Sarah Ruhl is a playwright with a particular style; she tells stories in unconventional ways with specific devices that either work well or become a burden on the plot. In EURYDICE, her updated adaption of an Ancient Greek story, it mostly works. And the things that are problematic are overcome by the fantastic work of director Susan Felder and her cast and crew.
The premise is rather simple: what happens when we die. A dead man (James Egbert) mourns the separation he has with his daughter, Eurydice (played by Madison Pullman), despite the Underworld’s attempts to rid all of those who are dead of their memories (and ability to read or write). But Eurydice’s father somehow tricked the system and sends a letter to her. She is missing him on her wedding day and an “Interesting Man” (Jabari Carter) finds the letter and entices her back to his place with the promise of giving it to her. She stumbles out of his high-rise and falls to her death, much to the dismay of her new husband, Orpheus (the charming Duncan Weinland). The Underworld’s policies are helpfully and hilariously presented by a group of three stones (Jack Steiner, Ella Eggold, and Madeleine Page-Schmit) who serve as a sort-of Greek chorus. While entertaining and funny at times, this is definitely a tragedy.
But what’s not tragic is how director Felder and her team used whatever resources they had to put together this “unsupported” production. Often times, plays and musicals in the Studio space are given no budget, which leaves those creating the stage magic to their own devices. Eggold, for instance, is credited as the makeup designer (and it’s pretty incredible what she did with those “three stones”). Carter also serves as choreographer. Weinland created original music. The entire cast is credited for their support with costumes, using things from their own closets as needed, I’m sure.
Fedler directed HAMLET last year; it was light years above any other Shakespearean production I’ve ever seen in its precision, professionalism, and overall presentation. So I had high hopes for this play, even though I am not a fan of Ruhl’s playwriting style. It’s amazing what a difference solid direction makes, despite the script. This is another tightly woven story, complete with fully realized characters and amazing timing and pacing. The lighting design by Eleanor Quinn Eberhardt, sound design by Josh Windes, and scenic design by Abby Palen all work together to accentuate the overall production.
The actors are also on point. Pullman is bright-eyed and curious and you can’t help but root for her young Eurydice to find happiness. Carter is versatile; he’s wickedly funny while maintaining an undercurrent of danger and mystery. Egbert plays “everyman” so well you forget he’s acting. Rarely have I seen a chorus of actors in such sync as Eggold, Page-Schmit, and Steiner – and their comedic timing is spot-on. But for me, the stand out performance is Weinland’s “Orpheus.” He draws us in immediately at the start of the play without using a single word; when he does speak he uses his mouth, his voice, his eyes, and face to convey emotion. I believed every bit of love, lust, grief, and unrelenting resolve.
EURYDICE is the kind of show that flies under the radar in this city; it’s a shame because all the pieces completely came together exquisitely.
Up next for CCM Acting on the MainStage: OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD, also directed by Felder, opening in February. Don’t miss GUYS AND DOLLS opening next week from the Musical Theatre Department and THE TURN OF THE SCREW opening in November. Click here for more information about the MainStage productions in the 2018-2019 season.