Ondine at Sutro, 2015
“I belong to the water.”
Ondine is a tragic love story between a mystical creature of the depths and a mortal man of hubris. A fable of the follies of love, Ondine is also an exploration of our human relationship with Nature. Worlds collide, the natural world flirts with the established social order and immortal powers plunge into the realm of mortals. Our story comes to life where the great western frontier at San Francisco’s Land’s End meets the ocean’s horizon.
Staged at Sutro Baths and Sutro Heights Park, we experience the great power and sense the timeless depths of the ocean as we wander amidst the eroded foundations of mansions and grand swimming pools. Audiences will move with the action of the play, exploring the park and taking in the expansive and breathtaking views of the great Pacific, while immersed in the enchanted realm of Ondine.
Ondine at Sutro
original play by Jean Giraudoux
translation by Maurice Valency
Co-Directed by Carly Cioffi & Ava Roy
Land's End, San Francisco
+ The Cast
Ondine chorus/ Matho: Mikka Bonel
Eugenie/ Judge: Jennie Brick
Ondine chorus/ Bird: Briana Dickonson
Courtier/ Scribner: Gabriel DeLeon
Ondine Ensemble/ Salammbo: Julie Douglas
The Horse/ Superintendent/ Executioner: Dan Flapper
Ondine dancer: Mary Devi Hadsell
Ondine dancer: Claire Haider
Auguste/ Judge: Jack Halton
Bertha: Elaine Ivy Harris
Ondine dancer: Angie Heile
Lord Chamberlain/ Fisherman: Nathaniel Justiniano
The King/ Walter: Nick Medina
The Old One/ The Illusionist: Olive Mitra
Ondine chorus/ The Dog: Areyla Moss-Maguire
Ondine chorus/ Venus/ Violante: Libby Oberlin
Ondine chorus/ Angelique: Becky Robinson-Leviton
Ondine: Ava Roy
Ondine dancer: Kaia Rose
Ritter Hans: Benjamin Stowe
Bertram: Eli Wirtschafter
Trumpet: Henry Hung
Trumpet: Aaron Priskorn
Saxophone: Charlie Gurke
Sousaphone: Eitan Spiegel
Trombone: Patrick Malabuyo
Violin: Eli Wirtschafter
+ The Production Team
Co-Directors: Carly Cioffi & Ava Roy
Co-Producers: Lauren D. Chavez & Ava Roy
Production Manager: Amy Marie Haven
Music Director: Charles Gurke
Movement Director: Lauren D. Chavez
Visual Arts Director: Patrick Gillespie
House Manager: Lauren Matley
Stage Manager: Britt Lauer
Costume Designer: Brooke Jennings
Dramaturg: Gabriel DeLeon
Photographers: Lauren Matley, Jim Norrena, Miller Oberlin
+ The Play
At first glance Ondine reads as a fable, a fairy tale full of enchantment and wonder. Yet at its core, this simple fable is an allegorical exploration of man’s relationship with the natural world. It encompasses a breadth and variety of exquisitely expressed human relationships. We can clearly recognize the players – their petty impulses and deep desires are at once familiar. We can just as easily relate to the dynamics of the social order, despite the fact the play is set in a world of kings and knights and magical creatures that spring from the depths of the rivers and lakes.
Ondine is a class drama where the marriage of people from different worlds is fraught and leads inevitably to tragedy. It is a profoundly moving love story and we are carried to the realm of the sublime through the power and purity of this love. Ondine (the naiad) is love incarnate; the heart of the tragedy is revealed through Hans (the knight's) inability to receive and withstand the force of this love. He is incapable of absorbing the revelations of nature that Ondine offers, just as he is unequal to the love of this immortal. Though we may dislike any comparison between Hans and ourselves, it is nonetheless hard to avoid the warning- we may dream of a love that makes life a paradise, but could we survive the reality? We may imagine a better and purer world, but can we relinquish our attachments to create it? Can we ever escape our own inner destructive forces?
