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CCM’s “Eurydice” is a Matter of Life and Death

Review by Doug Iden of Eurydice: CCM Acting

The drama Eurydice opens the CCM Studio Acting Series in the Cohen Family Studio Theater.  Based upon the Greek myth of Orpheus, Eurydice relates the updated parable about grief, the power of language to communicate and the struggle between life and death.

The play opens with two lovers (Eurydice, played by Madison Pullman, and Orpheus, played by Duncan Weinland) cavorting on the beach. They are in the prime of their lives and very happy.  Orpheus proposes to Eurydice who accepts.  Eurydice is enthralled with books, which has an ironic twist as the story progresses, while Orpheus is a musician and composer. This is also the first of many allusions to water which run throughout the play.

In the Underworld, we meet Eurydice’s father (James Egbert), who has managed to retain his ability to read and write, and remember the past despite being “dipped” in the river which is intended to obliterate all connections with the past. In Greek myth, the river is the boundary between the real world (life) and the Underworld (death).  Father writes letters to his daughter which she does not receive, but one is intercepted by The Interesting Man (Jabari Carter).  The Interesting Man entices Eurydice to his apartment with the promise that he will show her a letter from her father.  However, in his attempt to seduce her, Eurydice falls on the stairs and dies.

Thus, she is reunited with her father in the Underworld but, because she has been dipped in the river, she has no memories of the past or the ability to read and write. Her father patiently restores his daughter’s knowledge and a strong bond is created between them.

As Eurydice arrives in the Underworld, she is greeted by three Stones (played by Ella Eggold, Madeline Page-Schmit and Jack Steiner). The Stones, who often speak in unison, are a Greek Chorus which alternately provides commentary on the action,  and acts as the conscience and police force of the Underworld.  The Stones are appalled because Eurydice and her father have flagrantly violated the rules by reading and remembering.

We also meet the Lord of the Underworld (also played by Jabari Carter) who, as a child and later as a giant, tries to seduce Eurydice and warns her that she needs to conform. In the meantime, Orpheus is disconsolate with grief and writes music for her.  He attempts to communicate with her in the Underworld and, eventually, goes to the Underworld itself.

Eurydice is now in a situation where she must choose between her father and her husband and between life and death.

Led by Director Susan Felder, the acting is very good, led by Pullman’s Eurydice who must transform from a bright, almost naïve young living woman through grief, through confusion and ultimately through tragedy. Duncan Weiland as Orpheus also goes through a similar transformation.  Egbert’s Father is believable in an avuncular manner and represents reason and learning.  Carter’s multiple roles as the Interesting Man and two manifestations as the Lord of the Underworld (child and super-adult) are very effective as unctuous and duplicitous characters.  The Stones are both dramatic and hilarious as they react to the other characters.

The construction of the play is very interesting with a major emphasis on staging and lighting to help propel the story. The set is very sparse with a dark and stark aura.  Most of the “set design” by Abby Palen relies on props such as a blanket, an umbrella, buckets and a water pump and the construction of a room in the Underworld (which is prohibited) by Father who uses four poles and string to create the illusion.  The stage has a balcony which is used effectively to differentiate between life in the real world and the Underground which is shown solely on the main stage.  Thus, we see a literal division during the interplay between the living but grieving Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld.  There are also some interesting illusions such as the rainstorm in the elevator leading the Underworld.  The only real set piece is a cutout in the front of the stage representing the river.  (Several people coming into the theater almost had an unexpected bath (including me).)

The lighting (Elanor Quinn Eberhardt) is very effective in moving the action between various locations and represents multiple musical instruments in Orpheus’s love song to Eurydice composed by Duncan Weinland. The music, which is also prohibited by the Underworld, is sad  but makes the Stones cry when Orpheus appears.  There are also snippets of old songs which represent the tabooed memories of Father and his daughter.  Sound effects by Josh Windes also add to the atmospheric sense with rainfall and storms.  There are constant reminders of water which can either be cleansing or purge of the characters of their humanity.

This is a play that grows on you. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it and many of the apparently disparate parts are beginning to gel.  When I left the theater, I thought that this was merely an interesting play but now I think it is both interesting and well-devised.

So, as we approach the Halloween season, you can take a trip to the Underworld by viewing Eurydice at the Cohen Family Theater at CCM.