by SOPHIE KERMAN
In Sarah Ruhl‘s take on the classic myth of Eurydice, there are many ways to cross between loss and forgetting. Letters find their way to and from the underworld, where a chorus of stones silently fights the speech and song that bring memory back into dark places. An elevator transports the dead to their resting place and washes away their past with a gentle rain.
But some memories are not lost forever or lost completely, even to the dead. Although Eurydice is based on the famous story of a couple separated by death – and Orpheus’s tragic attempt to bring Eurydice back from the underworld – the core of Ruhl’s interpretation is Eurydice’s father, who has somehow managed to hold onto his memories of Eurydice even after death. The reunion between Eurydice and her father is just as much of a tragic romance as Eurydice’s relationship with Orpheus, and it is rendered all the more poignant by the depth of the history between the two.
The Walking Shadow‘s production, like memory itself, is most powerful when it seizes on the tangible moments and details that bring abstract feelings and recollections into vivid relief. Despite his dreamy devotion to music, Paris Hunter Paul brings specific mannerisms to Orpheus that are charmingly familiar to anyone who’s ever had a crush on an artist. Diametrically opposite the right-brained Orpheus, Dan Hopman‘s portrayals of the Nasty, Interesting Man & Lord of the Underworld are sharply drawn (and creepy in two very, very different ways).
Steve Kath‘s and Karin Olson‘s set and lighting designs are just as much a part of the play’s success as the actors. The brick, wood, and pipe structures on stage capture the same feeling of disuse and forgotten purpose that you get from old amusement parks or abandoned schools. It is a space that can be used and illuminated in many ways without settling, stone-like, into just one purpose. (And speaking of stones, Bryan Grosso, Bethany Peters, and Jen Scott‘s trio of stones serves as a perfect anchor to this floating world: both comic and repellent, they embody the underworld’s imposed silence and suppressed thought.)
Where Eurydice occasionally misses the mark is a question of tone. The script is so poetic that any extra emphasis on its artistic qualities risks coming across as indulgent on the part of the director (Amy Rummenie). There are times when clarity of vision gives way to reflective moments that are overkill, given the script’s already introspective qualities. Peter Ooley, as Eurydice’s father, is almost always spot-on as he balances a father’s quiet composure with overwhelming love for his daughter, but even he, in the end, succumbs to the portentous pauses of an artsy play. And though Andrea San Miguel plays Eurydice with a believable poise and physicality, her line delivery often comes across as staged; her Eurydice reads more as doll-like than as a flesh-and-blood woman struggling with her own death.
But in a play that could have easily come across as self-consciously overrun by needless artistic flourishes, these critiques are minor. It is a tribute to the Walking Shadow’s courage and ability that they have chosen such a challenging play and have staged it beautifully. The script is written in movements, like a symphony, and its fluid musicality is not lost on this production. Crossing back and forth between the stark world of the living and the timelessness of death, Eurydice explores remembrance and loss with delicacy, compassion and humor. In a mythical landscape where it is all too easy to give in and let memories be washed away, this production is hauntingly hard to forget.
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. Presented by the Walking Shadow Theatre Company at the Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Ave S., Minneapolis, September 14-29, 2012. Tickets $15-22. Information at www.walkingshadowcompany.org.