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A Fresh Approach to the Classic Greek Orpheus Myth
Eurydice by Berkeley Rep

Also see Richard's reviews of Addicted and Ben Franklin Unplugged

Charles Shaw Robinson and
Maria Dizzia

Berkeley Repertory Theatre presents a glistening Eurydice, which tells the tragic story from early Greek mythology of Orpheus and Eurydice. This version is written by the up and coming playwright Sarah Ruhl. The drama takes a fresh look at the heartbreaking love affair of these two mythological characters. Ovid's Metamorphoses Book X has only two pages on the heartrending story of the young lovers about to be married. Many great writers like Cocteau and Rilke, and writers of operas like Berlioz and Offenbach, have centered the story on Orpheus and his travels to the Underworld to find his intended wife. Ruhl centers the story on Eurydice (Maria Dizzia) and her time with her deceased father (Charles Shaw Robinson) in the Underworld while Orpheus (Daniel Talbott) becomes a supporting player.

Ruhl has designed a different and more modern death for Eurydice from the original Ovid story where, in David R. Slavitt's translation, Eurydice stepped on a viper and its sharp and envenomed fangs killed her at once. Here, Eurydice leaves the wedding party in order to get a drink of water. The naïve bride meets "Nasty Interesting Man" (Mark Zeisler), who happens to pass by looking for interesting people for conversation. He invites her up to his high rise apartment for a glass of the liquid. Immature Eurydice goes with the man to the apartment but it turns out the nasty man wants more than to be a Good Samaritan. Eurydice panics and rushes out an open window, falling many feet to her death. Needless to say, Orpheus is heartbroken and he vows to go to the Underworld to bring her back.

Meanwhile, Eurydice arrives from the River Styx, which in this case is an inspired elevator - when the doors open, out comes a rush of water on the deep-spaced, green tile stage. She has arrived in the Underworld. The walls are also light green tile, representing a bath house similar to the set of the recent Broadway revival of Nine. Eurydice's father, who has "existed" in the underworld, greets her. At first, the naïve young woman does not recognize the man or even understand a word that he is says since the dead have a different language, according to a Greek chorus of "stones" (T. Edward Webster, Ramiz Monsef and Aimee Guillot).

Once Eurydice realizes she is dead, the father builds a room with a ball of twine and they sit on the stage and exchange pleasantries about their past life. Mad with grief, Orpheus makes a deal with the Lord of the Underworld (Mark Zeisler) to retrieve his wife. However, the lord makes some very severe stipulations. Orpheus is never to look back to see if his wife is following him back to the world above. Those who had Green mythology in high school or college know what happens next.

There is an "Alice in Wonderland" feel about this 85 minute, no intermission comedy-drama, with some Samuel Beckett type dialogue thrown in to make it post modern. Costumes are modern and there is even a dance of the 1940s done by Charles Shaw Robinson to "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" that is quite good. The father and daughter attempt "I Got Rhythm" when talking about their past life. Director Les Waters and playwright Sarah Ruhl also do a bit of comedy shtick by having the Lord of the Underworld arrive on a bicycle, pulling a child's wagon containing Persephone's "big bad wolf," which looks more like a teddy bear with a crown on its head. Most of the actors go barefoot (again, like the second act of the revival of Nine in New York) due to the water on the stage. Along the interior edges of the stage is a wonderful blue fluorescent light that adds a dramatic feel to the drama. Scott Bradley's scenic designs are scrumptious.

Eurydice boasts a fine cast of players. Maria Dizzia (Pullman Car Hiawatha, Match, Gone Missing in NYC) is excellent as a woman with a multifaceted personality, torn between the two men. Charles Shaw Robinson (Betrayal, Homebody/Kabul, The Persians) gives a rich portrayal of the father, and his conversations with her are very poignant. Daniel Talbott (many regional company credits from the east coast to the west coast) is marvelous as the animated musician Orpheus. He portrays the young lover like a rock star, wearing sweat shirts and light jeans and doing a lot of "cool" movements. He also goes from a childlike character to a deep caring adult. T. Edward Webster, Ramiz Monsef and Aimee Guillot make a fine Greek chorus of "rocks" that give out the roles of the dead and comment on the action. Mark Zeisler turns in a good performance as a pampered childlike Lord of the Underworld. Les Waters' direction is sharp, smooth and very solid.

Eurydice has been extended through November 21 at the Berkeley Repertory's Trust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit Their next production is the west coast premiere of Polk County.

Photo: Ken Friedman

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

- Richard Connema

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