BWW Review: EURYDICE at Fenix Theatre Company

BWW Review: EURYDICE at Fenix Theatre Company

Portland's Greek Festival ended a few weeks ago but the spirit of that ancient culture hangs in the air with the latest production from the Fenix Theatre Company. Sarah Ruhl's gentle makeover of the myth of "Orpheus and Eurydice" is being presented in and around the small wading pools at Deering Oaks Park.

"Eurydice," as the title suggests, gives greater attention to the heroine of the classic tale of life and death and all that's in-between. Refreshingly lyrical and devilishly funny, the 2003 play sets up a dilemma.

Newlywed Eurydice's accidental death leads to her descent into the underworld where, after some linguistic and spatial acclimation, she reunites with her long dead father. Will she stay with her father or return to her still living husband, who's found a way to bring her back?

The play's subtle spirit benefitted from mic'd performers and an attentive audience at the performance under review. The impressively focused actors were able to overcome the noise and other distractions of the public park setting to deliver Ruhl's sensitive and thoughtful lines about hanging on and letting go.

Erica Murphy takes the lead role as a sweet, spirited young woman who seems to be in love with love as much as with Orpheus, though he is a charming and thoughtful young musician as portrayed by Nolan Ellsworth.

They chase each other around like a couple of youngsters before tragedy strikes. Orpheus then begins a frantic search for release from his grief while Eurydice is introduced to the unfamiliar denizens of the underworld: the Chorus of Stones, played by Hannah Daly, Ella Mock and Casey Turner, and the Lord of the lower reaches himself, played by Khalil Lesaldo.

These underworld characters impart bits of odd and funny wisdom appropriate to the heroine's new circumstances. But they also find something appealing about the spirit still alive within Eurydice.

When Eurydice finally recognizes the stranger she meets, played by Sean Ramey, as her father, she starts to lose her longing for her life before. They play and reminisce about happier times that seem to eclipse Eurydice's perhaps mis-matched relationship with Orpheus. When her chance to return to life comes, it is her choice along with that of her forlorn dad that leads to a rather somber denouement.

Murphy and Ellsworth inject much energy into their roles. The viewer is truly drawn to their spirit. Ramey adds poignancy to his generational perspective. LeSaldo is an amusing menace as his character develops some mixed feelings over the course of several brief scenes. The Stones are more funny than spooky as both their exclamations and bickering lighten things considerably.

Director Hannah Cordes and staff have more than met a difficult challenge in making a slightly offbeat but ultimately moving play succeed in an unpredictable outdoor setting.

"Eurydice" at Deering Oaks Park, Portland, ME.

Reviewed July 15; continues through July 29

(note: July 28 performance moves to Congress Square Park)

fenixtheatre.com

Photo by Matt Delamater

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