The University of Alabama at Huntsville Drama Department is running an outstanding production of Eurydice at Wilson Hall until 17 April. This play is a sensory experience with a touching story, and absolutely should not be missed.
The Eurydice character is more than two thousand years old, coming from Greek mythology. She dies on her wedding day and goes to the underworld. Her husband, Orpheus, the most skilled musician in the world, travels there and charms his way through the gates with his music. His music is so moving, in fact, that Hades, the god of the underworld, allows Orpheus to lead Eurydice back to life, as long as he doesn’t look back. He starts leading her out, but at the last second he glances back to see if Eurydice is there, and thus loses her forever. The original myth is told entirely from Orpheus’ perspective, with Eurydice barely more than a plot device.
This stage version, by Sarah Ruhl, a Pulitzer and Tony award finalist, tells a modernized version of the story from Eurydice’s perspective, with Orpheus in a supporting role. When writing this play, Ruhl was obviously dealing with the recent death of her father, to whom she dedicated the play. She wrote Eurydice’s father into the plot, and has him waiting for her in the underworld for a reunion. Rather than being the love story one might expect from the source material, Eurydice spends the majority of her stage time re-connecting with her lost father, and that father-daughter relationship is a major theme of the show. There are plenty of themes to go around, though. Though Eurydice married the love of her life, it’s not clear that she’s the love of his life. There is an analysis of the parent-child relationship, with the Father always running off to work, and providing shelter while the daughter plays hop-scotch. And a very thought-provoking theme about dealing with loss, especially a second time. Layered over all of that is a moderate dose of absurdism, with talking Stones trying to enforce the rules of the underworld, and letters delivered by worm, which all has the potential to make the show a bit inaccessible for audiences. My advice is to relax and enjoy the show. Don’t dig too deeply into what every line or action means, because it doesn’t all make sense on the conscious level. Just let the sounds and sights of the production wash over you, and the connections and meanings will become clear as they bubble up from your subconscious.
This production, directed by Karen Baker, makes wonderful use of the all the technical elements to create an experience that absorbs the audience and carries them away with Eurydice on her adventures. The blocking takes full advantage of the multi-level set, and reinforces the relationships and emotional distances. The one real weakness in this production, however, is highlighted at the moment when Orpheus has succeeded in reaching the underworld, and Eurydice has to choose between returning to the land of the living with him, or staying behind with her father. Unfortunately, Orpheus has been more goofy than earnest in his quest to save her, and while Father has spent a lot of time with her, he has remained emotionally flat throughout. Thus, the impact on the audience of Eurydice’s dilemma in choosing which person to whom she has to say goodbye forever, is lacking the emotional weight it should. That is not to say that there is no emotional effect from this play; far from it. The well deserved applause at the conclusion of the opening night performance was delayed as the audience sat in stunned silence after the final blackout, still caught up in what they had experienced.
Kailey Burkhardt is absolutely sensational as the title character. By necessity, the show largely rests on her, and she is entirely up to the task, turning in a stellar performance in a very difficult role. Charley White, as “Orpheus” did an admirable job, and worked well with all of the sound cues on which his role relies, as the greatest musician in the world. Carl Bonebright, as “Father”, managed to capture well the patient, often tired, relationship of a parent with a young child to care for, but his best scene is probably when Eurydice first arrives in the underworld, but doesn’t recognize him. Chad Burkhardt, as “Nasty Interesting Man”, does very well with an especially challenging task, being heavily involved in the most absurd moments in the play. Since there IS a point to the absurdist sections, the goal is to have the audience feel like they almost “get it”, rather than feel like it’s too ridiculous to try to understand. Being “real” in absurdism is not easy, and Chad handles his various character types with coolness and aplomb, bringing ominous weight to the stage. Bakari Prigg, Laura Martin, and Logan Osborn, as the “Stones” are a well-rehearsed team, serving as the Greek chorus, starting and finishing each other’s shared lines. The directorial choice to have the Stones working as the underworld’s janitorial crew was an odd one, and they didn’t actually fit their names of “Big”, “Little”, and “Loud”, but none of that detracts from the production, and this trio served the show well.
The technical elements for Eurydice are absolutely stunning, and David Harwell, the Technical Director should be proud. The set, designed by Harwell, appears simple enough at first glance–a couple platforms and stairs, all painted black–until you notice that there’s a river onstage, with actual water, and once the show starts, it rains. The lighting, designed and operated for the show by Ronnie Foreman, is equally impressive. The shaping of the acting spaces, and the control of the moods and setting, are absolutely perfect. This show would not at all have been possible without the truly incredible work done with Sound, designed by Johnna Doty, Jesse Pate, and Alva Pope, with the latter two also filling in on the sound boards during the performances. Sound effects are almost constant in this show, whether general background noise, or tied to specific cues, and their selection and implementation were perfect. Last, but not least, the costumes by Ron Harris are also very well chosen. It’s not often that costumes are outshined by other technical elements, but that’s not Harris’ fault. His costumes perfectly capture the mood, period, and style of the show, as well as the characters’ personalities.
I highly recommend Eurydice. It’s running Wednesday through Sunday until 17 April, at the Wilson Hall theatre on the UAH campus. This is a ninety-minute show, with no intermission, but the time flies. You won’t be ready for the show to end when the house lights come up. Ticket information and show times can be found here.