FROZEN EMOTIONS 


In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the young and enraptured lovers — he, the son of a muse; she, a beautiful wood nymph — become separated by Eurydice's early death and her subsequent journey to the underworld. Orpheus so sadly laments the loss of his wife that he creates music on his lyre that literally makes the stones weep. Finally, unable to endure her absence, Orpheus bravely broaches the land of the dead in order to rescue her and return her to their life above.

Even the lord of Hades is not immune to Orpheus' plaintive song, and Eurydice is granted her reprieve — on the condition that Orpheus not look behind to see her while leading her back to the light of day. Just as the two are nearing the surface, Orpheus loses faith that Eurydice is following him and turns to look. Immediately, Eurydice is snatched back to the underworld to die again. Orpheus is now doomed to wander the woods, playing his sad song and grieving for his lost love until his own death overtakes him.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote Eurydice in part, she has said, because "we never hear from Eurydice — she's always a cipher. I'm interested in her voice." She also has stated that she wrote the play in order to "have more conversations" with her father, who died when Ruhl was "too young." So, in Ruhl's version of the Orpheus story, Eurydice shares the spotlight only briefly with her husband, spending most of her onstage time with the invented character of her father, whose unconditional love she finally deigns to choose, in the end, over that of her romantic suitor.

The play is also ostensibly about memory and longing, and whether it is better to live in ignorant bliss or to hold on to knowledge of the past — even if that knowing may cause pain or regret. But in Mad Cow Theatre's production of Eurydice, directed by Denise Gillman, many of these themes are muddled, ambiguous and poorly communicated, leaving one with a sense that something strange and vaguely interesting has occurred, but not quite knowing what it was.

For example, the lovely Sarah Jane Fridlich is beautiful as Ruhl's daughterly stand-in, but if the playwright was interested in "her voice," one wonders why she seems to have frozen her main character somewhere around age 16. Eurydice is petulant, moody and self-involved, leaving her wedding party, for instance, because her guests are just not interesting enough. Even after she spends time learning about life from her father/tutor, she never seems to mature into an adult person. This Eurydice is decidedly not a poster girl for feminism.

And if Ruhl's Eurydice is supposed to cleave to her father, we must be able to discern what it is about his presence that makes death with him superior to life with Orpheus, played by Michael Kutner. Unfortunately, as the father, Tommy Keesling's wooden portrayal offers little reason for an audience to understand Eurydice's choice. Not much warmth passes between the two, so the poignancy inherent in the moment when father lets his beloved daughter go is a lost opportunity to convey the depth of a parent's love.

Finally, because Orpheus was a great musician, and because his music is often referred to in the play's dialogue, in many renditions of Eurydice directors have chosen to include some type of musical accompaniment to help define the intensity of his feelings, while providing the kind of mood that can bathe a production in the atmosphere of another world. For some reason, director Gillman has chosen silence. In the end, like most of this production, what is missing appears to be more significant than what is there.

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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