The foundations of the tale remain. On Orpheus and Eurydice’s wedding day, the bride dies and is sent to the underworld. Orpheus goes to claim her and bring her back to the land of the living, and in doing so he is given one instruction. He must walk to the upper world trusting that she is behind him, never looking back to reassure himself. Of course, Orpheus can’t help but break this singular condition, thereby losing Eurydice forever. Heartbreak ensues.
Ruhl’s Eurydice, first published in 2003, takes the seeds of the story and spins them into a melancholy yet whimsical carnival. In the UNM Department of Theatre and Dance’s production, we meet Eurydice (Carly Moses) and Orpheus (Caedmon Holland) in their bathing suits on the beach. They twirl like umbrellas and kiss and croon, and Orpheus, a legendary musician, tells Eurydice of the 12-part symphony he’s constructed in his mind solely for her. Then they get engaged.
Later, at their wedding, Eurydice encounters a character first dubbed Nasty Interesting Man, who also turns out to be the Lord of the Underworld (Kevin O’Boyle). He manages to lure her away from the wedding reception with a letter he’s found from her deceased father. She realizes something is amiss and tries to flee, but in the process she stumbles and falls to her death, presumably down a flight of stairs.
This bit hits home for Ruhl, whose father died of cancer in 1994. She’s said in interviews that he used to teach her the meaning and etymology of words, invoking in her a fascination with language. Eurydice’s interactions with her father on stage, which make up a significant portion of the play, seem to serve as a medium for Ruhl to connect and converse with her own father one more time. It’s a haunting gesture.
The UNM Department of Theatre and Dance has done a wonderful job of realizing Ruhl’s script and stage directions. Although the production is obviously low-budget, real work went into crafting the gessoed, gargoyle-like sculptures, rock formations and pools that create the underworld. Likewise, the talking stones’ costumes are exquisite.
The production isn’t without its weaknesses, though. I simply don’t get the way Orpheus is portrayed. He comes across as exceedingly young and immature. This is a man who delves into the underworld to rescue his beloved. He doesn’t need to be strong physically, but he should have palpable inner strength and conviction. I’m not sure whether this absence is the fault of actor Holland, director Matthew Lee or playwright Ruhl. Also, Eurydice’s father, played by Mason Tuck, comes across as a little slow and bumbling. Again, where the responsibility rests is unclear.
Still, this is an impressive offering. (And it’s invigorating to see a local production of a play that isn’t more than half a century old and doesn’t require British accents. Just saying.) Eurydice is gorgeously imagined, heart-wrenching and yet somehow airy. It’s flawed but fun to watch, and one of my favorite pieces I’ve seen so far this year.