A fresh but uneven production of Eurydice opened last weekend at Durango High School. For her directorial debut, Mollie Mook-Fiddler has chosen a powerful contemporary interpretation of an ancient myth.
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice goes back thousands of years and still resonates. Five years ago when Sarah Ruhls play opened on Broadway, even hardened New York Times critic Charles Isherwood said he wept throughout.
For this version, the American playwright reimagined the famous Greek myth to give it a new voice. The play begins on a beach where young lovers tease each other and anticipate their wedding day. Eurydice (wonderfully realized by Haley Dallas) and her boyfriend, Orpheus (portrayed effectively as a besotted teenager by Kyle Downs), romp around in shallow water.
In one of Ruhls many efficient leaps in time, the wedding takes place off stage. Then during the reception, Eurydice wanders off and is tempted by a charmer (the smooth talking Sam Newton). He lures her to his apartment with a letter from her dead father.
In a highly theatrical moment suggesting the mythic snake bite, Eurydice plummets into the underworld. When Orpheus realizes she is gone, he begins to craft a rescue his efforts conducted in brief and intense scenes. No more will be said here, but surprising encounters take place as the two worlds intertwine. The playwrights twists give the old story fresh life.
Mook-Fiddler serves the play well in her direction throughout. She also serves the audience in her program notes. Be sure to read the synopsis and information about the playwrights inspiration the untimely death of her own father when Ruhl was a college student. That may explain the unusual double love story: Eurydice and her young husband, Eurydice and her kind and protective father (portrayed with mature sensibility by Joey Panelli).
Like so many contemporary plays, Eurydice is structured not in conventional acts but innumerable short scenes. On Friday, the audience started to applaud after each scene, but it soon became apparent the brief blackouts were better experienced in silence.
The action moves swiftly, sometimes with small patches of dialogue, more often with music or a telling image. Technical Director Kristin Winchester-White has not only created a quirky, surreal set, but she has marshaled the right combination of light and sound design to propel the story forward.
Music is central to the theme, so sound effects are critical. Youll recognize a beautiful guitar rendition of Debussys classic Claire de Lune, as well as some menacing, Philip Glass passages, plus various other contemporary works. The main musical flaw is a blurry recording supposedly of Orpheuss own tune. Its chanted or sort-of sung in snippets early in the play then reoccurs later under an action sequence. But the tune is never beautifully or fully established.
This interpretation plays as a dream, and the director, cast and crew create that illusion. Even the high schools odd, wide stage serves the purpose. Flanking the central playing area, a simple starry sky suggests the beauty of life on Earth, and opposite there is an austere black space for Hades.
The main stage offers a rock-rimmed beach at the apron, a central area that houses the wedding story and later the underworld, and an upper level for the lair and Orpheuss earthly home. In between, a mysterious elevator links the two and serves as a magical entryway to Hades.
It rains in the elevator, and much is made of water symbolism throughout the play, including a remarkable onstage baptism of forgetting in the River Lethe.
The two leads have been well-cast and bring the right amount of delight and despair to their roles. Panelli is particularly affecting as Eurydices father. Newtons double roles as tempter and Lord of the Underworld provide range in small, colorful bites. And the Greek chorus, imaginatively realized by Ruhl as three talking stones, is evoked by Paige Serzen, Jackie Honold and Rosie Schultz. The stones remind us that Eurydice borders on or is a descendant of Theatre of the Absurd. Theyre tough, cruel and, on Saturday night, shrill and possibly over amplified.
Ruhls Eurydice makes a terrific beginning for the new era at Durango High School. It will certainly contrast to the great British comedy The Importance of Being Ernest in November. In March 2012, Cinderella will take the stage for the annual musical.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.