The original tells of Orpheus and Eurydice and the story of her death, but focuses on Orpheus and his efforts to locate her and bring her back to the world of the living.
Sarah Ruhl‘s Eurydice focuses on what happens to Eurydice in the Underworld.
She dies on her wedding day, kidnapped by the Lord of the Underground who promises her a letter from her dead father.
She arrives, confused and with no memory of life among the living. Her father, who has never forgotten her, finds her and together they rebuild her memories.
Meanwhile, Orpheus tries everything he can think of to get to the Underworld to rescue his beloved wife. His music makes the gatekeepers weep, and he is let in to bargain for her return. There’s a condition for her departure, Orpheus mustn’t turn back. Turning in response to hearing his name called, Eurydice is sent back to the Underworld, where she dies a second time.
San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company’s bilingual performances in American Sign Language and English provided an exquisite twist to the usual theatre production. Each character was portrayed both by an English and an ASL speaker. The ASL actors made it a sort of play within a play, interacting with their English speaking counterpart and each other. CLTC’s intimate setting is a perfect place to see small productions like this.
It’s been about a week since I attended and I’m still struggling with how to write about it. The theme of love, both filial and romantic made me tear up in unexpected ways. As did themes of memory and communication. To be loved that much, to be cared for that deeply, to be led back to memories and learn better communication … I found it moving, unsettling, challenging, and thought-provoking.
Most memorable for me is Lauren Rhodes as the English speaking Eurydice, whose shouted, “I’m very angry at you!” made me proud. Women are so rarely allowed to show their anger, that to allow Eurydice to express hers is a high note. It’s one that sticks with me even now.
And I must mention Erik Gandolfi (English) and Dane K. Lentz (ASL) who perform the Lord of the Underworld with unhinged glee. Gandolfi’s costume in the underworld features a school boys’ uniform with short pants and a bright red jacket. The eerie little boys’ voice made this performance all the more chilling.
After Orpheus loses Eurydice the second time, he stands at the threshold to the world of the living expressing his anguish and grief. In a cross talk dialogue, he says, “Your timing was always off! I would tell you that if you didn’t come in on the downbeat, you’d lose everything.”
Meanwhile, Eurydice stands in the Underground shouting, “I’m sorry!”
Stephanie Foisy (ASL) added a poignant dimension to the already distraught Orpheus, portrayed by the English speaking Robert Sean Campbell.
As I left, tears in my eyes and my heart filled with unprocessed emotion, I walked past a table with pieces of paper and pens made available for anyone who wanted to write a note to someone who’d died. It occurred to me that I didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye to the friend I’d known for over 30 years who died from cancer nearly five years ago. So I stopped and wrote a little note to him.
Out into the bright Sunday afternoon light, I tried to make sense of how such a performance could have a profound effect on me. A week later, I’m still sorting it out but no longer hurting as deeply as I was then. Emotions wax and wane, it’s their nature. We just gotta hold on for the roller coaster ride.