Circle X Theatre Co. While in L. Typical Ruhl. Just when you expect gravity, she offers ironic lightness. Her play grapples with the difficulty of comprehending profound loss. But the writing is frolicsome even when Eurydice finds herself stumbling about the underworld.

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The story is familiar. Musician marries the love of his life; on their wedding day, she dies. He grieves until he wills his way into the Underworld and is allowed to retrieve her on one condition, which he violates. Thus, even the theme is the same: the fallibility of the human condition and the inability of art to triumph over the persistence of suffering and the finality of death.

Nor is Eurydice a strident feminist with a point to prove, after centuries of silent existence as nothing more than a catalyst for the erotic narrative that is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

For contemporary American playwright Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice is foremost a daughter who learns the hard way that all relationships are constructed of words that cannot always withstand the insistent tensions and demands of parents and spouses.

Since language is so deficient, Ruhl deploys light, space, distance, and depth to hone the banal into razor-sharp instruments capable of exposing emotional vulnerabilities most audience members would rather not admit existed. For Ruhl, in the theater space must yield to imagination, not, as in film, the other way around. Judgments on the play are not unanimous. Gentle critics notice logical inconsistencies. My favorable attitude toward the play is betrayed by the hold it has had on my imagination since I too fought off tears, not always successfully, although I also gagged on lines intolerably cloying.

To my mind, the success of this play lies in the way it attracts and repels audiences by professing its own pretensions. Rain inside an elevator is both impossible and improbable and therefore poetic. It is easy to imagine an elevator that transports people from the upper to the lower world, from life to death; likewise rain connects sky to earth.

Yet the combination of these two simple ideas results in a complex and even visceral space. Audiences are at once struck by the sound of falling water. The elevator is dark inside, but back-lit so as to bring the rain into full relief. The elevator is only big enough for one person, but because the rest of the theater is dry, it seems to contain a whole world of its own.

Only the horizontal opening and closing of the doors signals the vertical ascent and descent. Thus the raining elevator manipulates light, space, and depth. The play opens with Orpheus and Eurydice at the beach. They gaze out at the immense sea so that we, the audience, are obviously distanced from their world. Scene two breaks the horizontal line of sight between Orpheus and Eurydice on the beach and the audience at sea; instead, the audience must look up to see the Father standing on a catwalk figure 2.

He reads a letter explaining that although he has been dipped in the River of Forgetfulness, he is one of the few dead who still remembers how to read and write. If the Lord of the Underworld finds out, he will be dipped again.

He drops the letter, filled with platitudes for his daughter on her wedding day, into an imaginary mail slot. Communication is thus vertical and unidirectional. The Nasty Interesting Man lures her to his penthouse and attempts to seduce her. She pinches the letter from his pocket but then falls to her death. Eurydice arrives in the Underworld in the raining elevator. She wants to speak but when she opens her mouth, only white noise comes out. She talks in the language of dead people now.

Thus, the suspension of disbelief that allows the drama to continue in the Underworld crystalizes the pretense of so much ordinary social intercourse. Sometimes pretense is necessary. Eurydice and her Father converse, although she misunderstands most of his meaning, since he can remember her, but she has no memory of him. Mistaking him for a porter, she asks to be taken to a hotel room, but her Father explains there are no rooms because people do not sleep here.

She starts to cry, an d so her Father does something extraordinary: he constructs a room of string. In silence the third scene passes. Using a pulley to hoist an umbrella with strings attached to the ribs, he creates a pyramid space made of tension and void in which they can at last communicate. This is for many spectators the most moving scene of the play. It made me sad to watch a father try so hard to make something useful, necessary, and even fun out of practically nothing, just empty space, a bit of string, and an old umbrella.

Since her death, the bereft Orpheus has been trying in vain to reach her; he sends five letters and even attempts a phone call. Her Father can remember how to read, so he reads the letters to her, which she only ever partially comprehends; again we witness language buckle beneath insistence.

What do you DO?! Say something! The narrative conceit of her amnesia powerfully intersects with the commentary on the inability of language to do anything. The Father knows what to do: he opens the book. It is a dangerous moment for any playwright to allude to Shakespeare and so overtly; one runs the risk of trivializing the moment with a line so familiar to the audience as to deflate the scene.

With this the play begins to unravel—the room of string that was their Utopia is become a cage. Its tension and void will collapse with the revelation that even the gift of speech and song is a prison house.

Your wife just might be on the road behind you. We make it real nice here. So people want to stick around. As you walk, keep your eyes facing front. If you look back at her—poof! Thus the Father escorts Eurydice, who is brave but then hesitates.

The Stones command that she keep walking, but she wants to go back to the Father. The Stones are happy now that Eurydice is dead again. The Father resolves to dip himself in the river to forget everything. He dismantles the room of string—the space made of tension and void in which he could communicate with his daughter.

Shut up! She then dips herself in the river. Orpheus returns once more through the raining elevator, and he too has forgotten. He picks up the letter which he can no longer read. The play closes without memory, without language. Instead, Ruhl adds the Father, in a move that is intensely autobiographical.

When Ruhl was twenty years old, her father died of bone cancer. She may not be able to construct a play that conveys her every intention—especially since the major premise is the incapacity of language. With this line, the playwright nudges the audience to pretend for a moment. This pretense, this false assumption of dignity, I believe, is what makes people uncomfortable and what drives negative criticism of the play: nobody likes to be called pretentious, yet the only way to comprehend the play is to pretend.

The Hippodrome production of the play was quirky, no doubt: Eurydice wore legwarmers and the Lord of the Underworld, tricked out like Johnny Rotten lead singer of the s punk rock band the Sex Pistols , glided about on a Segway. Yet the script lends itself to such whimsical production choices: it is at once irrational, frivolous, and silly, in stark contrast to the classical origin of the myth and classical form of theater.

This juxtaposition surely drives the artistic momentum of the play, but it also makes heavy demands on the audience. In Eurydice Ruhl does more than challenge the classical; she demands responsibility for the failures of language and for the pretense those failures necessitate. Like a room of string, drawn and tense, pretense will collapse upon exposure.

Feingold, Michael. The Clean House and Other Plays. Her research focuses on the Roman historians and Tacitus in particular. Known also for her work on gardens, she is co-editor of Disciples of Flora: Gardens in History and Culture , forthcoming with Cambridge Scholars Press. She can be reached at vepagan ufl. Skip to main content. Gruen Prize Fellowships David D. Snowden Jr. Search form Search. You are here Home. Public Statements. Awards and Fellowships. Presidential Letters. Congratulating Graduates.

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Join StageAgent today and unlock amazing theatre resources and opportunities. Research Playwrights, Librettists, Composers and Lyricists. Browse Theatre Writers. On the day of her wedding, Eurydice falls victim to a tragic accident that sends her hurtling into a wonderland of an Underworld: ripped from her beloved Orpheus, the greatest musician in the world, Eurydice is reunited with her dead father in the Land of the Dead.


Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl: The Power of Pretense

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