by Hugh Hunter
“Eurydice” is not the first play by Sarah Ruhl to run at Old Academy Players in East Falls. I had the good luck to see the Old Academy revival of “Melancholy Play” some years ago. Both are haunting works, essentially about a young woman in thrall to her own turbulent emotions.
In “Eurydice,” based on the classic Greek myth, the eponymous heroine dies on her wedding day. Grieving Orpheus, God of music, descends into the underworld to bring her back to the living. Ruhl puts her own spin on the story, turning it into a metaphorical exploration of love.
Eurydice feels the power of love in three different ways. Orpheus (Matthew Thompson), her estranged husband, loves her in a dreamy and distant manner. But with music as his constant companion, Orpheus’ attentions are divided.
Eurydice reunites with deceased Father (Michael Tarringer) in the underworld. (The character is based on Ruhl’s memory of her own deceased father.) More companionable than Orpheus, he teaches her all of the words she forgot, and touchingly acts out being father of the bride in the wedding he never got to see.
Eurydice’s final love interest is Nasty Interesting Man (Timothy Schumann). He brings about Eurydice’s death in the living world, then shows up as tricycle-riding Child, power-loving lord of the underworld. In either guise, the character is a creepy, erotic presence whom Eurydice does not like but cannot cast aside.
Does Eurydice want to return with Orpheus to the land of the living or stay in the underworld with Father? Whatever her choice is, she faces loss, and Child delights in knowing his disruptive sexuality makes the decision more painful.
The Three Stones – Big Stone (Michael Jeffrey Cohen), Loud Stone (Natalie Bonacci) and Little Stone (Natalie Pendergast) – are Ruhl’s delightful takeoff on Greek chorus. Ghoulish with minatory stares, they lay down rules for underworld life – no memory, no housebuilding, talk in stone. But they comically burst into tears when they hear Orpheus’ sad music.
In this one act, 90-minute play you spend most your time in the underworld. Director Jane Jennings shows imagination in implementing Ruhl’s daring stagecraft, full of bells, dripping water, a scrim curtain and shifting lights. Father defies the Stones’ orders as he lovingly builds a house of string to complete a surreal set.
The story is non-linear, as Eurydice has no idea where she is going, and the show refuses to engineer your emotions. The play is like a Kandinsky painting; it is up to you to find meaning in its colorful, swirling forms.
The fine production at Old Academy honors Ruhl’s remarkable talent. In a modern American Theater heavily concerned with human rights (much of it, alas, non-metaphorical and moralistic), her work is a refreshing change in focus.
Old Academy Players is located at 3544 Indian Queen Lane. “Eurydice” runs through Nov 18. Tickets at 215-843-1109.