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Sunday, 17 March 2013 09:56

Pluto Ruhls the Underworld

Written by Steve Callahan
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Fontbonne University has opened a charming production of "Eurydice", a very slight piece by Sarah Ruhl. Whimsical, with occasional wisps of poetry, this little story is a retelling of the Orpheus legend—but with a focus on Eurydice.

Director Deanna Jent draws lovely, confident performances from her student cast.  And Jent’s flair for the theatrical pervades the production.

We meet Orpheus and Eurydice on the beach as Orpheus, in an effusion of high-school romanticism, gives her the sun, the moon, the stars, the sea.  At their wedding party Eurydice is lured away by a “Nasty Interesting Man”.  She falls from his high apartment and dies.  (In the legend a serpent kills her.)  The rest of the play (which, in toto is a brief seventy minutes) deals with Eurydice’s life in the underworld, her meeting with her mother there, and Orpheus’ effort to find Eurydice.  The idea of Death as a forgetting is repeatedly touched on.

David Chandler and London Reynolds, as Orpheus and Eurydice, are a quite beautiful young couple, and they handle the roles well.  Melissa Gerth is suave and serpentish as the Nasty Interesting Man.  As the Lord of the Underworld she properly presents the childishness—even petulance—for which the author calls.   Jean Lang gives nice depth to Eurydice’s mother.

I was charmed by the chorus of stones in the underworld.  (The legend tells us that Orpheus sang so beautifully that “even the stones wept”, so why not give stones personalities in the afterlife?)  Josie Zeugin is a Loud Stone, Angela Doerr is a Little Stone, and both Jessica Haley and Zoe Sullivan perform with delicious "attitude" in a sort of Siamese-synch to portray the Large Stone.  (This fancy is director Jent’s invention—and it’s a delightful one.)  The stones, costumed in a wonderful sort of ragged Steam Punk, comment on the doings in the underworld and naggingly try to suppress any contravention of the rules and regulations of the afterlife.

Technical aspects are excellent:  set by Dunsi Dai, lights by Michael Sullivan, sound by David Chandler, and costumes by Jane Sullivan all beautifully support the dreamy nowhere in which Sarah Ruhl’s play is contained.

I do have some quibbles with two gender-blind casting decisions.  I know there are often good reasons in educational theatre to cast a woman in a man’s role, but sometimes there is an artistic price to pay.  Sarah Ruhl, in an interview, commented that she wrote this play partly to continue a conversation with her father, who died when she was a student at Brown.  Ruhl’s cast includes Eurydice’s Father, not her Mother.   I am not “modern” enough to have been persuaded that mothers and fathers are simply interchangeable.   To use Eurydice’s mother instead of her father alters the dynamic in important ways.  And to dress this mother in a man’s business suit simply confuses the issue.

And then there is the Nasty Interesting Man and the Lord of the Underworld.  A woman luring Eurydice to her apartment is simply not as threatening as a man.  And a female Lord of the Underworld suggesting that Eurydice become her bride just introduces a whole new lot of baggage.  I must say, though, that the entrance of the rather wacky Lord of the Underworld astride a tiny tricycle wearing shorts and a beanie allowed Ms. Gerth to show off some rather splendid knees.

Sarah Ruhl is a very hot ticket right now.   But in "Eurydice" she succumbs to a common weakness of “hot tickets”.  She’s been praised to the skies.  Occasionally she’s been praised to the skies for quite mediocre work.  And any writer, experiencing this, is tempted to see just how far they can go.  OK, Ms. Ruhl, I’ll call you.  "Eurydice" is not good enough.  It’s shapeless.  It’s poetical meanderings are just not deep enough.  It drifts into pointless stream-of-consciousness babble.  It drifts into tedium.  Please make the effort to do better;  you obviously can.

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