Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
The set design for “Eurydice,” now on Yale Rep’s main stage, is spectacular. But to what purpose is another matter.
It is always questionable when a set design gets top billing, as in this review. Yet we cannot help but lead off with a description of the stage. For starters, a green tiled upstage wall several stories high dominates the scene, with an array of pipes, rather like an incomplete scaffolding, in the foreground. The stage floor, backing, everything, is set at a slant, which gives the dizzying effect of a giant, lop-sided green bathroom.
But on to the show itself. The original Orpheus/Eurydice myth, as we know, tells of Orpheus, the greatest of mortal musicians, who loves and marries Eurydice. She dies from a viper sting and he goes to the Underworld to rescue her. He gets Eurydice back, but on one condition—that he not look at her until they reach the upper world. Of course he does look back, and she is lost to him forever.
Playwright Sarah Ruhl has chosen to set this Greek myth in current times, with Orpheus and Eurydice seen as a modern boy and girl. On her wedding day Eurydice is lured away by a stranger (presumably the Devil), promising her a letter from her long-dead father. While in the stranger’s high-rise apartment, she plunges to her death. Thus begins Eurydice’s sojourn in the Underworld, with an ever-growing self-awareness and ultimately a reconnection to her father. All the while, Orpheus, above ground, sends her tiresome repetitive letters (conveyed, he hopes, by a worm).
Ruhl chose to give a different slant to the story, focusing, she claims, on Eurydice herself. Unfortunately, the play gives much too much time to the boring Eurydice-Orpheus relationship. The brief father-daughter scenes (the most affecting parts of the play) appear to be thrown in as an afterthought.
The difficulties here lie, not only in the text, but in the performances. Charles Shaw Robinson, as the father, gives a most moving portrayal, while Joseph Parks as Orpheus and Maria Dizzia as Eurydice falter by the way. We never buy into their supposedly agonizing circumstances or their supposedly deathless love.
Yet this “Eurydice” has its moments of compensation. The violent rainstorms as characters enter the Underworld are spectacular (but what is the purpose, one wonders). In Ruhl’s salute to the Greek chorus, her three characters known as the Three Stones, and played by Carla Harting, Ramiz Monsef, and Gian-Murray Gianino, add a highly bizarre touch to the Underworld scenes. Dressed in Dickensian attire, they move and speak as one--a flawless ensemble. Mark Zeisler is also strong as the Lord of the Underworld. And the moment when a confused Eurydice arrives in the underworld, asking for a room and bath, is surely a highlight. “There are no rooms here!” the Three Stones cry out. But Eurydice’s loving father (whom she does not yet recognize) creates an imaginary room out of string and pipes. And, finally, Orpheus’s attempt to lead Eurydice out of the Underworld is another strong moment.
But essentially this is a “Eurydice” which leaves us untouched, despite all the fireworks. We cannot help but compare it with another modern version of the myth---the 1959 French-Brazilian film “Black Orpheus,” which we would gladly see replayed.
Or, better yet, an onstage return of the original myth.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 29, 2006