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|March 19-25, 2009
Of love and death
Curious goes old school with Ruhl
by Gary Zeidner
Have you ever loved someone with all your heart, with every ounce of your being, then lost them forever? (And when I say “forever” I’m talking about losing your love to unapologizing death, not to some cross-country job offer or shiny new lover.) Few experiences in life begin to approach the anguish. The pain can be so great that it can mute all the colors of the world. It can rob the mountains of their majesty. It can make an atheist long for a fluffy, clouded heaven.
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is a tale that taps into this potent blend of romance and tragedy, of love and death. The great musician, Orpheus, meets, woos and weds the beautiful Eurydice. Their love is so pure, so deep, that they would almost certainly inspire envy in any couple not so blessed. Soon after the wedding, though, Eurydice is suddenly and unexpectedly killed and transported to the Greek underworld, a place more Purgatory than Hell, where souls languish for eternity with no memory of their former lives.
Eurydice, however, retains hazy memories from before her untimely demise. She struggles mightily to put the fragments together and eventually remembers her beloved Orpheus. While Eurydice pines below, Orpheus laments above. Where before his music had thrilled every listener, now he can only play dirges. His love for Eurydice undiminished by her death, Orpheus decides to travel to the underworld himself to retrieve her.
After making his way to the underworld and finding Eurydice, Orpheus strikes a deal with the powers that be. He will be allowed to take Eurydice back to the land of the living… under one condition. For the entire duration of their long trek out of the underworld, Eurydice must walk behind Orpheus, and Orpheus must not, under any circumstance, turn to look at her until they are both topside. If he meets that condition, Eurydice will once more be alive and at his side. If he fails, Eurydice must remain in the underworld, and the two will never be reunited. Orpheus leads Eurydice out of the underworld, but just before they cross the border he turns to check on her and she vanishes forever.
Eurydice, by celebrated playwright Sarah Ruhl, reimagines the Orpheus myth. Rather than dying accidentally, now Eurydice’s death is engineered by the lord of the underworld so that he may have her all to himself. Once below, Eurydice is aided in her quest to remember her life by her father. A Greek chorus of churlish stones (a Big one, a Little one and a Loud one) offer complaints and sarcastic advice. Eurydice and Orpheus are even able to exchange love letters in the time leading up to Orpheus’ rescue attempt.
Judging from the reaction of the opening night audience, Eurydice will be a smash hit. All around me, people dabbed at their eyes and talked excitedly about what a transcendent experience they had watching the play. While I agreed that, from a technical perspective, Eurydice was well done, it failed to touch me emotionally, and given the powerful source material, that disappointed me greatly. Whether due to Ruhl’s characterizations or this particular production’s take on the material, where I expected to feel keenly the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice I instead felt overwhelmed by irony.
A few years ago, the Avenue Theatre put on Metamorphoses, a collection of myths including that of Orpheus and Eurydice. I don’t cry often — and hardly ever in public — but when Orpheus turned and Eurydice disappeared, I wept. Maybe that experience forced my expectations too high for Eurydice. Maybe there are gender-related cues on which I failed to pick up? (By far, the most affected audience members at Eurydice were, to a one, women.) For whatever reason, Eurydice missed its mark with me.
On the Bill:
Eurydice, by the Curious Theatre Company, plays through April 18 at the Acoma Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Denver, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Tickets are $27-$34.
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