by Rikki Lee Travolta
Eurydice at Writers Theatre launches its new season with poetic beauty. New artistic director Braden Abraham shows himself to be capable of absolute brilliance. If his inaugural production as the artistic visionary for Writers Theatre is an indication, the company is on course for an exceptional future.
The play is a modern adaptation of the Greek myth of Orpheus in which a mortal (Eurydice) and the son of Apollo (Eurydice) fall in love and marry. On the day of their marriage, Eurydice dies. Unwilling to accept the loss of his beloved, Orpheus travels to Hades to negotiate her return. Thanks to the emotional power of his music, he is granted the chance to lead his wife back to the mortal world. There is one condition – he cannot turn to see her at any point during their travels back to the land of the living.
The telling of the Greek myth being presented by Writers Theatre was penned by Wilmette native Sarah Ruhl, a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright. It premiered at Madison Repertory Theatre in 2003, with additional stagings at Berkley Repertory Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre before opening Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theater in 2007.
Ruhl wrote Eurydice as part of her grieving process over the loss of her father. Her version of the Orpheus tale is told from the perspective of his wife – the play’s namesake. In particular, the play focuses on Eurydice’s relationship with her deceased father, whom she reunites with in the Underworld. The dialogue between Eurydice and her father is especially touching and is a beautiful testament by the author to her own late father.
Sarah Price has the title role in Writers Theatre’s presentation of Ruhl’s Eurydice. She shows off impressive skills as she creates the kind of bright, bubbly, and engaging woman the son of a God would believably fall for. She is the embodiment of the ingenue.
Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton has the stunning good looks of a soap opera star, but with incredible acting skills not always associated with daytime television. I mean that with no disrespect to soap operas. I have a strong affinity for the medium.
Hamilton’s characterization of Orpheus is absolutely beautiful. He creates for the audience a vision of a man so in love that he would change the very structure of the universe to keep it.
Orpheus is a musical composer of the highest order and Hamilton is assisted in the creation of that image through the sound design and original music compositions of Jeffrey Levin and the choreographed movements of Tonya Lockyer. Combined, the moments in which music is injected into the storyline add to the overall brilliance of Braden Abraham’s staging.
Music also comes into play with the character of Eurydice’s father. Father, as he is noted in the program, is already dead and in the underworld when the play begins. John Gregorio is astounding in the role of Father.
Gregorio has an incredible talent for capturing the hearts of everyone in the audience. When he imagines what it would be like to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, Gregorio pulls the audience in with just his movements and the changing expressions on his face as he pantomimes the action to a tempo-adjusted instrumental recording of The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”. Gregorio is magnificent and the music is the perfect choice for the moment.
By telling Eurydice from the vantage of the bride in the Underworld, we are able to witness and empathize with the tender parent-child relationship that almost anyone who has lost someone beloved longs to experience one last time. Daughters who have lost their fathers may be moved to tears – and no one would blame you. In fact, you’ll have plenty of company. And they aren’t tears of anguish that you’ll taste. They are healing tears.
The role of the Lord of the Underworld is ironically played with the heavenly talents of Chicago great Larry Yando. Yando is one of Chicago’s most treasured actors, famous among other things for being Scrooge in Goodman Theatre’s annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol. Of his many awards, Yando has been decorated as Chicago Magazine’s Best Actor in Chicago and Wall Street Journal’s Performer of the Year – and there is good reason for it.
Yando’s villain is far different than one might naturally expect for the ruler of Hades. He smiles when he shouldn’t and scowls when equally inappropriate. Everything about him is a contrast and out of time – at times acting like a petulant child while being touted as an old man. Even his costuming by Danielle Nieves is an example of misrepresentation, as he is often found in childish play clothes despite the seriousness of his persona.
Orpheus, in the Greek myth, is such a moving composer that his songs can bring stones to tears. For her interpretation, playwright Ruhl gives physical embodiment of the stones to three residents of the Underworld. Played by John Lister, Susaan Jamshidi, and Elizabeth Ledo, the three stones are decked out in tourist garb. They are all extremely talented and add to the overall production.
Also a big factor in making Eurydice so incredible is the genius scenic design by Courtney O’Neill. It is a grand spectacle of two levels, with an intimidating but not unconquerable slope connecting them. As a director, Abraham uses the complexities of gravity and the curves of the slope to make the set a whole character all unto its own. A working elevator transport and onstage rain are just two examples of the cleverness of the set.
Not to be left out, lighting design by Marcus Doshi paints the stage appropriately in darkness, light, and color as the direction dictates. I found the balance to be very moving and aided the actors in translating their characters’ emotions to the audience.
Micah Figueroa serves as intimacy coordinator, while Katie Klemme is the stage manager, as assisted by Kateb Nagorski. Casting directors don’t always get a lot of recognition, but Katie Galetti deserves credit for an outstanding job.
Eurydice plays Wednesday through Sunday through October 22, 2023. In addition to evening performances, there are matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Performances take place in the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre located at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe.
Buy a ticket to Writers Theatre’s Eurydice and be prepared for the poetic journey of a lifetime.
Contact the box office at (847) 242-6000 or visit www.WritersTheatre.org.
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area
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