choices she makes when caring for her dying mother; Enter the Roar, in which four characters who knew Eva struggle to make sense of her actions; and No Coast Road, a thirty-years-later encounter between Eva (now a “wild woman” in the Corsican hills) and a lost hiker. Together, they’re a lot to absorb. Hammond drops us into each scene mid-stream, trusting us to figure it out. Monologues and conversations take sudden sharp turns, and throwaway comments provide important information. It requires effort to keep up.
Keeping up doesn’t mean you get answers. Like all good plays, these merely raise questions.
Keeping up doesn’t mean you get answers. Like all good plays, these merely raise questions. How do you recover from a religious upbringing you’ve rejected? How can you forgive hurtful family members? What does it mean to have compassion?
Hammond’s exploration of these questions is insightful and polished. There are false steps. Father O’Leary provokes too much laughter when we need to empathize with his rigid religiosity. The vignette-length scenes in No Coast Road mean a lot of time spent in transitions, and the nymph accomplishes nothing. But those are quibbles. Hammond has managed the most important thing: writing a central character so engaging, I hung on her words (and others’ words about her). As each play finished, I eagerly anticipated the next one. (The suspense was heightened by a fire alarm and evacuation during Enter the Roar – not Magic Theatre’s fault, and very professionally handled.)
Sets by Hana S. Kim were simple enough to facilitate quick transitions but distinctive enough to make each play unique. They got more elaborate as we moved through the trilogy—from a doorstep, to an inquest with mirrored walls, to a campsite in the woods. Under Loretta Greco’s direction, the actors made good use of these spaces. Eva spoke from stillness for Eden, while Enter the Roar and No Coast Road were full of movement. The excellent cast made each character’s struggles and relationships palpable. The warmth between Eva’s sister Teresa (Lisa Ann Porter) and her husband Eamon (Rod Gnapp) enlivened Enter the Roar, while the understanding that blossomed between the young hiker Tom (Caleb Cabrera) and a prickly, aged Eva (Julia McNeal) made No Coast Road the most emotional part of the trilogy.
Julia McNeal’s Eva is the plays’ heart. She is sprightly at 37 and gamey at 67, changing her appearance and gait with her age (without exaggerating). She maintains a vivid sense of adventure and zest for life throughout. Her brogue sets us squarely in Ireland (even as she later denies her Irish heritage) without impeding comprehension. The three plays can theoretically stand on their own, but it’s hard to imagine Enter the Roar satisfying without an in-person introduction to Eva.
The Eva Trilogy
Magic Theatre, San Francisco