Finding Lost Memory in Eurydice
“What happiness it would be to cry,” Eurydice sighs forlornly, robbed of her memories after arriving on the shores of Hades. Her character is the focus of Sarah Ruhl’s modern take on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which plays at the Loeb Ex through Friday. While Ruhl transplants the story to modern times, her script preserves the poetic style of Ovid’s millennia-old version. Such a choice means that from the mouths of the wrong actors, the play’s lines could come across as forced and impossibly overwrought. But this production’s cast, deftly directed by Madeleine F. Bersin ’14, is more than up to the task of breathing life and emotion into Ruhl’s script, delivering a performance that is quietly heartrending.
Ruhl’s retelling of the classic Greek myth places the emphasis not on Orpheus (Bryan D. Kauder ’14), the famed muse-born musician, but on his wife (Laura J. A. Trosser ’16). Tempted away from her wedding party by the Nasty Interesting Man (Alistair A. Debling ’16), Eurydice realizes too late that he wants to rape her and falls to her death while attempting to flee. From there, she is transported to the underworld and forced to shed all memory of her previous life. Her father (Benjamin J. Lorenz ’14) greets her at the shores of the river Styx and must bear the task of slowly, painstakingly teaching her to remember. Delivered with genuine tenderness and infinite patience, Lorenz’s performance provides a beautiful counterpoint to that of Trosser, whose Eurydice is often reduced to tears of frustration and confusion as she tries but fails to reconstruct her past. In one scene, Eurydice comes across a book that Orpheus sends her; startled, she screams at it before trying to “read” it with her feet. Yet Trosser’s Eurydice is affecting, not clownish; Trosser takes on a wide-eyed innocence that makes her character more sympathetic. Her and Lorenz’s relationship is delicately rendered: in one of the play’s most touching scenes, Eurydice, gently encouraged by her father, attempts to read, sheepishly at first, but then gaining confidence. While the original myth focuses on the relationship between Eurydice and Orpheus, Ruhl’s version is much more centered around the father-daughter relationship, and Trosser and Lorenz carry the play with their poignant portrayals.
As well as the sustaining power of paternal love, this production of “Eurydice” also explores romantic attraction. Rather than going for histrionics, Kauder reads out Orpheus’s letters to his deceased wife with understated emotion. Kauder’s portrayal of their love is frank but not overblown, and all the more affecting for it. His love is simple, natural, yet still acutely felt—he does not have to shout to the heavens to convey the depth of his grief. And as the ruler of the underworld (as well as the Nasty Interesting Man), Debling embodies lust. His obsession with Eurydice is made creepy by his childishness. Wheeling in on a tricycle, snapping his suspenders emphatically, and prancing around like an overgrown toddler, Debling skillfully plays up the physical comedy of his part while still maintaining an air of menace.
Set designers Heather D. Mauldin ’14 and Madelynne A. Hays ’13 created a kind of industrial hellscape: pipes jut up from the ground of an otherwise desolate set. There are two tiers on top of each other; the one above represents the land of the living, while down below is Hades. Such a division allows for scenes to be enacted on both levels simultaneously, to great effect. Orpheus and Eurydice’s joyful wedding dance, for example, is mirrored eerily by the bride’s dead father down below, who dances all alone. The costuming embodied the essence of each character: costume designer Allison A. Ray ’14 chose to outfit Trosser in Mary Janes, ruffled socks, and a bow to play up Eurydice’s childlike innocence. The ruler of the underworld appears decked out in short shorts and a striped tank top to exaggerate his off-puttingly juvenile portrayal. The father’s costuming was fitting as well, and portrayed him as a mature parental figure—he wore a tweed vest and pants, looking like he’d stepped out of a sepia-tinged photograph.
Bersin’s production of “Eurydice” gives viewers a tender and multi-faceted portrait of love and loss, and though Ruhl’s script focuses on the pain of losing one’s memories, the cast delivers a performance not to be forgotten.
—Staff writer Erica X. Eisen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.