In case you haven't heard, playwright Sarah Ruhl is très hip, kind of the Albee/Wasserstein/Mamet mashup of this decade. When Paula Vogel was her teacher, Vogel claimed she learned things from Ruhl. Yeah.
Ruhl's Eurydice, first performed in 2003, warrants all the hoopla. Based on a Greek myth that might really just be parts of other myths cobbled together, the play follows Eurydice and her lover Orpheus (who is traditionally the main character) as he strives to liberate her from the underworld after they've been separated by her untimely death.
A lot of press is given to the notion that this Eurydice tells the story "from the woman's perspective." But unless you're immersed in the Orpheus cult on a day-to-day basis, it seems the most natural thing in the world to assume that the more interesting story is that of the person who's been whisked away and marooned in the unknown afterlife, not the grief and dysfunction of the bereaved survivor. Ruhl's script, in other words, isn't some iconoclastic propaganda piece (not that there would necessarily be anything wrong with that) but an intriguing tale charmingly told.
The play, a mainstage production of the Arizona State University Herberger College of the Arts' School of Theatre and Film, is staged in the lobby of the ASU Downtown Center. In a curtain speech opening night, artistic director Linda Essig talked briefly about the concept of site-specific staging; much of her take on it is that any place can be a theater, at least part-time, and any theater is a unique and particular place, even if it was built specifically for the presentation of plays.
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This space, a bank lobby before ASU moved in, is a fascinating fit for this play about loss and memory in this season about devastation, repurposing, and hope. The high ceiling and receding corridors suggest an eerily empty, quiet eternity. Guest director Leon Ingulsrud, co-founder of New York's SITI Company, uses the existing office furniture, stairs, and balcony to powerful effect. Live cameras and projection screens both juice up the visual design and eliminate any minor visibility issues. The technically savvy, crisply executed operation of the show turns every potential obstacle into a meaningful and vital layer.
As Eurydice and Orpheus, Lee Margaret Hanson and Abraham Anene Ntonya provide some of the only believable romantic chemistry I've seen this season. In her journey through Hades, Hanson touchingly portrays how it might feel to forget life's loves, the world's language, one's very identity -- and then to regain them. The rivers that run between our world and the next are, for the most part, merely implied in the scene design, but the tears of unnamed sentimental audience members provided plenty of moisture to address any insufficiency.
Another standout in a dynamite cast is Mike DiGirolamo as Nasty Interesting Man. I hate to ruin surprises, so I'll just say he's going to give you some, and you'll revel in them.
Eurydice runs through Sunday, March 1, at ASU Downtown Center, 411 North Central Avenue. Tickets are $7 to $22. Order here or call 480-965-6447. (Cash only at the door.)