Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Floating in the Land of the Deadly
Palo Alto Players

Also see Patrick's review of X's and O's (A Football Love Story) and Richard's reviews of Blithe Spirit and The Cable Car Nymphomaniac

Scott Solomon, Sarah Moser, and Wes Gabrillo
Sarah Ruhl has become an important American playwright, nominated for Pulitzer and Tony, much-produced in regional theatres everywhere, MacArthur Foundation recipient, and heralded for the beauty of her language and intriguing plots. Palo Alto Players has mounted a gorgeous production of Ruhl's version of the Greek myth of Orpheus, in which she focuses instead on Eurydice's travail—kind of Alice in Wonderland but Eurydice in the Underworld.

Ruhl's heroine floats in a dreamy world where people speak poetically and actions and words are confusing or contradictory. Eurydice (Sarah Moser) has trouble understanding other people and her own circumstances, even as Orpheus (Wes Gabrillo) seems to be declaring his love and proposing. At her wedding party Eurydice is approached by a mysterious stranger (Evan Michael Schumacher) who confuses her more, and entices her with the promise of a letter from her Father (Scott Solomon), who is incidentally long dead.

The enigmatic stranger somehow triggers her death, and we are plunged into a watery underworld occupied by three Stones (Monica Ho, Monica Cappuccini, Maureen O'Neill) who serve as a Greek chorus to comment on and narrate action. There, Eurydice meets her father again, but doesn't seem to recognize him, so it's a rather oblique reunion. Eventually Orpheus makes his mythic trek to try and save his bride, with predictable results, but with new layers of meaning, as we continue to view events through Eurydice's eyes. Ruhl riffs on relationships, love, loss, the blurry interplay of life and death—and all in a poetic, declarative language that keeps the action wistful and vague.

The production is stunningly beautiful, with a fabulous set design by Janny Coté, pseudo-period and fantastic costumes by Tanya Finkelstein, haunting atmospheric lighting by Nick Kumamoto, and an inventive soundscape by Jeff Grafton. Kudos to the entire team for one of the most fabulous theatre spectacles on the Stern stage.

The acting ensemble is equally wonderful, led by Moser in a lyrical, absorbing characterization, by turns womanly and childlike, flighty and determined, dreamy and wide awake. Solomon also captures our fancy, juxtaposing reserve with whimsy and the finality of death with desire. The three stones deliver a somewhat inexplicable but beautifully sung La Vie en rose. Schumacher is a veritable chameleon, portraying a frightening vision of Death—whomever he is.

Director Jeffrey Lo's vision comes together in a gorgeous package. The play has its weaknesses: long stretches that can seem tedious or self-indulgent, sometimes poetic language that doesn't connect the dots, odd plot twists that are the stuff of personal dreams that don't necessarily reach across the footlights. But there's no denying the bravery of the vision and the beauty of the spectacle. It's a daring choice for Palo Alto Players, one that should pay off in patronage for artistic reach.

Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, presented by Palo Alto Players at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, through February 1, 2015. Tickets $23-45, available at 650-329-0891 or

Photo: Joyce Goldschmid

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Jeanie K. Smith

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