BWW Review: APT's Extraordinary EURYDICE Weeps for Fathers and Lovers

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Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

Name one person worth passing through the gates of Hades for while singing a song so sorrowful the stones would weep--A parent? A child? A partner? Perhaps even a true friend? American Players Theatre stages Eurydice, steampunk style in the Touchstone Theatre, recreating Sarah Ruhl's ethereal, surreal play examining love and the lengths someone would travel to serve that love. Based on the Greek myth of lovers Eurydice and musical rock star Orpheus, the child of Calliope and perhaps the God Apollo, Ruhl transforms the myth with a tale in tribute to her own father. Directed by Londoner Tyne Rafaeli, this production acquires a spiritual ambiance drawing the audience into Ruhl's and Rafaeli's underworld where Orpheus searches for Eurydice and literal sobs, tears flowing freely, were heard in the audience on opening day.

Director Rafaeli returned after leading APT's magical 2015 Pride and Prejudice, where Kelsey Brennan won audience's hearts as Elizabeth Bennett. On stage in Eurydice, Brennan's lithe and tiny frame accented by fire red hair, which reminds one of a flaming haystack, represents the epitome of this Greek mythological figure. Transforming from Orpheus' lover, an adoring Nate Burger, or the daughter to a transcendent parent James Ridge, this Eurydice reaches to the depths of human emotion similar to Orpheus searching to the depths of the underworld.

Cedric Mays casts an enticing and imposing Lord of the Underworld., while the three stones, who eventually weep, Melisa Pereyra, Christopher Sheard, and Cage Sebastian Pierre, act as a chorus, sculptural backdrops in black trench coats, boots and hoods, Especially impressive, the three actors climb on poles stretching from ceiling to stage floor, almost as the proverbial flies on the wall, guarding and listening to the conversations that occur in the dark place.

Costume Designer Elizabeth Caitlin Ward discovers the perfect balance in the steam punk attire--and transports the ancient tale to a contemporary context. Eurydice's asymmetrical neckline accents a black lace slip underneath her white wedding gown, accessorized with studded black boots and compliments this theme. To match this, Orpheus' clean lined leather jacket, t-shirts and jeans, again in steampunk style removes any sentimentality from this production that draws deep from the audience's hearts. Genuine emotion between father and daughter, or husband and wife, partner and partner, pours forth into the audiences much like the notes Orpheus plays to Eurydice when traveling to the underworld.

Essential to this production's success, Lighting Designer Jason Fassl imagines a room constructed of light and thin lines dropped from the ceiling, together with Scenic Designer Nathan Stuber. With minimal props to define Hades, the lighting focuses the underworld's essence with clarity, so the few platforms and poles used in unique ways allow the audience to envision their own atmosphere or thoughts while maintaining the contemporary setting that also reads as eternal.

The Touchstone plays incredibly intimate, so when Ridge speaks of his daughter, or becomes a "tree" for her where Brennan leans against Ridge's tall body, a reference to her character's parentage as a forest nymph who are born of the trees, the audience sighs. In another moment her father sends her back to her husband Orpheus, and she leaves him in the underworld, Audience members tremble. Or the audience marvels when Brennan's Eurydice opens her small suitcase lined in white satin (is this her coffin?), and then climbs in, knees held close to her chest.

These theatrical moments carry Ruhl's poetic dialogue into another dimension, burn the heart and mind when sitting in the audience playing as a literary symphony that doubles as an eulogy for these two lovers. A combination of dance, music and theater-simply an extraordinary production. The playwright believes "love is a big, funny word" rarely able to be described and only experienced on stage and in the soul.

Love defined by Ruhl could be that person who becomes "a tree" for someone, a parent providing shade, or the "choosing of a beloved," where "one sits in the shade with no clothes on." When Eurydice's father commands the audience to "cultivate art and give yourself to others," the world above might discover a way to transform into a place far different from Hades. A place where Ruhl believes, "a song is two bodies rubbing under the covers to stay warm." A place where people weep for joy and sorrow, remember how to read and write, which in the underwood is forgotten, and they speak in the language of the dead.

Weep. Laugh, because there's humor overflowing from the performance under Rafaeli's visionary direction, and remember love. Weep again and remember Jesus wept. APT'S exceptional and stunning Eurydice will be a treasured Touchstone production throughout this season and in years to come. After leaving the theater in tribute to someone who's loved, either from the present or past, sing a beautiful song for them to make the stone's weep.

American Players Theatre presents Sarah Ruhl's EURYDiCE at the Touchstone Theatre in Spring Green throughout the summer season. For information on special events, performance schedule, upcoming productions or tickets, please call: 608.588.2361 or americanplayerstheatre.org.



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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan