Imagine the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a modern day tale like this. Eurydice, played by Maria Dizzia arrives in Hades after falling from the penthouse apartment of a rich older man, a snake of a character portrayed by Mark Zeisler. Wearing a proper pink suit, carrying a suitcase and umbrella she travels on to the land of the dead. And what trumpets her arrival? Not the sonorous notes of her beloved Orpheus, but the clatter of tin pans created by sound designer Bray Poor.
Sara Ruhl’s contemporary adaptation brings a sense of magical realism to this classical Greek myth. And while the style of the production currently at Second Stage is wacky and surreal, it addresses the essential questions, “Why did Orpheus look back?” “And why was Eurydice never freed from Hades?” The reasons, as explored here from a psychological perspective, focus primarily on Eurydice as the cause of her own catastrophe.
To begin with, Hades lures her to his penthouse apartment on her wedding night with the promise of sharing a letter from her father. Even as she ventures into marriage, she’s still bound by memories of her dead father and what he represents. But when she meets him in Hades, the scene stings us because she cannot recognize him or understand the language of the dead in which he speaks. Finally, when Orpheus turns around to look at her it’s at her prompting. The moral here, that life is about looking ahead, takes on a terrible immediacy, so much so that remorse itself becomes a form of evil.
In exploring the characters’ humanity, Ruhl and director Les Waters elevate them from the symbolic into palpable and believable characters with whom we identify emotionally. And while these moments are arresting and psychologically probing, there are too many scenes which drag on, reiterating the same message until the painful story becomes too painful to sit through.
In spite of this, some remarkable aspects stand out – including the mix of music and sound effects as well as Scott Bradley’s fascinating set that looks like an empty swimming pool. Lined with blue tiles it doubles as the ocean as well as several locations on earth and in Hades. And the ensemble of actors are laudable, especially Charles Shaw Robinson as Eurydice’s father. Joseph Parks also makes for a beguiling Orpheus, as charming and privileged as that mythological god is traditionally depicted. Maria Dizzia as the titular character is clearly offbeat. But most importantly, there’s Sara Ruhl’s uncanny way of picking up an old story, and with her poetic use of language and colorful imagination creating a sense of psychological realism that is unpredictable. Pleasurably so.
By Isa Goldberg
Second Stage Theater
307 West 43rd Street (Between Eight and Ninth Aves
New York City 1212 -246-4422
Thru August 12, 2007