Classic love stories told from the female’s point of view have been around since at least the 16th century, but each time a young woman undertakes the assignment she tends to be greeted as some kind of innovator. Such is the acclaim in part that has greeted Sarah Ruhl with her Eurydice, which has landed off-Broadway after several productions around America. Even if the conceit is a little shopworn, Ruhl manages occasionally to freshen it. Working with the director Les Waters and the set designer Scott Bradley, she makes us realise just how incomplete all the retellings of Orpheus and Eurydice have been.
Those many versions – which include several operas (New York’s Glimmerglass Opera has fashioned its current season out of them), a Balanchine ballet and several films – more or less agree on the plot’s central component: Eurydice dies and Orpheus travels to the underworld to take her back to earth. On one condition: as he brings her home he may not turn around and look at her. Unable to resist temptation, he is left bereft, although in some versions there is a happy ending.
Ruhl’s reimagining, which cedes the climactic decision-making to the heroine, begins on Eurydice’s wedding day. A proverbial stranger at the feasts lures her away from the guests to his high-rise apartment and promises to impart news of her dead father. Eurydice, played by Maria Dizzia with a young Judy Garland sweetness, falls to her death.
The underworld, where Eurydice is reunited with her father (whom she fails to recognise), is where a series of marvellous visual effects occur: out of string Eurydice’s father builds her a place to live; a tsunami courses across the raked blue bathhouse set.
Ruhl’s tone combines playfulness with an avoidance of the naturalism with which off- Broadway these days tends to be flooded. Her dialogue, however, tends to exhibit a soporific simplicity, and the evening’s tone is more tender than touching. Still, I prefer Eurydice’s experimentalism to the narrative flatness of Ruhl’s other recent New York play, The Clean House, and look forward to her continued development.
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