Zack Faulkner & Sophia Hyde in Eurydice. Photo:CTC
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Hallie Dizdarevic & Keith McGill
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Orpheus is one of the most important figures in Western Classical mythology, portrayed in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, film, opera, music, and painting. It is almost always a story told from the male hero’s perspective, with Sara Ruhl’s adaptation of the myth being perhaps the one exception.
Ruhl invites interpretation. My previous experience was a production a few years ago directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, which embraced the dark, supernatural mystery that has often been used in telling the Orpheus myth. Filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s surrealist masterpiece Orphee is but one example.
Directors Hallie Dizsdarevic and Keith McGill’s take could not stand in starker contrast, mining the lighter aspects of Ruhl’s script to allow for humor and a focus more on humanity and sacrifice rather than the lure of the darkness.
Clearly, shifting the story to Eurydice allows for a feminist perspective, and some of her dialogue sounds as if it were lifted from the halcyon days of the Women’s Movement. The plot involves Eurydice and Orpheus marrying and The Lord of the Underworld stealing Eurydice away before the festivities have ended. Later, when Orpheus comes to save her, the Lord of the Underworld will allow him to take her only if they do not look upon each other until they have safely returned to the land of the living.
So why is this contemporary piece a part of a Shakespeare festival? Ruhl is repurposing an ancient tale just as William Shakespeare did in his time, just as all storytelling recycles archetypes and motifs over and over again to match the temper of the times.
I do wish Ruhl’s play was not on the outdoor stage that CTC, because of the pandemic, has used for the last two years. While Louisville is certainly accustomed to Shakespeare outdoors, and most of his plays welcome expansive staging, Eurydice would fare much better in an intimate space, where we could more meaningfully engage with the silky menace of Atticus Haden’s Nasty Interesting Man as he seduces Eurydice. Haden is a highlight of the production, joyfully playing all of the personalities occupied by the Lord of the Underworld. And Zack Faulkner was wonderful as Eurydice’s Father, adept at physical humor but also effective in the tragic moments.
Sophie Hyde was Eurydice as an ingenue, an innocent who lacks the worldlines to recognize the danger of the Nasty Interesting Man, and Aidan Garrison was good as Orpheus, yet he couldn’t find a way to help the character when the playwright has pushed it closer to the background.
Keeping with tradition, there is a Chorus made of Stones, to provide expected commentary but more intriguingly, to define existence in the Underworld. You are unable to read there, you should speak the language of stones, and you have no memory of your mortal life. Bailey Raisor, Zaden Boeckman, Hazel Payne-Young, and Madison Janosek embodied the Stones with distinctly awkward, disassembled physicality and slow-witted vocal intonations that were funny but with an edge.
The comedy in Eurydice did elicit laughs in the early scenes before the subjects of death and the afterlife become dominant. Even in the spring sunshine (alternating with overcast skies and a pop-up shower), the play expresses its themes enough that perhaps the audience grew uncomfortable with the humor, which seems about right. There is always the risk with student productions of eliciting a patronizing attitude from the audience – being overly impressed with having to remember all of those lines – but a program of this quality displays how the supple nature of talented youth can give a very adult play a very distinct and impactful rendition.
May 14, & 22 @ 2:00 pm
May 15, 18, & 21 @ 7:00 pm
Part of the Young American Shakespeare FestivalCommonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.