by Matthew Falduto
Cedar Rapids – Sarah Ruhl is one of the most promising young playwrights working today; it is safe to assume we have not seen her best work yet. Theatre Cedar Rapids has chosen to present one of her better known plays, Eurydice. The play tells the Greek myth of Orpheus from the point of view of Orpheus’ love, Eurydice. On their wedding day, Eurydice dies. Orpheus, the finest musician in all the world, is so desperate to get her back, he travels to the Underworld, using his music to charm the Lord of the Underworld to allow him to take Eurydice back to life. There is a condition, of course. As Orpheus leads Eurydice back to the surface, he is commanded to not look back at her until their journey is complete. If he does, he will lose her forever. At the last moment, fearing he has been tricked, he turns and sees her, condemning her to the Underworld forever.
This play is a wonderful re-imagining of this classic story. Ruhl’s Eurydice is a strong woman who makes decisions and does not allow her fate to be dictated by Orpheus. This allows for a thought-provoking climax, as Eurydice is the one who makes the decision of whether she will return to life or remain in the Underworld. One can just imagine Ms. Ruhl thinking to herself as she’s typing away at her computer, “Why does her whole fate have to rely on Orpheus? Girl’s got to take control.”
And in truth, the most interesting relationship is not between Orpheus (Alex Williams) and Eurydice (Hannah Spina), but instead between Eurydice and her father (Scot Hughes). Father died before the play begins, but he has not given up on the chance of communicating with his beloved daughter. This goes counter to the way the Underworld is supposed to work. One is supposed to allow a dip in the River Styx to wash away all memories of one’s life. But Father refuses for he misses his daughter terribly and cannot let her go. When she arrives, he helps her to remember her life and him.
Hughes is wonderful in the role of Father, handling the humorous moments well, but truly shining whenever the script calls for him to show love for his daughter. In a truly lovely moment in the script, he becomes a tree to shade Eurydice and provide a place for her to rest. At another point, her creates a home for her. Leslie Chariper’s direction has him using simple string to create this home. As touching as the moment is, it’s equally heartbreaking when he has to remove the home later in the show. This is just one of many excellent choices by this talented director.
Alex Williams does a fine job capturing the whimsical joy of being young and in love as Orpheus. Scott Humeston relishes every interesting moment of the characters he plays. As “A Nasty Interesting Man,” he exudes malevolence. As “Lord of the Underworld,” he actually finds a lot of opportunity for comedy, which he also performs admirably.
Hannah Spina as Eurydice must be commended for a strong performance. She is joyful and fearful and strong. In love with Orpheus, she is determined to make sure he is paying attention to her, not just his music. She plays every moment, from giddy love to dawning realization of fate, perfectly. She embodies exactly what we want in our modern female hero.
The actors in the supporting roles are also good. The chorus of “Stones” fight
against Father and Eurydice’s resistance to the “rules” of the Underworld, which boil down to forgetting one’s life. Big Stone, Little Stone, and Loud Stone, played by Nick Walters, Emmy Palmersheim, and Mike Wilhelm respectively, provide much of the comedy of the show, though there is a wonderfully played sinister undertone to their actions. Particular kudos must go to Costume Designer Richie Akers for creating the most fascinating costumes for this chorus of the dead.
The set, designed by Bret Gothe, is simple and effective. A metal frame (reused from Sweeney Todd?) allows for a second level upstage. Utilizing the trap doors in the stage to excellent effect, Gothe offers us three pools of blue light which effectively communicate the otherworldliness of the Underworld. Boards placed over the pools give a sense of the final fateful journey back to the surface. Everything is simple allowing the audience to complete the world with its own creativity.
I strongly encourage you to check out Eurydice. It boasts strong performances, a story that tugs at your heart while making you laugh, and a creative design that allows for one’s imagination to dance along with the performers. It runs through April 23. For tickets, go here.