This evening I had the pleasure of seeing the first night of previews for the new show at ACT-A Contemporary Theatre-in downtown Seattle. The show, crafted by American playwright Sarah Ruhl, is entitled Eurydice after the Orpheus and Eurydice myth described in the tenth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses here .
Every once in a long while I go to a theatrical production that changes the way I look at the face of the performing arts or one that heavily influences my perpetual musings on the human experience. Eurydice-bless her wonderful ensemble-cast-heart-did both of these things for me. Eurydice is that phenomenal. The show is both an adapatation and an extension of the tragic myth written from the point of view of Orpheus' wife-Eurydice. The creative license Ruhl takes with this timeless story are more than welcome, transforming the rather simple tale into a deeply moving and relevant piece of narrative art. Eurydice, who finds herself in the Underworld, must decide whether to continue her life among the living with her husband on Earth or to stay in Hades with her father-a character from Ruhl's imagination and one that propels the play in quite unexpected and powerful fashion.
ACT is the only theatre in Seattle which has a theatre-in-the-round type of stage and after seeing Eurydice in this way, I cannot imagine experiencing its wonders in any other space. Rounding the hallway and stepping into the expansive room, a diving board looms above a tiled floor in the center-evoking the bottom of a swimming pool. This was probably the first and only time an usher will ever tell me that my seat is on the other side of the diving board. Also of note were several taught strings running from the set to the rafters above. Actors would later literally pluck these strings as with a musical instrument with varied tonal effects adding a sensual and organic element to the production.
In fact the entire experience of the play was heightened by the theatre set-up itself and the spectacular staging. Though I find it nigh impossible to name precisely that which made this play such an utter success, I would say that I have never seen such intelligent and graceful use of space in theatre. Actors moved between the aisles, rose to different heights, descended from above the audience and around. The result of such fluid movement, such inspired blocking made for an extraordinarily interactive environment. The cast's exploitation of the depth of the space generated an extraordinarily visceral and tangible experience. The set became its own character. It breathed as the actors breathed.
The show borders on surrealism at times, theatre-of-the-absurd at others, aided by the haunting lighting cues and of course, the Chorus of Stones. At its core, however, this is still a Greek myth and a tragedy at that and the latter is something that one may try so desperately try to forget as loved ones live with and apart from one another. Those that are aware of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice are not spoiled but are treated with so much more meaningful content. In one act, this play speaks volumes about language, communication, mourning and temptation. It teaches by sight, sound and active humanity. There is not one moment of this play that is unnecessary, out-of-place or overdone. Though Eurydice runs for only 90 minutes, I could have sworn I was there for hours, even days and in truth, I would gladly have stayed them.
Throughout the play echoes of other works traversed fleetingly through my head. This myth is so rooted in our artistic culture. The legend flows through our collective unconsciousness-its existence entirely unhindered by the passing of time. Orpheus and Eurydice appear everywhere. And is there any way that such an essential tale would go unnoticed by Joss Whedon? Of course not. A couple years ago, Buffyologist Janet K. Halfyard-perhaps Britains most prominent Buffy scholar, if not the most genteel-was requested by the Birmingham Conservatory to perform research the relationship between Buffy and the Orpheus myth in conjunction with their staging of Monteverdi's opera, Orpheum. Halfyard immediately suspected there was substantial merit in such an inquiry and found countless ties between the Buffyverse and Orpheus and Eurydice. As Halfyard discusses in her paper, "Hero's Journey, Heroine's Return: Buffy, Eurydice and the Orpheus Myth" which she presented at Slayage Conference 3, descents, ascents, returns, loss and battered and reluctant heroes appear countless times in both Buffy and Angel. The Orpheus myth is displayed quite literally in several instances, in particular, Buffy's descent into "hell" as she confronts the Master in his subterranean lair-his "Baroque candlelit underworld."
Seen here, Buffy actually inhabits the pose of Orpheus in many paintings depicting the myth, Buffy's crossbow standing in for the lyre of Orpheus:
Halfyard explains that as this scene progresses Buffy simultaneously embodies Eurydice and Orpheus. The Orpheus myth is invoked quite literally in the season 4 episode of Angel, "Orpheus," which depicts a beautiful journey through Angel's own underworld.
In her talk, Halfyard explained that according to the nature of myth, there are no fixed forms. Buffy is not the only art to actively engage old myths, but it certainly does it well.
Thus, Eurydice and the myth that came long before it are gifts to those involved in the dramatic arts as creators or spectators.
After my heart broke during Eurydice, I may never see the bottom of a swimming pool the same way again.
Eurydice runs from now until October 5th.