Without knowing anything about Sarah Ruhl's roots, we can safely assume that she has some Greek blood flowing through her veins. Like those ancient mythmakers of yore, Ruhl lives in a world of unbounded imagination. No playwright today possesses a more lyric sense of drama. It's difficult to even imagine Ruhl's scripts being confined to the pages of a book. Her words seem to float on the breeze.
In Eurydice, which is currently being given a mellow production by the Orange Girls, Ruhl's dialogue evokes images that are more than merely lovely: They challenge the very order of existence. Eurydice tells us that when her husband, Orpheus, watched her die, "His eyes were two black birds and they flew to me." After she is reunited with her father in Hades, Dad tells his little girl, "I heard your name inside the rain. Somewhere between the drops, I saw falling letters." One of the three rolling Stones that serve as the play's Chorus warns that people are expected to speak quietly in Hell: "Like if the pores of your face opened up and talked." For a playgoer to be immersed in these startling verbal images, and a dozen others, is to experience a charmed world in which beauty is its own reality.
Joshua Thomas and Michelle Hand in the Orange Girls' Eurydice.
Through March 15 at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA), 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-520-9557 or visit www.orangegirls.org.
Although most retellings of the myth surrounding Orpheus and Eurydice focus on Orpheus, a god whose glorious music could overpower even the denizens of the Underworld but who all too humanly glanced at his dead wife once too often, Ruhl steers the emphasis away from the familiar theme of young love. Instead, she serves up a treatise on the undying bond between daughters and fathers. (Tellingly, Ruhl dedicates Eurydice to her father.)
Her story begins in a straightforward enough manner. Although Eurydice (Michelle Hand) and Orpheus (Joshua Thomas) appear to be smitten, he is a tad more consumed by his music ("I'm going to make each strand of your hair into an instrument," Orpheus tells her) than a young bride might expect from her intended. Nor is Eurydice quite as blissful as a bride should be. "I always thought there would be more interesting people at my wedding," she confides. Which is a kind of deal-breaker right at the outset.
Even in their simplicity, these early scenes of wooing and disillusion are startlingly reminiscent of the long-running musical The Fantasticks. Orpheus is Matt; Eurydice is Luisa. And the Nasty Interesting Man (Chauncy Thomas) who lures Eurydice to her premature death bears more than a passing resemblance to El Gallo. Eurydice's father (Rich Pisarkiewicz) stands in for both fathers in the musical. By evening's end The Fantasticks has given way to Our Town, and Hades becomes a locale where newcomers must learn how difficult it is to "remember to forget." Yet comparisons to these other plays are fleeting, because Ruhl's effervescent world is incomparable.
The production, which has been directed by Dawn McAndrews, is more sobering (and dryer) than I might have expected from having read the script. On the page the airy text is buoyant; any sense of playfulness remains elusive here. Everything's so serious. It's almost as if these actors know how the story is going to end even before they begin their journey. In the title role, the ever-deft Michelle Hand is intelligent and knowing when perhaps a more intuitive approach might be more persuasive. The evening's pace also seems less sprightly than it should be. It didn't help that the playbill informs us that the show will run 70 minutes, while by my watch the running time was closer to 90. Granted, another twenty minutes is not the end of the world. But just because Eurydice is doomed to remain in Hell for all eternity doesn't mean the rest of us want to stay there any longer than necessary.