I just saw a performance of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, and I was struck how much the key relationship in her re-telling of the story is not one of husband and wife, but of father and daughter. In fact, given the period referenced in the piece (via musical reference to I’ve Got Rhythm and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree), I’d guess that it was probably written for her father, who would have been from that era.
That relationship is so dominant in the play, that Orpheus almost feels like an afterthought. While that can feel a bit odd, there’s nothing wrong with it, the whole point with re-writing a myth is to give it new relevance, to provide a new viewpoint. And the play does have some wonderful imagery: in rains in the elevator from the earth to the underworld, there is a chorus of stones, and the forgetfulness caused by the river Lethe is like a drug — take a smaller dose and you won’t forget quite so much. And the tenderness of Eurydice’s father, his joy and finding her, and his willingness to give her up to Orpheus despite it meaning a “second death” is very touching.
Unfortunately, midst this sonata of compassion, there are also what I experienced as glaringly wrong notes. These primarily come in the form of the Nasty Interesting Man, and the Lord of the Underworld. Per the script, both are played by the same actor, and I’m not finding fault with the performer I saw in the role.
The Nasty Interesting Man is supposed to be intriguing (interesting?) and possibly seductive, but his lines are repetitive and banal. When he morphs into the Lord of the Underworld, he’s no more than a petulant ten-year old boy. It’s hard to give Hell it’s necessary gravitas when it’s ruled by a bratty kid. Changing the story to add meaning is one thing, but these characterizations felt arbitrary and pointless.
Less jarring, but also odd, was the playwright’s choice to make Eurydice at fault when the attempt to rescue her fails. In the classical story, Orpheus crosses out of the underworld and turns too soon. In Ruhl’s version, Eurydice calls out to him, and he turns to reach for her.
Some of Ruhl’s choices can seem whimsical or arch. This is also true of her play Dead Man’s Cell Phone, but in that piece, the overall tone is much lighter, and I enjoyed it. My favorite of her plays is In the Next Room, or, The Vibrator Play, which is much more naturalistic, but warm, funny, and full of heart.