UW-Waukesha's 'Eurydice' a thing of Beauty and whimsy
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published April 2, 2018
As I read a synopsis of “Eurydice,” a 2003 play written by Sarah Ruhl, I kept saying to myself, “This is weird.” The show is based on Greek mythology, which explains some of the otherworldliness.
I couldn’t wait to see how the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha’s Lunt Fontanne Ensemble would present this quirky show. I have rarely been disappointed by the treatment this group gives to little-known theatrical gems.
This show is truly magical, dreamlike, ethereal -- perhaps one of the most beautifully presented works I’ve ever seen, mesmerizing and full of surprises, wit and humanity.
The show is directed by Margot Lange, a UW-Waukesha student who has excelled on the school’s stage and can now add a stellar director’s role to her achievements.
The story is based on that of Orpheus, the son of Apollo, who fell in love and married the beautiful Eurydice only to have her die shortly thereafter. Orpheus tries to reach her in the hereafter—where she has met her father—through his enchanting music. It is a story of love and loss, sadness and joy.
Adult fairy tale
In Ruhl’s 2003 contemporary retelling of the tale, Orpheus is also a musician, whose head is filled with music that his beloved Eurydice doesn’t understand. She prefers books. During their wedding, Eurydice meets a strange man who says he has a letter from her dead father. When she goes to his place, she retrieves the letter but dies in a fall down the stairs after he tries to seduce her.
Eurydice, who has lost her memory in a water voyage from the land of the living, meets her father in the underworld, but thinks he is a hotel porter. He patiently helps her regain memories of her life. The underworld features Three Stones, who teach Eurydice about the rules of her new surroundings, such as there are not any rooms. Her father, however, marks off areas with string to be her rooms, one of many ways he tries to connect with her.
Meanwhile, Orpheus writes letters to Eurydice that are delivered by worms. He finally is able to reach her in the underworld, but her feelings are now divided between her father and Orpheus.
This is a visually stunning play in every way. It is an adult fairy tale that has whimsy and charm, along with some weighty themes. The show is also unusual in that its scenes are very short. There are some 25 scenes, in three “movements,” with no intermission. It plays fast at a little over 1 ½ hours.
Steve Decker’s set is awash in turquoise and an almost grey lavender with sparse vining flowers on the walls, which serve mostly the underworld setting. There is a sort of moss-covered counter, the shape of a hotel’s service desk, to the side, plus a small elevated area accessed by several steps where the Three Stones often hang out. On the back wall are elevator doors through which persons entering the underworld pass. It is a “trippy” sort of look, on one hand reminiscent of a hippy‘s ’70s Volkswagen. On the other hand, there is a sense you may see a Beatrix Potter character or Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit. It beckons curiosity.
But even more stunning are the Jazmin Aurora Medina costumes, perfectly blending with the earthy surroundings. Eurydice’s outfits are mostly gauzy, glittery and fairy-like. You almost expect to see her elevate and flit across the stage like a butterfly. Adam Jermain’s lighting sends shadows surrounding the walls of the auditorium, giving the audience a feeling of being with the characters, as does Colin Kovarik’s clever sound design, providing an another-world feeling with its hypnotic pulse.
All this provides a superb background for the superb cast. Jessica Kennedy plays Eurydice with playfulness and tenderness as her character struggles to reconcile her two loves and their two different worlds. Her relationship with her father is the heart of the story. Her father is portrayed lovingly, with Steve Decker wrapping his arms around the role. These are both nicely understated parts, blending whimsical, enchanting and comic moments as well as some that truly resonate, as when the father describes the family hunting trip.
Rock solid Stone Trio
Jamie Ryan as A Nasty Interesting Man and Lord of the Underworld is a stark contrast to the daughter/dad combo, inserting his evil intentions when he appears. His character is loud, menacing, and moves like a big cat ready to pounce as he tries to lure Eurydice in both worlds. He is attired in sparkly, devilish red to enhance his character’s wickedness.
Jake Schaumberg-Dineen nicely transforms Orpheus from joyful fiancé to grieving newlywed. I loved the opening with him dressed in black and white stripes, with a white powdered face and graceful, mime-like movements as he and Eurydice, with a similar look, profess their love.
But the spice in the show is the Three Stones – Jordan Burac, Benjamin Gienke and Megan Johnson -- a sort of Greek chorus. Dressed in mossy outfits with ghoulish faces, The Three Stones look like they sprang out of the earth. Their monotone pronouncements are mostly harsh, ordering underworld residents to “shut up” at times. Sometimes they provide commentary such as, “Dead people can’t sing good.” The Big Stone is an especially fun role, with Burac having a butler-like presence and slightly nasal tone to great effect. The three, always standing still and stone-faced, have distinctive timbres which make their unison comments have a musical ring.
This show provides a great opportunity for all sorts of creativity in the look and character representations. All the choices here are thoughtful and meshed to perfection.
If you go:
Who: University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Ensemble
When: 7:30 p.m. April 5 and 6
Where: UW-Waukesha, 1500 University Drive, Waukesha