‘Eurydice’ shifts Greek myth’s focus from hero to heroine

Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice recasts the tale of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice into the tale of Eurydice and her husband Orpheus. This shift in perspective invests Euryidice with an angency she lacks in the original Greek tale. Photo By: The New York Times
Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice recasts the tale of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice into the tale of Eurydice and her husband Orpheus. This shift in perspective invests Euryidice with an angency she lacks in the original Greek tale. Photo By: The New York Times
Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice recasts the tale of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice into the tale of Eurydice and her husband
Orpheus. This shift in perspective invests Euryidice with an angency she lacks in the original Greek tale. Photo By: The New York Times

A week from today the Drama department will present its opening performance of renowned playwright Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. Its cast of seven actors will perform in the Powerhouse Theater at 8 p.m. from April 11 to 13. The shows, which will run for approximately seventy minutes each, are free and open to the public. Seating, however, is limited, so be sure to call the box office to make your reservations soon.

The inspiration for the play is the Greek myth of the musician Orpheus and his lover Eurydice, who dies of a snake bite on their wedding day. When Orpheus travels to the Underworld, Hades agrees to release Eurydice if Orpheus does not look at her until she reenters the land of the living. Orpheus does not adhere to this requirement, and Eurydice is sent back to the realm of the dead.

In Ruhl’s play, Eurydice has the power: she must choose between her husband and her father, whom she has met again in the Underworld. Ruhl, who will discuss her play and other topics during her visit to Vassar on April 10, wrote in an emailed statement: “I meant to relocate the story to Eurydice’s point of view, and to have her represent language and [him] represent music.”

Therefore, Ruhl’s Eurydice has more agency, which gives the story a different tone than the classic Greek tale’s. “Ruhl’s telling of the story is exciting because her Eurydice does make choices, does make mistakes, does have a part in shaping her fate,” wrote Lexi Diamond ’13, the production’s dramaturge, in an emailed statement.

“This Eurydice is wise and funny and sensitive and strong, but this Eurydice is also grieving. Giving her this depth makes the story so much more complicated, but also so much more relatable.”

Diamond, a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, is very excited to work with a play that reinterprets these classic subjects. “The play itself is one of my all-time favorites,” Diamond wrote in an emailed statement. “I’ve always loved Greek and Roman mythology, and I love pieces that can introduce an entirely new perspective to well-known, often-adapted stories. With Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl takes a story that is epic and archetypal and makes it extraordinarily personal.”

“The most difficult part of this production is not being able to replicate the breathtaking phenomena Ruhl creates with her words,” wrote assistant director Kate Shelton ’15 in an emailed statement, “but [it’s] also the most fun part because it forces us to find ways of evoking the same emotions with the resources we have.”

For director Ianthe Demos ‘00, who sees Eurydice as a piece that confronts loss and how we commemorate lost loved ones, realizing these concepts has not always been easy. “The piece is written very much as a landscape,” she said.

Demos explained that deciding the direction to take the audience in was perhaps the most challenging aspect.

“I think it is very much inside somebody’s head, so trying to figure out what trajectory we were going to take our audience on and what was the actual path we were trying to build from and into—that’s probably been the trickiest part.”

Despite the sometimes challenging nature of this production, Demos enjoys working with Vassar students. “There was a lot of creative energy in the room,” she said. “There was an incredible ability from a very young group of actors to bring new things to the table constantly.”

Assistant Director Kaylene George ’14 appreciates Demos’ directing style. “From the beginning, she just wanted to have a general understanding of how everyone else was feeling about [the production],” she said. “She didn’t immediately give us directions—she let us flesh it out.”

Shelton also values Demos’ guidance and mentorship. “My favorite thing about [Demos],” she wrote in an emailed statement, “is the energy she brings to every rehearsal; she runs full steam ahead from the first design meeting through strike, keeping everyone around her excited and motivated.”

Diamond spoke to her renowned talent as well. “[Demos] has a spectacular ability to balance the whimsical and playful with the dark and tragic, a talent that benefits this piece in particular,” wrote Diamond in an emailed statement.

“[She] works at a very fast pace and is always willing to try a totally new approach to see how it will speak to the story. She grounds all the playfulness and experimentation that take place during the rehearsal process in her very sensitive and understanding relationship to the text.”

The most difficult part of her job as the production’s dramaturg, wrote Diamond, is the age of the story itself. This factor has required Diamond to research and sift through the endless pile of allusions to this story throughout history.

“It’s been daunting but exciting to try to trace all origins of and reference[s] to this story throughout time, since there are just so many of them,” she explained in an emailed statement.

During her research, Diamond discovered a lot of intriguing information that took her stdies down different directions, which was both a positive and a negative thing. “There were also a lot of fun surprises in the research that would take my process places I never expected it to go, but it’s hard to let go of those tangential discoveries and refocus,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “The process is only so long and the research can only be so useful before it’s what happens in the rehearsal room and the design meetings that really matters,” she added.

For George, interpreting the script itself is a challenging task. “[Ruhl is] a very imaginative, creative person,” she said, “and she’s hard to keep up with.”

Despite the complexity of Ruhl’s text, it remains an eloquent and unique account of love, grief, and loss. As Shelton explained in an emailed statement, “the pure beauty of Ruhl’s poetry, and its ability to relate to each audience member despite its mythological context, will stay with the audience long after the show ends.”

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