Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” retells the myth of Orpheus, who descends into the underworld to retrieve his bride, Eurydice.
“You may have heard of him?” Eurydice says in classic teenage question-speak. “He plays the most beautiful music in the world?”
According to the myth, Orpheus moves the rulers of Hades with the beauty of his music, and is told he can take Eurydice back as long as he leads her into the realm of the living without once looking back. (If you don’t know where this is going, it’s Greek, and regularly assigned in ENG 129: Tragedy.) This slightly uneven but ultimately touching production, playing at the Whitney Theater through Saturday, is a senior project for director Leah Osterman ’15 and Lucie Ledbetter ’15 in the title role.
And though music is central to the story and talked about extensively, most scenes play out either in oppressive silence or amid harsh distortion. The few moments in which Gideon Broshy’s ’16 original compositions were allowed to fill the scene stood out as the only breaks in the otherwise dour soundscape.
Ruhl’s retelling of the myth is more than a love story. She invents the character of Eurydice’s father, with whom Eurydice is reunited in the underworld. Their attempts to reconstruct their own family after death become as essential to the story as Eurydice’s relationship with Orpheus.
“A wedding is for fathers and daughters,” Eurydice muses early in the play. In the underworld, she questions her father about his parents and siblings, and he sends her back into the world, telling her she ought to have grandchildren.
“Eurydice” is also about the impossibility of really knowing the people we love. As the central couple, Paul Hinkes ’15 and Ledbetter effectively convey the sense of being dramatically in love, while being utterly mysterious to one another.
Ruhl’s play is beautiful to read, but difficult to speak while giving the words the same resonance they have on paper. As the childlike Orpheus, Hinkes succeeds best at inhabiting the strangeness of the language without allowing it to overtake his acting. The play’s high points are often in its physical choreography; if some of the most poetic lines fall slightly flat, many of “Eurydice’s” most emotional moments take place when no one is talking anyway.
Jacob Osborne ’16 is perfectly slimy in easily the play’s weirdest role. In the dual part of Nasty Interesting Man/King of the Underworld, he manages to make even the act of pulling on a shirt viscerally uncomfortable to watch.
Although funny in moments, “Eurydice” is mostly very, very sad. And excepting the trio of stones who fall somewhere between the chorus of a Greek tragedy and a creepy synchronized swim team, this production does relatively little to exploit the play’s opportunities for irreverence.
Ruhl’s stage directions call for a hell reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, full of raining elevators and speaking stones. Instead, this Eurydice goes to the opposite extreme, setting the action in a stripped-down liminal space bathed in blue and fluorescent light.
The pared-down visuals throw Ruhl’s language into even starker relief. Instead of naturally inhabiting a fanciful universe, in which delivering letters by worm might seem like a reasonable idea, the characters exist in big gray boxes, broken up only by pipes and metal grating. In such a setting, their lyrical flights of language end up feeling like frantic gestures against the emptiness around them.
The problem with loving an artist is that, in their mind, “there is always something more beautiful,” Eurydice muses at the play’s end. And while the same could be said of this production, it is well worth seeing it for what it is.