By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
In Sarah Ruhl’s sly version of “Eurydice,” the underworld of Hades is more like the crazy world of “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s not any traditional view of hell in this production which opened at South Coast Repertory last week.
Ruhl takes the ancient Greek myth of “Orpheus and Eurydice” and turns it into a moving fable about love and loss, filled with whimsy and humor. For those who don’t remember the original story, it tells of the legendary musician Orpheus’ ability to charm all living things, even stones, with his music.
After his new wife Eurydice dies, he travels down to the underworld and is able to charm the Lord of the Underworld and Eurydice is released. He is told to lead her out, but there is one hitch – that he not look back. If he does, he dies. Those who don’t know can probably guess what happens.
The young lovers, Orpheus and Eurydice (charmingly played by Carmela Corbett and Alex Knox) are naively enamored with each other. They take somewhat contrary views, however. His world is one of music; hers, one of books. Despite their incompatibility, he makes up songs for her but she is a bad singer. She likes to read better, and their intimate love talk on this is completely charming.
Stealing the show is Tim Cummings as The Lord of the Underworld, who comes off more like the Mad Hatter in “Alice.” Talking in riddles and ciphers, we first meet him when Eurydice steps out of her wedding party for some fresh air.
We first see this devil character dressed like a flasher in an overcoat, then later in his domain as a kid zooming around on a tricycle. Next, he puts on an Elvis imitation and later emerges as a disco dancer ready to bossa nova – a chameleon, for sure.
In a flurry of non-sequiturs, he lures her to his room where he delivers a letter from her dead father from the Underworld. Grieving, as she is, she grabs it and trips down the stairs, falling into a tunnel. (Not unlike Alice falling down the rabbit hole.)
She enters this nether world from an elevator brilliantly rigged in the back of the set. In this crazy world where letters are delivered taped to the back of worms, she is met by a trio of inanimate talking stones dressed in outrageous costumes (hilarious all –Patrick Kerr, Michael Manuel and Babni Turpin). Emerging from the ground in glass cube cages, they are like petulant children. They urge, crankily, for everyone to shut up and forget death. It’s easier that way.
This madcap group seems to come out of Beckett’s absurdist play “Happy Days” in which characters were buried halfway in the ground or put in jars. Lots of laughs here.
Soon she meets her dead father (deeply sympathetic as played by Timothy Landfield). At first she has no memory of him but then they are able to re-construct their relationship. In a deeply moving scene in a place where there are no rooms, he, touchingly, builds her a room of twine.
In a climactic scene, the Underlord emerges as a satanic giant, steam hissing from his red form. In spite of this exhibit of power, Orpheus is able to win Eurydice’s release.
The end is very moving. emotionally attached to her father, she is ambivalent about going. She proceeds, and we wait for her to look back.
Scenic designer Gerard Howland goes all out designing the Underworld. Particularly with his suggestions of water and the spectacular elevator.
“Eurydice” can be seen on the Julianne Agyros Stage through. Oct. 14.