By Elizabeth Higgins
Part of being human is knowing that death is inevitable. We all know that–be it in twenty years or ninety–we and our loved ones must eventually face whatever exists on the other side (though whether it’s nothingness or an underworld populated by talking stones remains to be seen). In the meantime, we find ways to cope with our losses –ways to forget, ways to remember, and ways to move on. “Eurydice” explores the complexity of death, life, and existence in general.
On December 10, 2014, Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice”, directed by Jedadiah Schultz, premiered at the Lab Theatre at CSI’s Center for the Arts.
This play, which is an imaginative retelling of the Orpheus myth, at its roots is a story about love and loss that conveys its message in such an original, beautiful, and enchanting way.
Since most of the play takes place in the underworld, it lends itself to inventive set design. The set was brilliantly crafted by Kevin Judge, who chose to represent the River Lethe as glass bottles filled with water.
The show opens with our two protagonists, Orpheus (portrayed by Zachariah Tirado) and Eurydice (portrayed by Kristiana Tattos), spending a day at the beach. We learn that she loves books, and he loves music –and they love each other fully and all-consumingly, in the way that only young lovers can.
Both Tirado and Tattos portray the contrasting personalities expertly, as Orpheus seems perpetually distracted by his obsession with music. As Eurydice said, loving an artist means understanding that “inside his head there is always something more beautiful.” But, despite this, Tirado also conveys Orpheus’ unfailing devotion to Eurydice, which leads him, quite literally, to hell and back. Tattos’ Eurydice, though somewhat naive, is a sweet, intelligent, and thoughtful young woman. Faults and all, the two make an excellent pair.
In this world, the lines between living and dead seem somewhat blurred, as Eurydice’s father, portrayed by Andrés Alexis Tirado-Bonilla, writes her a letter on her wedding day.
When Eurydice wanders away from her wedding party to get a drink of water, she is approached by a stranger (played by Devon Philips) who tells her about the letter and asks her to come back to his apartment. She follows this “interesting” man, but the situation becomes increasingly ominous as he refuses to give her the letter or let her leave. Philips plays this friendly-but-sinister role quite well, as the audience panics when it seems he is beginning to make advances towards her.
Eurydice snatches the letter from him and tries to leave, but falls to her death from the high-rise apartment.
She immediately arrives in the afterlife via a raining elevator. Since she has been dipped in the river, she has forgotten her husband’s name and can only understand the language of the dead and the stones. She is greeted by Big Stone, Little Stone, and Loud Stone, hilariously portrayed by Rogelio Douglas III, Nicole Freed and Brianna Espinal, respectively. The stones provide an excellent and unique comedic break in a story pervaded by a sense of reflective sadness.
Eurydice also meets her father, whom she does not recognize and believes to be a porter. Tirado-Bonilla’s performance is outstanding, as he displays such tenderness and patience for his daughter as he helps her to remember. He makes her a room out of string, (even though rooms are not allowed in the land of the dead), teaches her all the words she has forgotten, and tells her stories of his youth. The interactions between Eurydice and her father are what make this show so meaningful. Again, Tirado-Bonilla shows a father’s quiet and calm but powerful love for a daughter in each and every word. When Eurydice can’t understand what “father” means, he tells her that he is her tree, and that love is sitting in the shade. This is one of the many instances in which this show poignantly explains concepts that are nearly impossible to put into words.
Eventually, we meet the Lord of the Underworld (also portrayed by Devon Philips): a child who rides tricycle, and “grows down like a turnip.” He reminds Eurydice that concepts such as fathers and rooms are not permitted in the underworld. Philips’ performance in this role is outstanding as well, as he switches from silly and childish to a frightening “grown-up” version of himself who threatens to force Eurydice to become his bride.
Back in the land of the living, we see Orpheus coping with his loss by taking refuge in his music. Tirado shows us Orpheus’ grief and despondency throughout his frantic attempts to search for and communicate with Eurydice.
He uses his music to journey to the underworld, and he is given a chance to bring Eurydice back to life. However, there is only one condition: as they walk through the gates, he must not turn around to look at her.
And, as in the myth, he turns around. Eurydice calls out to Orpheus and startles him, as she was frightened and conflicted about leaving her father. In a heart-wrenching scene, she drifts apart from him and dies a second death.
We also see how Eurydice’s father copes with his loss. He wanted more than anything for his daughter to be happy and to experience life in its fullness. He cared about her more than he cared about himself, and therefore he encouraged her to go with Orpheus. But, in his sadness, he chooses to forget her and dips himself in the River Lethe.
This poignant, deeply moving, and introspective show explores the depths of human love –both romantic and paternal–, in the wake of death and grief.
Schulz noted that, although Ruhl’s work is grounded in realism, she uses imagination to bend the rules. His direction made the idea of Ruhl’s underworld, with all of its imaginative and unique rules, feel completely natural. Schultz presented this story in a way that helps to understand humanity; throughout the show, we are called upon to ask ourselves what it means to live, and what it means to be a person.
It isn’t easy to explain things that can only be felt. Somehow, this play managed to accomplish that monumental task. And all those who worked on this show—the production team, the cast, and the tech crew –helped to make this possible.