I can’t get Sarah Ruhl out of my head. Maybe you’re sick of her by now; too bad. 😉 Today I offer you a review of my favorite of Ruhl’s plays (and one of my favorite plays of all time), Eurydice. Plus, I have a friend in New York who may be directing it soon, so I’ll keep you posted. 🙂
Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice uses an old story to tell a new tale. The combination of Greek myth, 1950’s costuming, and modern-abstract set design weaves timelessness into a tale of love and loss. Ruhl uses the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as the foundation for this piece; in case you missed eighth grade mythology, here’s the basic rundown: Orpheus, a young musician, loves Eurydice, who dies on their wedding day. Orpheus travels to the Underworld to retrieve her and uses his music to gain permission from Hades himself to bring Eurydice back. There’s one condition: Orpheus must walk in front of Eurydice, trusting that she is behind him, and he cannot look back until they both reach the upper world.
Woven through this basic plot is a vivid commentary on love and separation. In Ruhl’s version, Eurydice has a father who has died and he sends his daughter letters from the Underworld, which he is sure she will never receive. A Nasty Interesting Man (reflecting the satyr in the original myth who pursues Eurydice on her wedding day, causing her to fall into a pit of vipers and die) lures rather than chases Eurydice away from her new husband. And a chorus of stones accompanies Eurydice on her journey through the Underworld, all the while chastising Eurydice and her father to forget what they knew and to embrace the unthinking blindness of death.
This is such an interesting play because it combines so many genres into one form. Greek mythology is used as the basis of the characters and story but the plot follows a more modern bent. The setting is minimalistic is some ways but complex in others; it’s abstract, but specific. The language mixes modern phrases with old-fashioned songs and there’s a steady rhythm beneath the entire script that emphasizes Orpheus’s role as a musician. Even the structure is reflective of the story’s origins: it’s divided into three movements, like a symphony more than a play, again highlighting Orpheus’s obsession with music. Ruhl’s very language seems to ebb and flow, following unnoted beats throughout, like a song.
Eurydice is a gorgeous play examining love and loss, but Ruhl’s message is complex. She uses a classic story to tell a modern one, a love story that is between a father and daughter as much as between a husband and wife. Eurydice can’t help but question whether the man she loves actually loves her more than his music. When she is separated from Orpheus, Eurydice learns to accept it and move on, hoping that he too can move on. She begins to make a new life for herself, cherishing her memories and finding solace in the reunion with her father. But then Ruhl introduces us to the impossible pain of losing someone twice. What happens to Eurydice’s father when Orpheus attempts to retrieve her, rending them apart a second time? What happens to Orpheus and Eurydice when they try to repair a relationship that so swiftly and tragically fell apart? Eurydice tells us that a loss is bearable, that memories can hold us together and help us move on when he have loved and lost. But perhaps it is when we try to go back in time and undo what was done, perhaps then is when everything actually falls apart.