Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Ruhl's play follows the basic story of the Greek myth. Eurydice dies on her wedding day and her husband Orpheus goes to the Underworld to bring her back. The Lord of the Underworld agrees to let Eurydice return with Orpheus but on one condition: Orpheus must walk in front of Eurydice and never look back at her until they are both safely out of the Underworld. If he does, she will die all over again.
Ruhl updates the setting to an abstract version of modern times and adds the character of Eurydice's father, who has already passed away and is waiting in the Underworld to meet up again with his daughter. This adds an entirely new and worthwhile dimension to the famous tale. Ruhl's dialogue is dreamy, funny and hypnotic, and the moments she creates with Eurydice and her father as well as those with Eurydice and her husband are both moving and melancholy.
MCC's production is fortunate to have a talented cast of actors who throw themselves into their roles with sheer glee and a high level of dedication. Lillian Gastelum embodies Eurydice with the sweetness and spunkiness of youth, while Brandon Caraco brings a bold stroke of intensity to Orpheus in his desire to find his bride no matter the cost. With layers of subtlety and nuance and an abundance of sadness, Seamus McSherry is superb as Eurydice's father, while Jared Kitch hams it up as the Lord of the Underworld, turning this ruling, manipulating man into a sadistic and petulant man child. Alexis Trujillo, Annalynn Watson and Nathaniel Smith do well in portraying a trio of stones in the Underworld who serve as a Greek Chorus of sorts.
The creative elements for this production are full of mystery and magic, with the combination of Louis Ponesse Jr. and Aaron Roberts' inventive set design with Ambar Dominguez and Tyree Noe's haunting lighting and Steven May's evocative sound design evoking a beautiful, sad and mystical world. Omar Aguilar's costumes are infused with creativity and Tu Nguyen's make-up is excellent, specifically in the addition of barnacles to those who have been in the Underworld just like those on creatures and objects who have been in the sea for an extended period of time.
Unfortunately, director David Barker makes several odd choices that detract from the beauty and unconventional approach that Ruhl took for this classic story. First, the addition of an intermission in the original 90-minute one-act show pulls the audience out of the intensity of the piece. Second, Barker adds extra layers and elements to the piece (such as the addition of strange bits of clowning and mime, and turning the Underworld Lord into a campy character when he should be imposing and dangerous) that muddy the story. And third, there are many moments of unclarity, specifically the death of Eurydice and the ending, that are so unfocused that if you didn't know the story already you would have no idea what was going on. Also, while I like the creative elements, the absence of any water on the stage, when water is a major element to the story, seems like a missed opportunity.
Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice is a mesmerizing play that effectively uses poetic language and the addition of a father figure to update this classic story. While MCC's cast and creative elements are good, the overall production adds too many unnecessary pieces and omits some key elements, preventing the play from truly coming to life.
The Mesa Community College production of Eurydice runs through December 9th, 2017, with performances at the MCC Southern & Dobson Campus at 1833 W. Southern Avenue in Mesa AZ. Information for upcoming productions can be found at www.mesacc.edu
Directed by David Barker