BareStage’s otherworldly ‘Eurydice’ is thoughtful meditation on grief

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Willow Yang/Senior Staff

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“Eurydice” is a story of loss.

In the original Greek myth that Sarah Ruhl’s weird, lovely play is based upon, Orpheus loses his wife Eurydice to the underworld, and his grief drives him to follow her there to get her back. In Ruhl’s reimagination, it is Eurydice’s loss which anchors the play. Caught between her late father and her new husband, she stands paralyzed between her past and her future, knowing that she cannot have one without losing the other.

The father is a new addition to the myth — an invention of Ruhl’s, who lost her father while she was in college. Writing a play was her way of grappling with loss and trying to make sense of her grief through art. This hit home for BareStage director Lelan Fernando. He lost his own father in the spring of 2015, so he understood the feeling of being stuck and the numbness that accompanies the loss of a parent.

A general mood of loss hung over the proceedings Thursday night. The shock of Tuesday’s election hadn’t worn off — in fact, it had hardly sunk in. Politics isn’t the same as the death of a loved one, but everybody can relate to the grief felt.

As co-stage manager Tessa Maurer put it, “Now, more than ever, I think we need art in our lives.”

“Eurydice” is in many ways a perfect antidote. The audience is transported completely into Ruhl’s surreal, strange wonderland — a world out of time and definable place. Against a backdrop of dreamy sky blue, Eurydice’s odd, tragic tale unfolds.

Eurydice (an ethereally vulnerable Verity Pinter) is getting married to Orpheus (Alexander Espinosa Pieb), a legendary musician and quintessential artist. When she asks him, curiously, what he’s thinking about, he instantly answers “music” before trying to backtrack and assure his fiancee that she is on his mind, too. They love each other, but Eurydice is a bookworm, a lover of words, and Orpheus is consumed by his music, by notes and rhythm — they don’t speak each other’s languages.  

On their wedding day, Eurydice is led astray by Nasty Interesting Woman (Carolyn Hu), a mysterious, sexy, sinister figure who claims she has a letter from Eurydice’s dead father. Entranced by the prospect of communicating with her father, Eurydice is led to her death by Nasty Interesting Woman and sent to the Underworld.

For all its melancholy, “Eurydice” is a funny play. Much of the comedy is provided by the three stones of the Underworld, Big Stone (Theo Rosenfeld), Little Stone (Katherine Garcia) and Loud Stone (Mallory Penney), and by the Lord of the Underworld (also Carolyn Hu) — a tyrannical child who has traded in her seductive get-up for red overalls and a dangerous pout. The Stones are twitching, sneezing, pent-up bureaucrats who enforce, or at least attempt to enforce, the many rules of the Underworld: there are no rooms, there are no fathers, there are no books and there is no remembering your past. They speak only in the language of the dead, which is “very quiet” (though they shout explosively when a rule is broken), and they are content to spend eternity in relative silence.

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Riley Bathauer/Courtesy

Eurydice’s father (James Aaron Oh) throws a wrench in the Stones’ plans for perpetual quiet. He reads and speaks the language of humans — as in the Underworld they only speak the language of stones — he sings and he remembers his human life and beloved daughter. When Eurydice arrives, she mistakes her father for a hotel porter — all new arrivals to the Underworld are dipped in the River Styx so they forget their human lives. Her father plays along. He makes her a room out of string and reconnects her to her past, teaching her how to read and how to love again.

The closeness in age between Oh and Pinter, an inevitable consequence of a student production, complicates the father-daughter dynamic at the core of “Eurydice.” Oh is too young a man for the role, and what should be emotionally affecting comes off as somewhat pretentious due to the unbelievability of the relationship. Though the emotional core of the relationship doesn’t quite come across, the strength of Ruhl’s playful, bizarre, ever-surprising script helps smooth over flaws.  

In the Underworld, Eurydice is faced with a choice: Should she stay or should she go? Like the original myth, this is a tragedy, a cautionary tale about the choices we make.

Yet, the real blueprint is Ruhl herself — to walk forward bravely with grief and to preserve the past in art.

Miyako Singer covers theater. Contact her at msinger@dailycal.org. Tweet her at @miyasinger.

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