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The ArtsCenter, although in need of some cash and TLC, remains a good venue for small-scale plays, such as Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, playing there through May 23rd. It is directed by Emily Ranii, who is also artistic director of ArtsCenter Stage. She is only a few years out of college, but already is developing distinctive work marked by clean visuals, clever use of limited space, wry wit, and a propensity toward stylization. She has assembled a talented design team (Cecilia Durbin, moody lighting; Kelly Farrow, artful costumes; Tori Ralston, puppets) who make more out of the theater’s facilities than seems possible, and a pair of wonderful musicians who perform stage right. Nathan Logan, the composer, is accompanied by Byron Settle; and their music is an essential component of the play’s success.
Ranii’s style is a good fit with Ruhl’s (American, b.1974) tart re-working of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, with Eurydice as the central character, who makes her own decisions and decides her own fate. Ruhl’s Eurydice (played here by Jeri Lynn Schulke) is a word gal; and as much as she loves him, she can’t quite carry Orpheus’ (Eric Swenson) tune. The play’s exploration of the powers and weaknesses of language, in opposition to those of music, makes it more than a meditation on love lost to the finality of death. For this Eurydice, the specificity of words, and their gauzy weave into the tissue of memory, are worth a very long season in hell. Her journey there is propelled by the loving memories of her father, a character Ruhl invented. His injection into the myth clarifies the concern with language — he writes letters; his suit is a patchwork of letters — and changes the balance between Eurydice and her lover Orpheus. The father, movingly portrayed by Mark Filiaci, also represents family bonds; but it is the concerns with art and expression that drive the script.
Eurydice leaves her own wedding for a breath of air, and meets Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld (John Allore). He’s had his eye on her; he wants her. She takes his bait, a letter from her (dead) father, and in reaching for it, falls to her death. The boatman Charon (who does not appear in the play) must have been a little slack in his duties as he took her over the Styx. Not having been fully immersed in the river of forgetting, she recovers her memory and herself in the flow of her father’s words, when they are reunited in Hades. One of the play’s charming aspects is the inclusion of a chorus of stones — presumably the very stones made to weep by Orpheus’ mournful music. The three comically stylized stones (Jeff Aguiar, Kelly Doyle, and Julie Oliver) provide a continual patter of explanation, exhortation (“Learn to speak the language of stones!”), and even encouragement.
Of course, the desperate Orpheus eventually shows up, extracts permission to take Eurydice back to the upper world, and convinces her to leave. As ever, he loses her again when he turns to look back at her. Here, however, she has provoked that action, by calling his name. She chooses to return to Hades, to her father. But her father has thrown himself into the river, and remembers nothing. She, like Orpheus, has looked back, and seen only the immutability of death which no language can comprehend, while the beautiful music plays on.
The program repeats May 20-23. See our theater calendar for details.