It’s the nature of myths that they be retold. But when playwright Sarah Ruhl pondered the ancient Greek myth of Eurydice — a young bride who ends up in Hades on the day she’s to wed the bard Orpheus — she decided something was missing: Eurydice. More specifically, the voice of the central female character.
Ruhl’s Eurydice is currently being staged by the University of Vermont Department of Theatre. Her production has been hailed by critics since its world premiere in 2003 for, among other things, exploring Eurydice’s agency in deciding whether to leave Hades or remain there by her deceased father’s side. What some have called a feminist take on the myth, however, is muted in the UVM production in favor of an artful, playful representation of Eurydice’s time spent way down under.
The abundant levity in this otherwise morose tale is a group effort, says Eurydice Director and UVM Associate Professor Sarah Carleton — and a matter of creative license. She notes that Ruhl’s script is lean on direction, so Carleton worked with her cast to “investigate” ways to render physical movement in the abstract play.
According to Carleton, that almost blank slate inspired rather than confounded her players. “There’s so much in the play to investigate — themes of love and loss and memory and memory loss,” she says. “The more we worked on it, the more . . . our students could really tap into these characters easily.”
As Eurydice, Paige Kelley brings a credible naiveté and subtle comic sense to her role. The shadow that brooding Orpheus (Carter Beidler) casts over Eurydice’s exile only illuminates the tenderness in her rekindled relationship with her long-lost father (Nilsen Schilling). Supporting cast members are all good for a few laughs.
Carleton’s colleagues collaborated closely to create a world that could sustain this cryptic story while inviting the audience in. Calvin Utter’s costume design contemporizes the play without fixing it in a specific era. Composer Patricia Julien’s original score blends ethereal soundscapes to evoke the underworld and overworld. Scenic designer Jeffrey Modereger and lighting designer John B. Forbes enabled those two worlds to coexist with a minimalist set. Throughout the play, the set springs surprises — underworld dwellers rappel from the lighting grid; the Lord of the Underworld and his mother emerge from trap doors. “We wanted the set to keep reinventing itself,” Modereger explains, “and not let you get comfortable with what you think will happen.”
Thus conceived, the play’s scenic design creates similar impressions to its two main characters, Eurydice and Orpheus. “There’s a little bit of disconnect in their relationship,” the director notes. “They’re meant to be together, and yet they’re not . . .”
Carleton’s open approach to Eurydice achieves an admirable goal: making an ancient myth both an entertaining spectacle and a subject of scholarly discourse.