Sunday, March 19, 2023

"Eurydice" at Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round's fantastic 71st season continues with Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice, a modern interpretation of the classic myth of Eurydice. As the story goes, Orpheus travels to the underworld to try to save his wife Eurydice from death with a song. But that's not the way this world works. As they say in the Tony-winning musical Hadestown (which is also based on this story), it's an old song, it's a sad song, but we sing it anyway. With its themes of grief, love, and loss, it's a story that's still relevant and worth telling. Especially with this well-written script and inventive staging by director Sophie Peyton. The talented cast performs in a physical theater style like I've never seen before at Theatre in the Round. It's a beautiful and magical 90-minute song, bringing new life to this old story. Playing weekends through April 2 at the oldest theater in Minneapolis.

In the opening moments of the play, we meet the happy lovers Eurydice and Orpheus as they talk, laugh, and play on the beach. Soon it's their wedding day, but as happy as they are, Eurydice is enticed by the offer of a letter from her deceased father, dangled in front of her by a charming man in a suit. She ends up in the underworld (i.e., dead), unsure of where she is or even who she is. She meets her father, who helps her remember. Meanwhile, on the other side, Orpheus is trying to connect with his wife in any way he can think of. Eventually he realizes music is the key, and sings himself into the underworld in a beautiful sequence of music and movement. He finds her, and tries to lead her home, but we know how this story ends.

Eurydice and her father (Eva Gemlo and Jim Ahrens)
(photo courtesy of TRP)
The playwright employs the device of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action, but in this case they're stones (embodied by Marie Finch-Koinuma, Lena Menefee-Cook, Morgan Mulford, Tess Rada, Caleb Reich, and Kassy Skoretz). They're almost always on stage, siting off to the side watching, or in the middle of everything causing mischief, always low to the ground, often speaking in unison. Hades appears in multiple forms, like any good devil - the smooth man in a suit, a child riding a trike around the underworld, and a tall scary man in gray - all of them played by Corey Boe in a transformative performance(s). Eva Gemlo and Troy Lowry Jr. are delightful as the young lovers, from the wide-eyed innocence of new love, to the grief of loss and separation. Rounding out the cast is Jim Ahrens in a tender performance as Eurydice's father.

the stones (photo courtesy of TRP)
Director Sophie Peyton and movement director Kelly Nelson have staged the play with much physicality and movement. The stone chorus in particular relies heavily on physicality in their performance, with a grounded and earthy yet otherworldly feel. The sequences when Eurydice and Orpheus separately enter the underworld are magical, the stones lifting them high in the air as they seem to fly and twirl around the space. While there's no live music, except for the occasional guitar strum, the choice of recorded songs and music is appropriate to the story and perfectly accompanies the movement.

The in-the-round space feels very much like the underworld, with stone half-walls, a few uneven stoney platforms for the actors to walk, hop, and crawl around, and massive doors to the elevator that delivers souls to the underworld. The '50s era costumes for Eurydice and Orpheus bring a modernity to the story, yet still with a classic feel. Eurydice's full skirt and cropped jacket, in two colors, are a highlight. In contrast, the stones are dressed in odd and specific layers of pants, tunics, jackets, earth-toned yet out there, with interesting face makeup and hairstyles, like fairies in a Shakespearean comedy. (Set and lighting design by Crist Ballas and Dietrich Poppen, costume design by Sarah Christenson, sound design by Robert Hoffman.)

For a magical and mesmerizing 90 minutes, get swept away into this ancient story that has been told for centuries, but never quite like this. See Eurydice at Theatre in the Round in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis weekends through April 2.