Young Vic Theatre Spring 2010
Sarah Ruhl's major contribution to the Orpheus myth in her 2005 play is not the modern dress setting (which actually muddies things a bit) but the shift in focus to the bride Orpheus fails to rescue from the Underworld.
Lured away from her wedding party, Eurydice falls and dies, and reaches the Land of the Dead by a descending lift that doubles as shower stall, washing away in the waters of Lethe all her memories of life.
She meets her dead father, who has somehow avoided the forced-forgetting process, and he guides her back to remembering, so that she mourns the loss of her husband while he is on Earth mourning her.
That doesn't stop her from impulsively making him look back at her when he comes to save her, foiling the rescue, and so she returns to the Underworld, choosing this time to bathe in the waters and be freed from her painful memories.
The discovery that memory of life can be both a blessing and a curse to the dead is the play's emotional core. Of course the idea is not new - it isn't even new to American drama, and Ruhl must know Thornton Wilder's Our Town, which says much the same thing.
But it bears retelling, though one might have hoped for it to be dressed in more skilful dramaturgy.
The opening scene of love between Orpheus and Eurydice, and the scene in which she and her father revel in the rediscovery of warm family memories, are both very sweet and evocative. But Orpheus himself is a barely written character, quickly reduced to a bit player, while a mysterious man, meant (I guess) as an avatar for Pluto, is never really integrated into the action.
Meanwhile, Eurydice is met in Hades by a Chorus of talking rocks who are evidently the upholders of the local regulations and, aside from being slightly silly as a concept, they are given little to do except grumble whenever she breaks the rules.
And everybody has to take a turn wrestling with self-consciously poetic lines like 'His eyes were two black birds and they flew to me' or 'I heard your name inside the rain,' and it doesn't take too many of those to reduce language to empty music.
As Eurydice, Ony Uhiara does her best to make what is essentially a poetic concept into a real character, and is most successful in her scenes with Geff Francis's warm and solid father.
Director Bijan Sheibani successfully navigates the inherent difficulties of playing in-the-round, and Patrick Burnier's set is certainly inventive, from impressionistic lift to real water fountains, though lighting designer Mike Gunning seems never to have checked his rigging, as some of us in the audience spent whole chunks of the play with a blindingly bright footlight shining directly into our eyes.
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Eurydice - Young Vic Theatre 2010