By Wesley James
Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is a smart and innovative reversal of the Greek legend of Orpheus, the legendary musician who set out to rescue his wife from hell. Told from the wife Eurydice’s point of view, we follow the harrowing, slightly tortured, often meaningfully silly descent and decisions of an amnesia-stricken 1950s housewife archetype and her doting goofball father. In hell, of course.
When Eurydice is killed on her wedding night by a sinister man who finds her terrifyingly “interesting,” she falls into hell with no memory and a chorus of stones trying to strip her of her humanity. As Orpheus mourns her disappearance and strives to contact her, her father restores her memory and they create a small, sweet semblance of home together – only interrupted by the lustful machinations of the sinister man, now an equally sinister young boy. Eventually Orpheus braves the gates of hell to bring Eurydice back, forcing her to choose between the lifetime they had come so close to building together and the one she’s now recovered with her father. As the myth goes, Orpheus looks back at Eurydice as he escorts her out, breaking his covenant with the sinister man and damning her back to hell.
Good scripts like this one invite a lot of examination after the fact. Eurydice doesn’t reinvent the Orpheus myth as much as it exposes it, drawing parallels (both bold and subtle) between the myth and women’s current standing in society. No matter which perspective relays the myth, all of Eurydice’s struggles are based around the men who surround her, one of whom has inserted himself uninvited into her life. Even as she makes hard and moving decisions (with hard consequences) between men she loves, the 50’s aesthetic and inherent gender dynamics throw harsh relief on the fact that it’s still all about men. Many otherwise beautiful scenes – a father permanently giving away his daughter – are bittersweet, even tainted, not even in the play but in the zeitgeist, by the implications of ownership. This isn’t a new take on feminist writing, but the understated nature of the play makes it subversive, allowing our psyches to arrive seemingly unbidden the revulsive nature of patriarchy. Even in the myth’s climax, Eurydice is blamed in an uncomfortably prolonged farewell for the mistake Orpheus made, one which costs her her life for the second time.
There are no weak points in Promethean’s production of this play: performances are delightful, tech is strong, set and costumes both immersive and engaging. If this show can be said to have a star it is director Nicole Hand – there’s a cleanliness of motion and intensity of purpose that permeates the entirety of the cast, making simple choreography dazzling and commonly staged bits absolutely elegant. For its refreshing run time and basis in surrealism, the show takes its time; on purpose, both in the sweet parts and the heavy ones, and with a direct and careful quality that keeps an otherwise message-deciphering audience rapt.
This show is a playful but also intricate study, and it’s worth getting familiar with the originating myth before attending; it’s beautiful and thought-provoking and sad, and the best kind of rapid, and very good.