Playwright Sarah Ruhl

By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

The primary focus in most interpretations of the myth of Eurydice is on the love story between Eurydice and the poet Orpheus. But the most fascinating relationship in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is between the young woman and her dead father. Writing in the aftermath of her own father’s death, the acclaimed author (runner up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for In the Next Room [Or the Vibrator Play]) beautifully explores her grief through the use of carefully constructed language that pitches the classic story in a vivid modern vernacular that makes the story easily accessible to a more mainstream audience that might normally find such material distancing.

This production at The Alley Theater makes an appropriate vehicle with which to introduce their new performance venue in the basement of The Pointe. To descend down the stairs and make your way through the rough, still-developing space to the stage echoes the journey into the Underworld that forms an important recurring action for these characters. Director Kathi E.B. Ellis has staged the play in the round, emphasizing the intimacy and modest scale of the setting. The cast moves with care and purpose, communicating as much through the physicality of the blocking as they do with Ms. Ruhl’s precise and lyrical text.

She also guides a solid cast through their paces, eliciting unified ensemble work from Hallie Kirk Dizdarevic as a vivid and complex Eurydice; Scott Davis, stepping out of his role as Alley’s Producing Artistic Director to deliver a grave but endearing turn as Her Father; Joel Mingo as a robust yet soulful Orpheus; and Michael Mayes as the commanding and charismatic Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld who tempts Eurydice to her tragic result. There is also a memorable Chorus of Stones – Big (Ben Unwin), Little (Scott Goodwin) and Loud (Clayton Marshall) – that are functional and resonant support throughout.

If the text is often cerebral, the staging leans toward the visceral, using an uneasy mixture of deliberate movement and occasional bursts of slapstick energy that gives the production good tension. The playwright’s contemporary gloss on the story here plays initially as a romantic comedy that seems too serious and then transforms into a tragedy played for laughs, throwing the audience off-balance and allowing us to share in Eurydice’s disorientation and confusion. It is a thoughtful exploration of the concept that comedy and tragedy are separated by the thinnest of margins and, therefore, worthwhile theatre.

January 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20, 2012.  Shows at 7:30 PM.
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40202