Eurydice offers a lovely twist on an age-old love story
She was in herself, like a woman near term,
and did not think of the man, going on ahead,
or the path, climbing upwards towards life.
She was in herself. And her being-dead
filled her with abundance.
As a fruit with sweetness and darkness,
so she was full with her vast death,
that was so new, she comprehended nothing. ...
And when suddenly
the god stopped her and, with anguish in his cry,
uttered the words: 'He has turned round' —
she comprehended nothing and said softly: 'Who?'
— Rainer Maria Rilke, "Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes."
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has fascinated artists for centuries, inspiring operas, films, ballets and poems that tell how Orpheus, the mythic musician, descended to the underworld to reclaim Eurydice, who had died on their wedding day, received permission to take her back to the world, then lost her again when he couldn't refrain from turning to see her as they walked the road back to the living. In Eurydice, playwright Sarah Ruhl has created her own magical, eccentric, gutsy and entirely original interpretation, one in which the Lord of the Underworld is a comic-fearful shape-changer and the place populated by people of stone; Eurydice's father, already dead, longs for her from the Underworld and attempts again and again to write to her; and Eurydice, newly arrived, demands service from the father she doesn't recognize as if she were a guest at a hotel and he the porter. Where is her room? she wants to know. Will he please draw her a bath? Full of luminous and surprising words and images, the piece becomes a meditation on love and loss, the dissolution of personality, words and wordlessness, reason versus poetry, and the many ways we find of trying to frame the ineffable.
Curious Theatre Company does full justice to this lovely piece, staging its own marriage between art and elements more practical and mundane. Consider the technical skill it takes to create an elevator filled with rain, an on-stage river (liquid holds heavy symbolic significance, and the narcotizing waters of the River Lethe play a central role), a silhouette of a dead father dancing invisibly at his daughter's wedding. Now consider the astonishing artistry of the playwright who requires such effects, as well as that of director Chip Walton, his technical crew and his cast. Some touches I won't know whether to attribute to Ruhl or Walton or both: the way the many umbrellas on stage shimmer with unspoken meaning; the white, bare-limbed tree that multiplies into three trees of diminishing size during the course of the evening (surely a deliberate reminder of the famous lone tree on the barren landscape of Waiting for Godot), mirrored by three eventually suspended umbrellas, all backed by a shining moon. The actors give themselves fully to this extended dream: Tyee Tilghman as a touching and gravely dignified Orpheus; Karen Slack as a lively, impudent Eurydice; Jim Hunt, who's everyone's dream of a loving father; Mark Pergola swaggering through the Underworld in his paper crown and ridiculous shorts, and Dee Covington, Courtney Hayes-Jurchek and the physically gifted John Jurchek as the Stones. And choreographer Garrett Ammon makes every movement of the three Stones riveting and fitting.
There are many themes and inferences to ponder. Comforting Eurydice on her plight, the father quotes from King Lear: "We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage..." We remember that Cordelia was murdered almost immediately after this speech, that Lear carried her on stage and lamented over her body. And here Eurydice is soon kneeling by her father's inert form.
All of these aesthetic forces coalesce in the moment when Eurydice, following Orpheus from death into life, speaks his name and he turns. There's a silence, a flicker of amusement and recognition. Their hands reach out to touch, but the touch never comes, only realization and anguish. In a telling indication of how deeply enmeshed we all were in the play's web, the audience — almost as one — uttered a muted gasp. Then several people began to weep.
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