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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper


Or: And now we sing of the saddest song

What is tragedy? Death? Not necessarily, sometimes death can be as welcome as sleep, as longed for as the sunrise. Lots of death, bodies strewn all over the boards? Perhaps, but its arguable that mounds of corpses are just the end result of a long series of unfortunate events. Tragedy is loss, the loss of something that could have been bright and beautiful, the loss of the right word or gesture that might have delivered a happier end, the loss of not only life but even the memory of what it once was. And, weird as it is, Sarah Rhul’s Eurydice crystallizes this loss and pours it down our spines like a fist full of snow.

The story is an old one: Eurydice (Madeline Weinstein), the happiest of girls, and Orpheus (Graham Duff), the greatest of musicians, decide to pledge their lives together and grapple each to each other in the glorious imbecility of youth. As the pair plan their marriage Eurydice’s Father (Nick Day), a long time denizen of the land of the dead but who has as yet escaped being brought to the Lethe, the river of forgetting, watches his daughters life from a far, writing letters that never reach her. On the night of her wedding the bride is lured away by a Nasty and “Interesting” Man (Brandon Bowers) with the promise of one of these letters, starting a series of unfortunate events that lead to her abrupt and horrifically fitting death. Finding his daughter without a memory in the land of the dead Eurydice’s Father tries to rediscover the girl he knew, impeded by a chorus of three unhelpful stones (Maddie Ambrose, Wes Humphries and Bridget Macnamara), while Orpheus bends all his power and all his stubbornness in an attempt to bring back his wife.

Sarah Rhul is a troubling playwright. Her phrases are like those bizarre glass jewelry you see sometimes at arts fairs: really pretty and picturesque at first glance, completely impractical and tasteless at second or even third (try to put “A fruit walking through snow, his feet growing cold” in context). And then, when seen with its patterned display case or its arrangement with three or six other examples of the same, the jewelers work take on a deep and shinning poetry and before you know it you’ve blown sixty dolors and the jewel of your attention and regard on it. Fortunately, director Lauren Shouse focuses more of her attention on Ruhl’s stirling sense of interconnectivity, a series of thoughts culminating in decision or an ever changing image, that flicker up and down the length of the play fast as lighting, while paying only cursory attention to the playwrights nonsensical words and impossible directions.

Shouse is well assisted by her scenic and sound designers Lauren Nigri and Kevin O’Donnell, who both do much by only a little.

O’Donnell keeps his sounds distant but intimate, just around the backside of our ears. In a play where music, or at least the power and idea of music, is so important, it is good to keep it veiled so that its power lies in our discharge rather than a cue-lab file. Just to make sure we have our attention O’Donnell does let his art flex its mussels, from an elegant guitar and piano Pachelbel Cannon to a checkovian sound of heartbreak, the cross between like a string snapping and a drop falling into a silent pool. Nigri’s set of pipes and damp wood, reminiscent of a river quay, holds many surprises to keep up with Rhul’s demands while allowing the space to be clear enough for us to work the wonder our own.

As happily unmired by their creators peculiarities, the performances continually dance between innocence and grim adulthood. Day wafts about on a gentleness that fans the sails of his intent to keep his child safe and protect himself, his precious abilities to read and write, and the very weave of his being from the authorities of the underworld. So palpable is his care and worry that his wordless attempts to nurse his daughter and make her comfortable in the comfortless confines, though silence among the wonderland of words, are the most gripping of the play. Duff and Weinstein share a boundless energy and the loselimbedness of younglings unversed in grief. Their first scenes, all wrapped around and flying at each other in embraces, busses and 40’s dance tricks slide from sweet to saccharine and back again. Once separated however Duff’s energy is filed to a sharp point, an implacability that would be touching were it not for the gleam of madness in his eyes. Weinstein continues her continual quick change at once a girl delighted to be reunited with her beloved father, playing the games and sharing the stories of childhood. She really comes into her own however when Eurydice the woman overtops Eurydice the girl, an invisible solidifying of her presence and sharpening of her focus as she nurses doubts that could break the her story beyond repair.

Ruhl’s visions the world to come are about as bleak as you can get, bleaker than the Greek myths that hatched it. To live in a world without the joys of reading, of speech, of knowing your departed friends and loved ones, without even the balm of rest; its almost worse than the more “interesting” afterlives of Dante or Milton. But worse, far worse than the peace-less peace are the broken strings of life stretched out from the play across us, through us, tugging at our innards even as we stumble out of the damp dark world into our day to day lives. Eurydice is not a beautiful play, despite its grace and glimmer: it’s a tragic one, as tragic as they come, and perhaps as tragic as you could ever bear to look on.

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