The play deals sensitively and acutely with human emotions, love and heartbreak, yet its feminine protagonist isn't mortal. Ondine is pure, elemental – she feels everything but remembers or is haunted by nothing. Yet she is reaching for something essentially human to ground her in the currents of an immortal existence. While this story of the water spirit that craves a human soul is a fairy-tale motif, Giraudoux (the play's author) explains that "the play becomes the tragedy of man divorced from nature and stultified by his confinement within the strictly human sphere."
+ The Place: Sutro Baths
On March 14, 1896, the Sutro Baths were opened to the public as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The baths were built on the sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894–1896), Adolph Sutro. Over the years following Sutro’s death, the baths struggled financially and eventually closed shortly before they were destroyed by fire in 1966. In 1973 the site became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
A visitor to the baths not only had a choice of seven different swimming pools- one freshwater and six salt water baths ranging in temperatures- but could also visit a museum displaying Sutro’s large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, a concert hall, seating for 8,000, and, at one time, an ice skating rink. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the two million US gallons (7,600 m³) of water in about an hour. During low tides, a powerful turbine water pump, built inside a cave at sea level, could be switched on from a control room and could fill the tanks at a rate of 6,000 US gallons a minute (380 L/s), recycling all the water in five hours.
+ The Action: Ondine at Sutro
Historically, Sutro Baths was once the world's largest public indoor swimming pool. Opened in 1896, Sutro’s glass palace provided public recreation for 70 years, until it burned to the ground in 1966. Today we are left with the ruins, now home to aquatic birds and visiting seals and sea lions (and the occasional river otter!). These sea creatures will invariably become performers in our show. In a prelude to act one, a troupe of dancers will take the shape of the sea and many sea nymphs who are Ondine’s water-bound friends and family members. Thanks to the unique natural environs, the backdrop will change dramatically with the tides and our performers will share the stage with whatever visiting creatures of sea and air choose to join them at each performance. Such moments are precious- the intersection of our "created" world of the play and the actual landscape that we inhabit.
On a purely theatrical level, the play is set in three locations: act one is set in a small cabin in a forest at the edge of a lake, act two takes place at a royal castle, and act three occurs at the estate of the Knight of Wittenstein. In our production, Ondine's "lake" (of act one) is the vast Pacific Ocean. The little fisherman's cabin at the edge of the woods will be set on the edge of the cliff above the water, at the foot of the great Monterey Cypress trees that grow on the hill above the baths. In the play, the knight Hans has been sent on an expedition to an "enchanted" forest. In our production, he will emerge from the towering windswept Cypress and descend a impressively steep stairway to the lookout at Point Lobos. The natural environment offers a truly enchanted setting.
For act 2 and 3, our audience and actors will trek across the the Great American Highway from Sutro Baths to the manicured lawns of Sutro Heights Park (once embellished with ornate English gardens commissioned by the former owner Adolph Sutro) and the foundation of Sutro's home, which bears striking resemblance to a classic castle, complete with turrets, impressive masonry, and a look-out view of the world below and ocean beyond.
+ The Buzz
SF Weekly, April 28, 2015: Ondine at the Beach
SF Weekly, April 29, 2015: The Challenges of Staging Ondine at Sutro Baths
7×7, April 30 2015: Weekend Guide: Free Pancakes, Muscle Cars & Theater at Sutro Baths
The Chronicle, May 5, 2015: Into the setting sun beyond Sutro
KQED Arts, May 6, 2015: We Players Stage a Bittersweet Fairy Tale in a Breathtaking Locale
SF Examiner, May 7 2015: S.F. seascape bolsters exquisite ‘Ondine at Sutro’
SF Weekly, May 5, 2015: Hybrid Place, Hybrid Play: We Players’ Ondine at Sutro Baths
Theatrestorm, May 13, 2015: Review (five stars!) : ‘Ondine’ presented by We Players at Sutro Baths & Environs
"... by far the most entertaining and amazing show I've ever seen." - Audience member