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Eurydice: Theater Review

Eurydice: Theater Review Image - H 2013
Craig Schwartz

The Bottom Line

Oft-revived contemporary classic receives a deliberate production that makes the poetry clear without conveying its full depth of lyricism. 

Venue

A Noise Within, Pasadena (runs through May 19)

Cast

Jules Willcox, Geoff Elliott, Graham Sibley, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Abigail Marks, Jessie Losch, Kelly Ehlert

Playwright

Sarah Ruhl

Director

Geoff Elliott

Pasadena's A Noise Within takes on the Orpheus legend.

Eurydice was Los Angeles’ first encounter with the work of Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House, Dead Man’s Cell Phone), future MacArthur Grant recipient and Pulitzer Prize finalist, in a revelatory production by Circle X at Inside the Ford in 2006. Almost overnight, this reimagining of the Orpheus (Graham Sibley) legend from the viewpoint of his love Eurydice (Jules Willcox), seduced into death on her wedding day by the Lord of the Underworld (an insinuating Ryan Vincent Anderson), in whose kingdom she is reunited with her dead father (director Geoff Elliott), has become a staple produced by companies throughout the U.S.

Ruhl’s vision retains its appealing freshness with its assertively anti-Freudian psychology of an ambivalent bride, whose fiance may offer her the song of birds and the music of the seas, while she prefers to read and immerse herself in words, a form of expression he in turn cannot appreciate for all those tunes crowding in his head. In hell, her father lovingly nurses back her worldly memories, which had been washed clean by the River Styx, by teaching her meanings of vocabulary such as “defunct,” “peripatetic,” and “ostracize,” while a chorus of strident stones scoldingly enforces a conformity of amnesia for the dead. The grieving Orpheus storms Hades with his melodies to retrieve her, but it is far from clear to Eurydice whether or not she wants to return to life, or life with him rather than Dad.

Ruhl’s astonishing first piece, Melancholy Play (2001), most uncompromisingly reveled in a brilliantly obscure poetry, and Eurydice marked a decisive evolution of her lyric sensibility into a more accessible idiom, as her work has grown more assuredly comic and commercial over time. Eurydice may or may not be her best work, but it has the most exquisite balance of her multifaceted qualities as a dramatist.

A Noise Within, exulting in its new auditorium, continues its established tradition of careful, tasteful and tidy renditions of canonical texts, so this Eurydice can be studied where it ought to be more heedless of risk. The production is consistent, thoughtful and honors the material, though more passionate conviction ought to be manifested. The father-daughter relationship has a graceful gentleness that is very becoming, and Anderson takes full measure of his snaky tempter. It’s slightly unsettling, though, how Ruhl’s so recent boldness could already be subsiding into relative conventionality. 

Venue: A Noise Within, Pasadena (runs through May 19)

Cast: Jules Willcox, Geoff Elliott, Graham Sibley, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Abigail Marks, Jessie Losch, Kelly Ehlert

Director: Geoff Elliott  

Playwright: Sarah Ruhl

Set designer: Jeanine A. Ringer

Lighting designer: Meghan Gray

Sound designer: Doug Newell

Music: Endre Balogh

Costume designer: Angela Balogh Calin

Projection designer: Brian Gale