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One Myth Call

Eurydice brings joy to every man in her life—until she doesn't

How you gonna carry it? Kaveh Haerian gives Giti Jabaily a lift.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 10/14/2009

With its stripes of rain falling in an elevator, a chorus of talking stones, a shower of ping-pong balls that coat the stage, a juvenile lord of the underworld, and small pool of water directly at the foot of the stage, Single Carrot's production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice isn't the usual night at the theater. Oh, there's a story—a superficially familiar one at that—and the usual trappings of the theater—a set, a cast, and so forth—but everything is calibrated toward the boilerplate avant-garde, from the minimal set dressing to the costumes' earthy tones and the use of the regal purple as the lone spot of lively color entering this fantastical dramatic space. All for good reason, mind you, but not always to good dramatic result.

Ruhl's Eurydice re-imagines the familiar Greek myth—attributed to Ovid some 2000 years ago in the Metamorphosis, and revisited in paintings, poems, ballets, operas, movies, novels, songs, and even riffed on in a video game, ever since—by focusing on her story. Orpheus (Aldo Pantoja) is a gifted musician, here a DJ, who is so involved with his sounds that it's what occupies his mind whenever Eurydice (Giti Jabaily) asks him what he's thinking about. She's more into books, and she's reading one on a pier when the play introduces them as young lovers at their most ostensibly happiest: when they decide to wed. All isn't hunky dory: You can kinda/sorta tell that Eurydice might worry a bit about being offbeat to Orpheus' charms when he tries to teach her a tune, but he promises to write her a symphony using her hair as instruments. Eurydice's dead father (Brendan Ragan), attired in a drab suit in the underworld, is the only dead person whose dip in the river Lethe didn't totally take, allowing him to remember snapshots of his previous life, such as his daughter, and he wishes he'd be able to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, penning her a letter that he hopes might reach her.

Some dialog gymnastics about interesting people follow, and Eurydice meets one such man on her wedding night. Promising to give her a letter from her dead father, this Nasty and Interesting Man (no, really, that's how he's billed, and he's mirthfully played by Kaveh Haerian as if NoŽl Coward were trapped in a Russ Meyer movie) cons Eurydice up to his penthouse. A tumble down the stairs sends the new bride to her death, arriving in underworld via an elevator (that rains) where she is greeted by a trio of stones (Christopher Ashworth, Richard Goldberg, and Natalie Ware) who try to instruct her in the language of the dead.

It's the first honest glimpse into how Ruhl works in this play. She writes lines that flit between text-message crude and blank-verse poetry, and the tension in Eurydice comes more from the linguistic whiplash than her narrative scenes. Words/language are what unlock memory in the river-dipped Eurydice; words/stories are what her father uses to rekindle their affection; words are what the stones quite humorously and ominously warn them they should be mindful of, as the Lord of the Underworld (also the scene-stealing Haerian, this time riding a tricycle and speaking as if a spoiled child who didn't get his 19th serving of chocolate that day) can do things to people they may find unpleasant.

Words are also what confound Oprheus. He tries to find Eurydice by calling 411. He sends her a book across the water. He writes her saying he's coming to get her, letting his music be his key, but once you hear it, it is a world-less sea of melodies and tones, language being the lone sound system that Orpheus can't bend to his musical virtuosity. Once there, he strikes a bargain to bring Eurydice back to the land of the living.

And then, well, you know where this story is heading. What's different is how it gets there. Just as Ruhl's dialog is mannered and self-aware, her storytelling acumen is equally obtuse. Eurydice offers a wealth of opportunities for visual panache—the ping-pong ball deluge is a marvelously sublime moment—but their narrative purpose remains as elusive as what both Orpheus and Eurydice's father see in her. Love, romantic and filial, is the most abstract idea in this abstracted play, which is what makes the effectively heart-wrenching coda so disarming.

Unlike a playwright such as, say, Caryl Churchill, Ruhl doesn't appear to turn to nonnarrative and/or unrealistic devices/ideas to explore ideas; it feels like she's aiming for something far more mundane and primitive at the same time. If Eurydice shares a tone with any play, it's Boris Vian's Les B‚tisseurs d'Empire ou le Schmurz, a howling 1959 parody of Absurdist theater that goes around the bend so far that what comes out is an uncanny work of empathy. Eurydice works a similar sort of dramatic haiku, starting out in the mechanic and stiff and ending in the messy quagmire of feelings. It demands involvement to catch its subtle (and sometimes not too subtle) repetitions, its layering of hues in place of human psychology or emotions, but it's an inventive journey if you're willing to make the effort.

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